Andrew Bonar Law
Andrew Bonar Law
"The Unknown Prime Minister"
Master Mason of The Bridgeton and Glasgow Shamrock and Thistle Lodge No 275
Andrew Bonar Law was born on 16 September 1858 in Rexton, New Brunswick, The Dominion of Canada. He was the son of Rev. James Law, a Scottish Free Church Minister and his wife Elizabeth. He was the youngest of 5 children and also had 2 half sisters. Sadly, his mother died in childbirth, when he was aged 2 years. His mother belonged to the Kidston family, rich merchant bankers. As a young boy, he worked on his father's smallholding.
Returning to Scotland at the age of 12 years and living with the Kidstons, he attended Larchfield School in Helensburgh and then The High School of Glasgow. His first job was with Kidston's Bank and while there he attended night classes at Glasgow University. When the Bank merged with the Clydesdale Bank, he was directed towards a position with William Jacks, Iron Merchant and rose to become Managing Partner. However, he always had an ambition to pursue a political career.
In 1891, Law married Annie Pitcairn Robley, the daughter of a shipbroker from Dumbarton. They had 6 children - James, Isabel, Charles,Harrington, Richard, and Catherine. Tragedy struck his family once more, when his wife died in 1909 following post-operative complications.
Law first entered Parliament in 1900 at the age of 42 as Conservative and Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchestown. Tariff Reform and Home Rule for Ireland were causing major divisions within the 2 largest political parties. Additionally, the Independent Labour Party, soon to become the Labour Party, was growing in strength. Law's talents were very soon recognised and in 1902 he was appointed to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. In the Liberal landslide of 1905, he lost his seat. However, a By-Election was organised to get him back into Parliament for the Dulwich Constituency. His interest in Tariff Reform led to his appointment to the Shadow Cabinet as spokesman for that subject.
Law's public image was such that he was put forward to stand as the Parliamentary Candidate for Bootle in 1911 to try to win that seat for the Conservatives; he was duly elected.In that year he was also appointed to the Privy Council and became Leader of the Conservatives.
With the formation of a Coalition Government in 1915 under the Liberal Leader Asquith, Law took up office as Secretary of State for the Colonies. After Asquith's resignation, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, which with his banking and business background ideally suited him. Subsequently, he moved to the office of Lord Privy Seal in 1919 and remained as Leader of the House of Commons until 1921 when ill health brought about his resignation. At the 1918 General Election, he had returned to his political roots and was elected as MP for Glasgow Central.
The Great War had brought further and terrible sadness to the Law family with the loss in conflict of 2 sons James and Charlie. The eldest son, James Kidston Law, who had transferred from the Royal Fusiliers to the Flying Corps, was shot down and killed on 17 September 1917 at Arras and killed. His second son, Charlie, served in the 3rd King's Own Scottish Borderers, was killed at the 2nd Battle of Gaza. Both sons are commemorated on the War Memorial in Helensburgh.
Many Conservatives were extremely upset about certain events taking place in the political arena such as the sale of honours, a possible war with Turkey and the prospects of another coalition government under the premiership of Lloyd George. At the famous Carlton Club Meeting on 19 October 1922, Law spoke out very vociferously against a future possible coalition. His views were endorsed by the electorate which returned the Conservatives with a good working majority.
Among the honours received during his lifetime, those which he considered the most important were being awarded an LLD by Glasgow University, of which University he was an honorary graduate and the distinction of being Lord Rector of the University from 1914-1922. He also considered being given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1922 as a wonderful gift.
At the age of 64 years and 37 days, Law became Prime Minister, an office, which he held for 211 days. Having been diagnosed with throat cancer on 30 October 1923, he resigned office and was succeeded by Stanley Baldwin. His Funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on 5 November 1923 and was attended by the great and good of the country ,including The Prince of Wales, representing his father King George V. It was there amongst the most famous of the land that he was buried.
On his death, his papers were bequeathed to Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper magnate, and fellow Canadian.
Sadly we have little information about his Masonic history other than we know that he was initiated on 31 August 1900 in The Bridgeton and Glasgow Shamrock and Thistle Lodge No 275. The significance of being initiated in that Lodge probably lies in the fact that it was located within his first Parliamentary Constituency. On his death, the following was recorded in the Lodge Minute of 7 November 1923:
“ Right Worshipful Master John McGavin made fitting reference to the death of Bro. The Rt. Hon. Andrew Bonar Law, ex-premier, and the members stood to order whilst Bro. Gilbert McGrath played the Dead March and it was agreed that we record our feeling of loss to the nation of our Eminent Brother and Statesman and that we forward an expression of sympathy to the members of his family.”
The Glasgow Herald, dated 2 November 1923, intimated, that at the Meeting of Glasgow Corporation yesterday, the Rt. Hon. The Lord Provost Sir Thomas Paxton* paid tribute to Andrew Bonar Law during which tribute the Members of the Corporation stood as a mark of respect. Paxton stated that “ His death was an irreparable loss to the nation.” On the same day as the Funeral, a Memorial Service would take place at Glasgow Cathedral; provision would be made for a similar Service to take place at Renfield Street Church for those unable to be admitted to the Cathedral. The City Bells would be tolled from 11.30 am until 1 pm.
As a matter of interest, the newspaper records that, at the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge of Scotland held on 1 November 1923, HRH The Prince of Wales had consented to becoming an Honorary Member of the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
*Sir Thomas Paxton was a Master Mason of Lodge Progress No 873.