Ralph George Campbell Glyn was probably Abingdon’s longest serving MP, holding the seat from 1924 to 1953. He was born in 1885; his father was Bishop of Peterborough and his mother a daughter of the eighth Duke of Argyll. Intended for the army, he was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst and commissioned in 1904 into the Rifle Brigade. He seems from the start to have gravitated to headquarters and staff rather than regimental duties. In 1910 he transferred to reserve status, managing to combine staff work at the War Office with helping to reorganise the Conservative Party and unsuccessfully contesting various Scottish constituencies.
During the First World War he participated in a military-diplomatic mission to Russia and to allies and neutrals in the Balkans. He served as a staff officer in the Dardanelles campaign and in Egypt and later in France. He finished with the rank of major, a Military Cross, three mentions in dispatches, the Légion d’Honneur, the Imperial Russian Order of St Anne, the Serbian Order of the White Eagle and the American Distinguished Service Medal.
In the post-war election he was finally successful in entering the House of Commons as member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire, but lost the seat in 1922. The Abingdon division of North Berkshire, as it was officially known, was a very extensive and still largely rural constituency. He first contested it in 1923 losing by 254 votes, but won it in the following year with a majority of over 4000. He then held it for almost thirty years.
Glyn was assiduous as a constituency MP, supporting and appearing at local events and communicating well with his electorate through regular articles in the Wallingford-based Berks and Oxon Advertiser. He became High Steward of Wallingford in 1933. In Abingdon, he was an active governor of Abingdon School for many years and latterly vice-chairman of the governing body, but his greatest contribution to the town was in his support for the civic society, the Friends of Abingdon. He was among the founders of the society in 1944 and its president from 1945 until his death. He was particularly effective as a fund raiser, and obtained over several years a total of £5000 from the Pilgrim Trust which made possible the acquisition and renovation of the Checker and Long Gallery. In 1952, he was active in the campaign to save Fitzharris House from demolition, but this was ultimately unsuccessful.
Glyn lived in Ardington and later near Farnborough where his almost 2000 acres on the Berkshire Downs were said to make him the largest landowner in the Commons. As a parliamentarian, he was always ready to support agricultural interests, with a particular emphasis on sheep farming and horse breeding. In 1928 he introduced the private member’s bill that eventually reorganised racecourse gambling and set up the tote, a publicly owned system that diverted betting profits to the benefit of the sport. But he was a businessman as well as a farmer, holding a number of industrial directorships.
In the Commons, Glyn was always his own man and never a party hack. It was entirely consistent with his independent views that he welcomed the formation of a ‘national’ coalition government to deal with the financial crisis of 1931, and he became parliamentary private secretary to the Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald. This was the nearest he ever got to a government, as against a parliamentary, position. The parliamentary record, Hansard, shows him to have been an active debater with a wide range of interests. He was made a baronet in 1934.
One of his interests, no doubt stemming from his military experience, was in foreign affairs, and sometimes he would make his own visits to trouble spots and, if he felt it necessary, criticise government policies. In the 1925 dispute over the fate of Mosul he went to Constantinople and wrote home supporting the Turkish case over the British. In 1938 he made an ostensibly private trip to the Balkans and had talks with the Hungarian prime minister. He favoured the League of Nations and disarmament.
After the Second World War, Glyn was a leading member of the Commons Committee on Estimates which monitored government expenditure. He became its chairman in 1951. His greatest disagreement with his own party was over transport policy. Although a director of one of the ‘big four’ railway companies, he supported nationalisation in 1948 and opposed privatisation of road haulage in 1953. He argued that all transport should be centrally managed and rail and road be allowed to cross-subsidise each other. Whatever differences he may have had with his party whips, his support among North Berkshire voters remained firm throughout his tenure of the seat: he was unopposed in 1931 and 1935, and had majorities approaching 5000 in each of the post-war elections
In 1952 Glyn indicated a wish to retire. He became Baron Glyn in the coronation honours of 1953 and moved to the House of Lords where he remained active until his death in May 1960. He had married in 1921 Sybell Long, widow of a senior officer killed in 1917. She died in 1958. There were no children of the marriage, and the barony became extinct.
Ralph Glyn was an old-fashioned figure even in his own time – a back-bencher who saw his prime duty as being to his country and his constituents, not his party. His private means enabled him to take personal initiatives. His business interests made him indifferent to hopes of government office. He worked hard for his constituents, and thoroughly deserved the confidence they placed in him.
© AAAHS and contributors 2019