Askwith, George Ranken, Baron Askwith 1861-1942, barrister, arbitrator, and member of many government committees and commissions, was born at Waltham Abbey, Essex, 17 February 1861, son of William Harrison Askwith, then colonel in the Royal Artillery (later general), by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of George Ranken. Educated at Marlborough and at Brasenose College, Oxford, he took first class honours in modern history in 1884, read law, and was called to the bar by the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple in 1886.
Askwith worked first in the chambers of Sir Henry James (later Lord James of Hereford) [qv.] who in later life specialized as arbitrator in labour disputes; and the young lawyer was able to draw from this association knowledge and experience which in future years stood him in good stead when similar work came his way. James's good offices also brought him the appointment of counsel for H.M. Commissioners of Works and counsel for the Crown in peerage claims. He took silk in 1908, although a year earlier he had abandoned active practice at the bar to take up the post of assistant secretary in the railway branch of the Board of Trade.
Thenceforward Askwith's career was closely bound up with public and official affairs. In 1908 he was government representative at the international copyright conference at Berlin. The following year he became controller-general of the commercial, labour, and statistical department of the Board of Trade, and chairman of the fair wages advisory committee. In 1911 he was appointed chief industrial commissioner, holding this post until 1919.
The years just prior to the war of 1914-18 were clouded with industrial troubles, and it was in judicially working out the rights and wrongs of disputes between masters and men that Askwith acquired a national reputation. There were dangerous potentialities in nation-wide clashes in major industries, and his services as a conciliator in such matters (especially the railway and dock troubles of 1911) were notable.
Among the many posts held by Askwith during an extremely active life were: chairman of the committee on production (1915-17) which acted as a tribunal to deal with disputes on government work; member of the Royal Commission on cattle importation (1921); chairman of the Royal Commission on Malta (1931); chairman of the parliamentary delegation to Bermuda (1932); member of the panel for commissions of inquiry under article 412 of the Treaty of Versailles (1934). He was chairman of the council of the Royal Society of Arts (1922-4); of the governors of Royal Holloway College; of the council of Cheltenham Ladies' College, and a member of the council of St. Hilda's College, Oxford; he served as president of the British Science Guild, the Institute of Patentees, the National Association of Trade Protection Societies, and the Institute of Arbitrators.
In 1912 Oxford awarded Askwith the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, and in 1919 he was elected an honorary fellow of Brasenose. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Law from Leeds University in 1937. He was appointed C.B. in 1909, promoted K.C.B. in 1911, and in 1919 was created a baron. He died in London 2 June 1942.
In 1908 Askwith married Ellen, daughter of Archibald Peel, and widow of Major Henry Graham of the 20th Hussars. There was one daughter of the marriage, but no son, so that the peerage became extinct.
The Times, 3 June 1942.
Contributor: Herbert B. Grimsditch.