Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who was Sir John Lubbock?

"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth"
JOHN LUBBOCK, The Pleasures of Life

Who was Sir John Lubbock? Firstly, he was my Great Grandfather, and in May this year, it will be 100 years since his death. He served as MP for Maidstone in Kent for 29 years. According to Wiki, he had "four main political agendas: promotion of the study of science in primary and secondary schools; the national debt, free trade, and related economic issues; protection of ancient monuments; securing of additional holidays and shorter working hours for the working classes.[1]
Although he undoubtedly had an incredibly broad range of interests and achievements, he is perhaps best known for The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 which, in their day, were known as "St Lubbock's Day". And yes, he was a banker. In this role, he  introduced a clearing system for provincial banks in 1858 and was the first President of The Institute of Bankers until his death in 1913. (I believe he even hoofed it over to Greece to help in an attempt to sort out the failing Greek economy.) Other legislation he successfully introduced and steered through Parliament (in a prolific way that could hardly be contemplated or attributable to a single individual MP these days) includes: 

Certificate of thanks to Sir John Lubbock from
the President of the Dental Reform Committee, August 1878
  • Shop Hours Act,
  • the Early Closing Act 1900 (to reduce the permitted hours of work in shops and offices)
  • the Open Spaces Act
  • Public Libraries Act
  • The Ancient Monuments Act 1882 which paved the way for the creation of English Heritage and the first legislation of its kind anywhere in the world. 
  • He also successfully worked towards the recognition of dental surgery as a profession for the first time in the Dentists Act 1878.
John Lubbock was also an amateur scientist, working closely with his neighbour in Downe, Kent, one Charles Darwin. I don't know if it it was his acknowledged 'corrections' of Darwin's statistics in Origin of the Species (they exchanged considerable correspondence on this matter), but he eventually reached the esteemed position of President of the Royal Statistical Society (1900 - 1902).In those heady days, it is clear that (admittedly, privileged) individuals could indulge their passions and interests in such a way as it is nigh-on impossible to find evidenced today. In 1865, he coined the terms  "Palaeolithic" and "Neolithic" and he is widely credited with the birth of Archaelogy as a recognised scientific discipline. Indeed, it was after the beautiful and enigmatic archeological treasure of Avebury in Wiltshire that Sir John took the title Lord Avebury in 1900.
And, one of my personal favourites - and the original inspiration for this blog, the founding in January 1884 of the Proportional Representation Society (which later became the Electoral Reform Society in 1958).
Unlike my brother, Lyulph (who is an expert on our family history), I rarely visit this family past in any depth, but perhaps on the occasion of my great grandfather's death 100 years ago, a little indulgent reflection may be understood and tolerated. What I do find a little disconcerting and surprising, is just quite how relevant his work and interests are to the politics and uncertainties of today - whether it'sthe use and function of public libraries, the protection of ancient monuments, working hours, dealing with the National Debt and debt defaults in the Eurozone, or the promotion of science in the curriculum. 

Plus ça change.

Reference sources:
The Royal Society - Avebury's Circle (March 2013)
The Royal Society - Election Card