THE BLOG

Sir Edgar Speyer - Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?

11/07/2013 12:12 BST | Updated 09/09/2013 10:12 BST

Have you ever heard of Sir Edgar Speyer?

The chances are that unless you have stayed at his former sprawling home on the North Norfolk coast where his story and sad demise is displayed in the lobby - now the splendid Sea Marge Hotel where I first heard of him - it is unlikely that his name will be familiar to you.

Yet  Sir Edgar, with his German ancestry, became a British citizen and a member of the Privy Council, and was a celebrated figure in the financial, cultural and political high life of Edwardian England. He was a truly inspirational, philanthropic and generous figure whose vision had a transformational impact on some of the greatest British projects  around the turn of the 20th century.

Without Sir Edgar there would be no London underground, no Proms and no expeditions by Captain Scott to the Antarctic or the Scott Polar Research Institute. He was a friend of Liberal Prime Minister Asquith  and Sir Winston Churchill who had a holiday cottage in Overstrand close to Sir Edgar's home, was a regular visitor there.

His rapid fall from grace resulted after the outbreak of World War 1 when he was judged to be disloyal to Britain and guilty of communicating with Germany in wartime. He was driven to exile to the United States in 1915.

It is a riveting and intriguing tale, and I am not the only one to think so as Sir Edgar's dramatic background also captured the imagination of Cambridge academic Tony Lentin who has thoroughly researched his extraordinary life in a book just published entitled, Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer. A foreword is written by the eminent and distinguished barrister Sir Louis Blom-Cooper who believes Sir Edgar suffered a great injustice, saying that "the State failed one of its prominent citizens and blotted its own copy book."

Lentin, who explains here what drove him to write this book, presents us with all the facts and prefers readers to make their own mind up about whether Sir Edgar was a traitor or scapegoat.