|James Speyer||Count Bernstorff|
On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Sir Edgar came under suspicion by association with his brother James, head of the New York house of Speyer & Co, an active pro-German and close friend of the German ambassador to the US, Count Bernstorff, whom he personally hosted in September.
'Sea Marge', Sir Edgar's country house at Overstrand near Cromer
Amid fears of a German invasion, spy-mania became widespread. With the loss of British cruisers to German submarines in the North Sea in September 1914, and the bombardment by the German fleet of Great Yarmouth in November and north-east coastal towns in December, Edgar was believed to be signalling to German U-boats from `Sea Marge’, his magnificent cliff-top house at Overstrand, near Cromer, in North Norfolk, and to have passed on British naval secrets overheard as a dinner-guest of his friend and patron, Prime Minister Asquith.
POLITICIANS, THE PRESS AND THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST SIR EDGAR
Speyer’s patron, Liberal Prime Minister Asquith (left) c.1916 and Lloyd George, who ousted him to lead a Conservative-dominated coalition in December 1916. Lloyd George exploited the `anti-alien’ temper to pass the Aliens Act 1918 and promised to expel `enemy aliens’ from Britain in his post-war electoral manifesto.
Edgar became the early target of a prolonged and highly personalised political and press campaign to drive him out of the country as a dangerous influence through his friendship with Asquith and a suspected spy and traitor. He was forced to resign from the UERL and the hospital boards and other charitable institutions to which he had contributed.