ERIC LUBBOCK

 
Eric was born on the 29th of September 1928 in London, to Maurice and Adelaide Lubbock. His father was the youngest son of John Lubbock, the first Lord Avebury a Victorian scientist and social reformer. His mother was born Adelaide Stanley from a well-known aristocratic family with roots stretching back to the Norman Conquest and beyond. With such long pedigrees and considerable wealth, Eric was born to a background of privilege. This was exemplified by, what was then the country home of the Lubbock family at High Elms.

When the family first bought High Elms in 1808, the land covered about 270 acres. Over the next century this was extended to a peak of 10 times that figure, with the boundaries stretching from the Church Field at St Giles to the edge of the village of Downe. In addition, there were quite a few tenant properties in both Downe and Farnborough (and some on the estate itself).

The first world war changed much for the family with the loss of sons and declining wealth so that, by the time Eric was born, the estate was somewhat reduced in size, influence and number of servants. Nevertheless, it was still an extremely comfortable life.

Recently, the rangers at High Elms led an initiative to dig into the past. Among the contacts reestablished were the children of a couple of the former servants who were around in my father’s childhood. The dominating figure was his grandmother, Alice, who ruled the house with some strictness. Like many children of wealthy families, Eric was destined for boarding school, in his case Harrow. In some ways, he enjoyed his time there getting away from the rather repressive environment at High Elms. On the other hand, he did not enjoy the regime at the school and his naturally rather rebellious streak was perhaps born there.

Before he finished his studies however, the Second World War intervened. Eric and his sister Olivia and a couple of cousins were evacuated to one of his aunt’s friends who lived near Toronto in Canada. The rest of the war years were spent there finishing his schooling.

At the end of 1945, at the early age of 17, Eric attended Balliol College at Oxford where he studied first Mathematics and then Engineering. After graduating in 1949, Eric then started his National Service with the Welsh Guards, spending much of his time in post war Germany. One of the more “glamorous” parts of his service was his time acting as guard outside the Bank of England.

After completing his National Service, Eric spent the next few years in management consultancy. First, there was a brief spell with his father at the company P-E (Production Engineering). During this time, he met and married my mother Kina O’Kelly. Then he spent a few years at Rolls Royce in Derbyshire (where my brother Maurice and I were born). After the death of his father in 1957, the family moved back down south to High Elms.  Once back there, he began work at Morgan Grampian. He also stood for the local council and slightly to his surprise won the election to gain his first taste of political office. At around this time, my sister Victoria was born.

In 1962, he won a now famous by election for the Liberals in the constituency of Orpington, overturning a huge Tory majority through a series of unusual circumstances and much hard work. (The family had a strong tradition of Liberalism with 8 MPs in Eric’s direct ancestry going back in the previous 6 generations). From this point he gained the epithet “Orpington Man” which was often part of any tag line in subsequent newspaper reports about him.

During his time as an MP Eric was one of the hardest working members, with one of the best attendance records.  He quickly became the Liberal whip in 1963, which wasn’t too demanding given the few MPs at the start of his time in Parliament. Then, when the Liberal leader, Jo Grimond retired, Eric stood for the leadership against Emlyn Hooson and Jeremy Thorpe. The latter won, but that did not diminish the friendship between the two men and they continued to work well together and remained friends for the rest of their lives.  

He survived the next two general elections with a gradually reducing majority before being unseated in the 1970 election by Ivor Stanbrook under the Heath Government. His exit from politics was brief however, as he inherited the Avebury peerage in 1971 following the death of his cousin John.

After some deliberation, and some discomfort with the idea of taking a hereditary peerage, Eric took his seat in the House of Lords where he remained until his death.

He believed he could do some good there albeit from an unearned position (and voting for abolition when the matter came up).

One of the abiding interests of Eric’s life was the defence of the underprivileged and persecuted. This did not always make him popular with some people. As an MP his defence of the Roma people and gypsies earned him a few enemies with taunts of “how would you like them in your back yard?”. Once he entered the Lords, he saw it as a chance to take up more such causes and turn his attention more to foreign affairs.

 
Eric with interfaith leaders at the Foriegn Office 2013 

In the 1970s Eric made a couple of trips to what was then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). During his time there, he learned something about Buddhism. So much so that over the next few years he took up a particular form (Therevada) as representative of his philosophy. He never really regarded it as a religion, instead he thought of it as a philosophy of existence. Indeed, if asked, he would describe himself as a humanist. As such he won “secularist of the year” in 2009 for his humanitarian work across the world. This is not of course to say he was opposed to religion; he fought for the rights of all religions to co-exist in peace wherever there was conflict and was honoured by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs at various times for his work in defending their freedoms.

Eric’s attachment to human rights started early in his political career. He chaired the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group from 1964-1970. In 1976, he then founded and for over twenty years chaired the Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He was also a long-time supporter of the work of Amnesty International. He passionately believed in free and equal societies, and the list of causes he took up is long and often for peoples in places throughout the world few of us have ever heard of, but once he got involved, he never stopped.

At home, his causes included electoral law and voting systems, promotion of science and technology in the UK, gypsy rights, water fluoridation, humane prisons, nature and heritage conservation and free speech. Eric believed that public life carried with it certain responsibilities and required conduct. He sat on the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life in 1974-1976. Latterly, he was horrified by all the fallout from the MPs' expenses scandal, and thought it had done much long term damage to Parliamentary credibility.

In 1985, Eric married for the second time. His wife was Lindsay Stewart, who he met through his Amnesty International connection. They had a son, my half-brother, John William who many of the family know as JW. During the 1980s Eric was involved with a number of IT ventures which reflected a long time interest he had in the subject of computers. These had a brief flowering but were not ultimately successful.

In 1999, the majority of hereditary peers had their right to sit in the House of Lords revoked. However, Parliament decided that prior to what was then thought to be impending abolition of the Upper House, they would keep a rump of 92 of the most popular, hard-working peers – selected by the house as a whole. Eric was selected  amongst these and as we now know, no further reform of the system has been seen since.

You might have thought, given his large political workload and daily attendance at the House of Lords, when it was sitting, that he had little time for other activity. This is far from being the case. Eric was an active member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and a fellow of the British Computer Society. He loved the works of JS Bach, especially the religious music, and for 14 years chaired the meetings of The London Bach Society.

He was a keen amateur historian and often carried out original research. He especially appreciated the access to the House of Lords archives that his position allowed.
 

Latterly, he maintained a blog of his life and a regular Twitter account which gained a circulation of thousands of followers.  

The last government, with its coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives was Eric’s first experience of working within Government. He spoke for his party on both foreign affairs and health in the Lords. Coalition was a mixed blessing for him and he would always say, “I am too old to tow the party line now”.

In the last few years, Eric knew he had a terminal illness. His blog would often contain quite brutally honest appraisals of his condition or pictures of operations. In some ways, this was a useful mechanism to keep a lot of people informed but it also provides a useful account of the latter part of his life now we are looking back in hindsight. A final cause that Eric took up in his final days was to support the Assisted Dying bill through its passage during the various stages of legislation. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see its conclusion. Although he was able to work until early last December, in the end he died on 14 Feb 2016 in his own bed at home after a long struggle with his illness, wonderfully supported by Kings College Hospital and St Christopher’s Hospice.  Read More

Lyulph Lubbock


contact sitemap directions home home