Life and death of a non-conformist

11th April 1997 at 01:00
When Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, published his People's Budget in 1909, proposing "to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness" with a super-tax on the rich, he sent a copy to an obscure Welshman, acknowledging him as the "real author of the budget".

The recipient was his uncle, Richard Lloyd, a shoemaker and Baptist minister, in whose cottage in Llanystumdwy in North Wales the young David Lloyd George was brought up. It was here that he began to absorb the ideas and attitudes that eventually led him to be labelled the founder of the modern welfare state.

Lloyd George's father, William, a schoolteacher, died when David was one year old, and his uncle, a gifted scholar and craftsman, and a leading figure in the village, became the young boy's mentor. Highgate Cottage, a two-storey terraced building in the main street, was then a centre of much literary, theological and political debate. The future Prime Minister of Britain spent many hours in the corner of his uncle's workshop, listening to and joining in the lively discussions on issues of the day.

Though his home was humble, it was not poor. Lloyd George was still the best-dressed boy in the village school. But poverty was there, among local farming and quarrying families. He later wrote: "The harrowing narratives I heard - of excessive rents and grinding oppression - were among the traditions of my childhood."

The brilliant and persuasive non-conformist of later years could be glimpsed early on. Even at school, where by the age of eight he was being taught with 14-year-olds - he was notably rebellious, on one occasion success-fully persuading his classmates to refuse to say the catechism when the vicar visited the school.

The school still stands, as does the cottage. The latter, open to the public, has been furnished as it was in Lloyd George's childhood, and is used for Victorian activities by school groups.

His desk is in the parlour, as is the portrait of his uncle's hero, Abraham Lincoln. The workshop, with bench, boots and shoes, has also been recreated for educational use.

Next door is the Lloyd George Museum, which, besides a Victorian schoolroom, contains several evocative possessions - his prime ministerial briefcase, his pipes and walking shoes, and the thick pencils he used to write his war memoirs.

The museum usefully charts the stormy career of the fiery young social reformer who entered Parliament at 27, led the Welsh revolt against the 1902 Education Act, created the old-age pension and national insurance, and became leader of the coalition government during the First World War.

There are reminders, too, of his battle for religious liberty in Wales; his support for votes for women; his successful campaign for a Welsh department in the board of education and, at the end, the critical role he played in removing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain from office in 1940.

He returned to Llanystumdwy at the end of his life, and remains a strong presence there. A short walk up the hill, past the renovated smithy he frequented as a boy, takes visitors near to his beautiful last home, Ty Newydd. Overlooking Cardigan Bay and now used for writing courses by the Taliesin Trust, this was where Lloyd George died in 1945.

A rebel to the last, he refused to be buried in Westminster Abbey. He chose, instead, a spot near the building which now houses the museum, beside the river Dwyfor, where he used to roam as a child. Here, on his birthday each year, children from the village school come to lay flowers in memory of their most celebrated former pupil.

Lloyd George Museum, tel: 01766 522071. For visits to the cottage contact Gwenda Williams, Gwynedd Archives and Museums Services, County Offices, Caenarfon, Gwynedd LL55 1SH. Tel: 01286 679091

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