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Wavell Wakefield, 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal

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The Lord Wakefield of Kendal
Birth nameWilliam Wavell Wakefield
Date of birth(1898-03-10)10 March 1898
Place of birthBeckenham, Kent, England
Date of death12 August 1983(1983-08-12) (aged 85)
Place of deathKendal, Cumbria, England
SchoolSedbergh School
UniversityPembroke College, Cambridge
Rugby union career
Position(s) Flanker
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
Harlequins ()
1921–1924 Leicester 29 (30)
International career
Years Team Apps (Points)
1920–1927 England 31 (6)

William Wavell Wakefield, 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal (10 March 1898 – 12 August 1983), known as Sir Wavell Wakefield between 1944 and 1963, was an English rugby union player for Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and England, President of the Rugby Football Union and Conservative politician.

Background and education[edit]

Wakefield was born in Beckenham, Kent, the son of Roger William Wakefield. He was the brother of Sir Edward Wakefield, 1st Baronet, also a Conservative politician. His youngest brother, Roger Cuthbert Wakefield, was an early British & Irish Lion, touring on the 1927 British Lions tour to Argentina. He attended Sedbergh School in Cumbria, leaving during the First World War to join the Royal Naval Air Service at the Admiralty testing station at Hill of Oaks on Windermere.[citation needed] After returning from the war he took a degree in mechanical sciences (engineering) from Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in 1923.[1]

Rugby career[edit]

After the war Wakefield became the captain of the RAF rugby team and joined Harlequins. On 11 October 1919, he made his debut for Harlequins against Richmond and he continued to play for the club for the next ten years. He occasionally played for other teams during this time, but Harlequins was always his main club. During his career with Harlequins, he appeared a total of 136 times, including 82 as captain, and he made his final appearance on 25 January 1930 against Cambridge University. He scored 51 tries for the club, along with one penalty and 14 conversions. He was club captain in the seasons 1920/21, 1924/25 and 1927/28 to 1929/30. Wakefield played for Leicester Tigers between 1921 and 1924 playing 29 games and scoring 10 tries. He was captain in all but one game he played for the club.[2]

In 1920, Wakefield made his England debut against Wales. He captained the Cambridge University team in 1922. In total, he appeared for England 31 times and was captain on 13 occasions. He led England to back-to-back Grand Slams. His final appearance for England was against France in April 1927. Through his career, Wakefield's influence on the game was pronounced. As an excellent all-round athlete he helped revolutionise the role of the back row forward. Prior to Wakefield their role was mainly static—pushing in the set scrum and winning the ball in loose scrums (or rucks, as they later became). Wakefield's athleticism enabled him to play a more dynamic role: pressuring the opposition half backs in defence and supporting the attacks of the three quarters, and these remain the prime responsibilities of the modern open side flank forward. Rugby historian Barry Bowker described Wakefield thus; "A complete footballer, he had all the attributes – strength, weight and speed – of a great forward. He was a master of the art of dribbling with pace, was up with his backs to share in an attack and took and gave passes well".[3]

He remained involved in rugby and was the RFU president in 1950. From 1950 to 1980 he was president of Harlequins. An all-round sportsman, Wakefield also became the president of the Ski Club of Great Britain, the British Sub-Aqua Club and the British Water Ski Federation. In 1999 Wakefield was inducted as the first English member of the International Rugby Hall of Fame.[4]

Business and political career[edit]

In 1931, Wakefield joined the Rediffusion radio company.[5] In 1935, he moved into politics, becoming Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Swindon. At the 1945 general election, he moved to St Marylebone. He was knighted in 1944 and in 1963, upon retiring from Parliament, was raised to the peerage as Baron Wakefield of Kendal, of Kendal in the County of Westmorland.[6] For many years he was an active member of the Conservative Monday Club.[7]

1945 general election and the Hampstead "anti-alien" petition[edit]

In August 1945 The Jewish Chronicle reported that "antisemitism on the part of [Conservative] party supporters had led many local political associations not to select Jewish candidates".[8] During the election campaign of that year, Conservative candidate Wavell Wakefield said that Jewish refugees should be repatriated to solve London's housing crisis.[9]

Apart from his sporting and political careers Wakefield was instrumental in the preservation of the Ullswater 'Steamers' and the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, through his Lake District Estates company. In 1954, Wakefield bought a controlling shareholding in Ullswater 'Steamers', saving the company from bankruptcy. In 1960, along with Midlands stockbroker Colin Gilbert, he purchased the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway from the Keswick Granite Company in order to prevent its closure. After Colin Gilbert's death in 1968, he became the sole owner. Upon Wakefield's death, his daughter, the Hon. Joan Raynsford OBE, took over as the head director of the railway company. His other two daughters, Sheila Hensman OBE and Ruth Adorian OBE, also became active directors.[10][11]

Personal life[edit]

Lord Wakefield of Kendal died in August 1983, aged 85, when the barony became extinct.[12]

Coat of arms of Wavell Wakefield, 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal
A bat displayed Proper charged on each wing with a crescent Argent.
Argent two barrulets Sable between three owls Proper.
Dexter a skier with skis and sticks Proper, sinister a figure representing a member of the England Rugby Football team with ball Proper.
Be Just And Fear Not[13]


  1. ^ Reason, John (rev.), "Wakefield, (William) Wavell, Baron Wakefield of Kendal (1898–1983)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, 23 September 2004. Retrieved 25 May 2020. (subscription required)
  2. ^ Farmer, Stuart; Hands, David. Tigers – Official history of Leicester Football Club. The Rugby DevelopmentFoundation. p. 453. ISBN 978-0-9930213-0-5.
  3. ^ Bowker, Barry (1978). England Rugby. London: Cassell. p. 60. ISBN 0-304-30214-7.
  4. ^ "Wavell Wakefield". International Rugby Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  5. ^ "1928 – 1978: The first 50 Years of Rediffusion". Rediffusion Ltd. 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  6. ^ "No. 43162". The London Gazette. 19 November 1963. p. 9433.
  7. ^ Copping, Robert (1975). The Monday Club – Crisis and After. Ilford: Current Affairs Information Service. p. 25.
  8. ^ Denis MacShane, Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008)
  9. ^ Graham Macklin, 'A quite natural and moderate defensive feeling'? The 1945 Hampstead 'anti-alien' petition' (2003) in Patterns of Prejudice 37:3 DOI: 10.1080/00313220307594
  10. ^ "History of the Railway". Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Archived from the original on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  11. ^ "History of Ullswater 'Steamers'". Ullswater 'Steamers'. Archived from the original on 10 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  12. ^ "PIONEERS OF OUR PAST: WILLIAM WAVELL WAKEFIELD". Rugby Football Union. 15 February 2021. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  13. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 1973.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Swindon
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for St Marylebone
Succeeded by
Sporting positions
Preceded by English National Rugby Union Captain
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Wakefield of Kendal