edgar speyer

THE STORY OF SIR EDGAR SPEYER

Sir Edgar Speyer was a conspicuous figure in the financial, cultural, social and political life of Edwardian London. He led the syndicate which financed the construction of the new `tube lines' which became known as the 'King of the Underground'. He was also a connoisseur and active patron of the arts who rescued the Proms from collapse, enhanced the nation's musical and artistic life and directed the funding of Captain Scott's Antarctic expeditions. Speyer and his wife, the concert violinist Leonora Speyer, lived in a fabulously magnificent style. In the early summer of 1914 they stood at the peak of their success and celebrity in London society.

 

However, within weeks, at the outbreak of war, they became pariahs, objects of suspicion and aversion. Despite having been a naturalised British citizen for over 20 years and a ubiquitous public benefactor, Speyer found himself ostracised by society and mercilessly harried by the Northcliffe Press. He, Leonora and their three children took refuge in America. Under the Aliens Act of 1918, Speyer was summoned in 1921 before a judicial enquiry which found him guilty of disloyalty and disaffection and of communicating and trading with the enemy. He was stripped of his citizenship and membership of the Privy Council. Pilloried by The Times as a traitor, Speyer vehemently denied the charges, but he never returned to England again, and never forgot his ordeal.

 

The downfall of Sir Edgar Speyer has been described as `a minor tragedy of the war'. This book is the first detailed account of the episode, the Speyers' prominence in London society and their fall from that height. It re-examines the Speyer case from documents newly released, presents the evidence and invites the reader to decide whether Sir Edgar was an innocent victim of nationalistic war fever, a scapegoat for the perceived failings of Prime Minister Asquith and the UK's last Liberal Government, or a traitor to his adopted country.

A thoughtfully written account that makes the reader ponder how far governments today would go if challenged with a crisis of similar magnitude.

The Londonist

 

Speyer's story is an important historical biography and also plays a part in our modern legal history, albeit a shameful episode where things went wrong for Speyer for all the wrong reasons.

Phillip Taylor OBE, Barrister