John Henry Whitley

John Henry Whitley (1866 – 1935), often known as J. H. Whitley, was a respected and successful British politician whose life and career spanned a period of significant social change, from roots in the heart of the Industrial Revolution through to the inter-war period.


Family and early career

John Henry Whitley was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, early in 1866 [1] son of Nathan Whitley (1830–1889) from Ovenden. Nathan went on to serve as Mayor of Halifax (1876–1877), succeeding Edward Crossley, son of another local carpet manufacturer, John Crossley.

After an early education boarding at Wiseman's House, Clifton College,[2] John Henry entered his uncle, Samuel Whitley's cotton spinning business, S. Whitley & Co. at Hanson Lane Mills, Skircoat, Halifax.[3] Nathan was a partner in the business and took over after Samuel's death in 1884.

In 1892, John Henry married Margherita (Margaret) Virginia Marchetti,[4] born in Putney in 1872.[5] She was a daughter of Italian, Julian (Giulio) Marchetti, who had served as an Officer under Garibaldi before settling in England to marry Anne Crossley in Halifax in 1871[6] and take his place in the carpet manufacturing business.

John and Margherita had two daughters and two sons; Margaret Phyllis 1895,[7] Percival Nathan 1894,[8] Monica Virginia 1903[9] and Oliver John 1912.[10] Margherita died in 1925[11] and John Henry remarried in 1928 to Helen Clarke.[12]

Political career


John Henry became Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Halifax in 1900, a seat he held until he resigned in 1928. He served as Junior Lord of the Treasury from 1907 to 1910 in the Liberal Government 1905-1915. He was appointed Privy Counsellor in 1911 and later Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.

Whitley Councils

During World War I, in 1917, Whitley was appointed to chair a committee to report on 'the Relations of Employers and Employees' in the wake of the establishment of the shop stewards movement and the widespread protest action against dilution. The smooth running of industry was vital to the war effort so maintaining good industrial relations was a priority.[13]

He proposed a system of regular formal consultative meetings between workers and employers, known to this day as "Whitley Councils". These would be empowered to cover any issue related to pay and conditions of service, and to take matters through to arbitration if necessary. This was a strong model which was to influence industrial relations beyond the UK.

The intention was to establish Whitley councils in the private sector, in particular in those industries most affected by the strike wave - to offset the demand for 'Workers' control' - a demand which was rapidly gaining ground after the Russian revolution.

However, the councils failed to gain ground in coal, cotton, engineering and other heavy industries, but succeeded only in the sphere of government employment where they remain a major feature of public sector industrial relations to this day.


Whitley was appointed Speaker of the House of Commons in 1921, a post he held until 1928, when he resigned [14] due to ill health. He refused the customary peerage offered by the monarch — breaking a tradition that had originated in 1789.[3]


His political work continued however and he chaired the Royal Commission on Labour in India, which reported in 1931. The report surprised many by concurring with the criticisms of Mahatma Gandhi and others that poverty was the cause of India's social and industrial problems. It was also critical of British employers' role in perpetuating the problems.[15]

Whitley was offered a knighthood for his work on this report, but again, he, like a minority of others, declined.


His friendship with John Reith led to his appointment as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC in 1930.[16] In 1932, he made the first broadcast on the Empire Service, which developed into the World Service.[3] He held the Chairmanship until he died in 1935, aged 69.

He is buried in Plot 456, Lister Lane Cemetery,[17] Halifax.


  • John Henry Whitley: The Great Alternative; Saner Politics or Revolution, ISBN 1154173658
  • S J Chapman, John Henry Whitley (Introduction): Labor and Capital after the War (1918), 2009, ISBN 978-1-104-21032-8


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  2. ^ Clifton College: Wiseman's House"
  3. ^ a b c Halifax Courier: Biography of J H Whitley
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  12. ^ Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion
  13. ^ J. H. Macrae-Gibson, The Fabian Society 1922; The Whitley system in the civil service.
  14. ^ Time Magazine 2 July 1928: GREAT BRITAIN New Speaker
  15. ^ Time Magazine, 13 July 1931: St. Gandhi Yessed
  16. ^ The BBC Story: BBC Chairmen Listing
  17. ^ Lister Lane Cemetery

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alfred Billson and
Alfred Arnold
Member of Parliament for Halifax
With: Sir Savile Crossley, to 1906
James Parker, 1906–1918
one seat from 1918
Succeeded by
Arthur Longbottom
Preceded by
James Caldwell
Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means
Succeeded by
Sir Donald Maclean
Preceded by
Alfred Emmott
Chairman of Ways and Means
Succeeded by
James Hope
Preceded by
James William Lowther
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Edward FitzRoy
Media offices
Preceded by
George Villiers
Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors
Succeeded by
William Clive Bridgeman

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