John Henry Whitley

John Henry Whitley PC (8 February 1866 – 3 February 1935), often known as J. H. Whitley, was a British politician and Georgist.[1][2]

John Henry Whitley
John Henry Whitley in 1915
Speaker of the House of Commons
In office
MonarchGeorge V
Preceded byJames William Lowther
Succeeded byEdward FitzRoy
Member of Parliament
for Halifax
In office
Personal details
Born(1866-02-08)8 February 1866
Halifax, Yorkshire
Died3 February 1935(1935-02-03) (aged 68)
Halifax, Yorkshire
Resting placeLister Lane Cemetery, Halifax
53.7223°N 1.8741°W / 53.7223; -1.8741 (Lister Lane Cemetery)
Political partyLiberal
Alma materClifton College
OccupationCotton miller

Family and early career

Whitley was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, on 8 February 1866[3][4] son of Nathan Whitley (1830–1889) from Ovenden. Nathan went on to serve as Mayor of Halifax (1876–1877), succeeding his cousin-in-law Edward Crossley, the son of Joseph Crossley (1813-1868), a partner in John Crossley & Sons carpet factory, Halifax.

After an early education boarding at Wiseman's House, Clifton College,[5] Whitley entered his uncle Samuel Whitley's cotton spinning business, S. Whitley & Co. at Hanson Lane Mills, Skircoat, Halifax.[6] Nathan was a partner in the business and took over after Samuel's death in 1884.

In 1892, Whitley married Margherita (Margaret) Virginia Marchetti.[7] Margherita was born in Putney in 1872,[8] a daughter of an Italian, Giulio (Julian) Marchetti, who had served as an officer under Garibaldi before settling in England to marry Anne Crossley in Halifax in 1871[9] and take his place in the carpet manufacturing business.

They had two daughters and two sons: Margaret Phyllis b.1895;[10] Percival Nathan b.1893;[11] Monica Virginia b.1903;[12] and Oliver John b.1912.[13] Margherita died in 1925[14] and John Henry remarried in 1928 to Helen Clarke in Chelsea.[15][16]

Political career


Whitley 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 Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 1910–1911, Privy Counsellor in 1911 and he held the role of Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, from 1911–1921.

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.[17]

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[18] on grounds of ill health. He refused the customary peerage offered by the monarch – breaking a tradition that had originated in 1789.[6]

Some notable portraits of Whitley were commissioned during this period, with paintings by both William Rothenstein[19] and Glyn Warren Philpot.[20]


Despite resigning as MP and Speaker, his political work continued. 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.[21]

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.[22] In 1932, he made the first broadcast on the Empire Service, which developed into the World Service.[6] He held the Chairmanship until his death.

Death and burial

Whitley died on 3 February 1935, aged 68, shortly before his 69th birthday.[3] He is buried in Plot 456, Lister Lane Cemetery, Halifax.[23]


  • Whitley, John Henry (1918). The Great Alternative; Saner Politics or Revolution. ISBN 1-154-17365-8.
  • Whitley, John Henry (1918). Chapman, S.J. (ed.). (Introduction): Labor and Capital after the War. p. 296. ISBN 978-1-104-21032-8.

The John Henry Whitley archive

The personal archive of John Henry Whitley was donated to the Archives and Special Collections of the University of Huddersfield in 2012.[24][25]


A blue plaque was to Whitley erected by the Halifax Civic Trust.[26]


  1. "His Majesty's Ministers and the Doctrines of Henry George". The National Review. W.H. Allen. 1908. p. 419. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  2. The National Review, Volume 51
  3. "Royal Academy of Arts Collections - Person". Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  4. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. March 1866. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  5. "Clifton College - Upper - Houses - Wiseman's House". Clifton College. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  6. "Mr Speaker, a son of Halifax". Halifax Courier. 28 June 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  7. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. June 1892. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  8. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. September 1872. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  9. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. June 1871. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  10. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. June 1895. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  11. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. December 1893. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  12. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. December 1903. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  13. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. March 1912. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  14. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. December 1925. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  15. Bull, Malcolm (ed.). "Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion". Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  16. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. September 1928. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  17. Macrae-Gibson, J. H. (1922). "The Whitley system in the civil service". The Fabian Society. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  18. "GREAT BRITAIN New Speaker". Time. 2 July 1928. Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  19. "National Portrait Gallery - Portrait - NPG 4799; John Henry Whitley". National Portrait Gallery. 1924. Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  20. "Artwork - John Henry Whitley [ 1866-1935 Speaker ] - UK Parliament". Art in Parliament. 1929. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
  21. "St. Gandhi Yessed". Time. 13 July 1931. Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  22. "The BBC Story: BBC Chairmen Listing" (PDF). BBC. Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  23. "Lister Lane Cemetery - People". Friends of Lister Lane Cemetery. Retrieved 11 May 2006.
  24. "Historic political archive finds home in Huddersfield". Huddersfield Daily Examiner. 29 December 2012.
  25. Devenney, Amy (2012). "New Deposits of the University of Huddersfield Archives and Special Collections". Huddersfield Local History Society Journal: 40–42.
  26. "List of Blue Plaques". Halifax Civic Trust. Retrieved 30 April 2019.

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 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 Bridgeman
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