Famous for his phrase, ‘the lights are going out all over Europe; We will not see them again in our lifetime’, Sir Edward Grey played an integral part in Britain joining the First World War.
Descended from an old Northumbrian family, he lived at Fallodon Hall, near Christon Bank, and at the time he was MP for Berwick upon Tweed.
Sir Edward was an immensly important political figure who survived as Foreign Secretary for 11 consecutive years between December 1905 and December 1916.
He was first elected to the Berwick seat at Parliament in 1888, defeating Conservative Earl Percy who held the seat.
At 23 years of age he was the youngest MP in the House of Commons.
In 1905 he took on the role of foreign secretary and nine years later, after also being involved, politically, in the Boer War, it was Grey that made a speech to the opposition in Parliament which led to the British cabinet voting unanimously to go to war.
And while Sir Edward was trying to prevent the country joining the First World War it has recently been uncovered that King George V told Grey that it was ‘absolutely essential’ to go to war.
Talking to the Telegraph in July this year, Sir Edward’s great-great-nephew, Adrian Graves, told how he had found a letter which detailed an undocumented meeting between King George V and Sir Edward Grey two days before war was declared.
The letter was written by Sir Cecil Graves, Sir Edward’s nephew, and Adrian Graves’ grandson, who had met the King a month after his uncle’s death in 1933 at which the King recalled the events of 1914.
The note said: “He told me that Uncle Edward had said that he could not possibly see what justifiable reason we could find for going to war.
“HM [His Majesty] said in reply ‘you have got to find a reason Grey.’”
It added that the King said if Britain did not go to war Germany would ‘mop up’ France and take ‘complete domination of this country’.
The note went on to say that the King then received a telegram from King Albert of Belgium about the violation of Belgium which he sent to Grey with a note ‘to the effect that here was the reason and there was no need for him to try to think of anything.
Shortly after he received the King’s note Sir Edward told Parliament: “It is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved.”
In his speech to Parliament, on August 3 1914, Sir Edward said: “For us, with a powerful Fleet, which we believe able to protect our commerce, to protect our shores, and to protect our interests, if we are engaged in war, we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer even if we stand aside.
“We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war whether we are in it or whether we stand aside.
“We must be prepared, and we are prepared, for the consequences of having to use all the strength we have at any moment—we know not how soon—to defend ourselves and to take our part. We know, if the facts all be as I have stated them, though I have announced no intending aggressive action on our part, no final decision to resort to force at a moment’s notice, until we know the whole of the case, that the use of it may be forced upon us.”
On the same day at dusk he said the famous phrase ‘the lights are going out all over Europe; We will not see them again in our lifetime’ to his friend who was editor of the Westminster Gazette.
It has been much-documented that Sir Edward hated war, but without his efforts it is agreed that Britain would have been much less united than it was when it joined the war.
He worked tirelessly to prevent it and when it did happen he pursued a policy to limit the extent of the war.
And all during this time Sir Edward’s eyesight was deteriorating and he was told that he would lose the ability to read but would be able to distinguish between light and dark.
Grey left the House of Commons for the House of Lords in July 1916, on the same day of the month and week that he had taken it eleven years previously.
When the end of the war came Sir Edward did not intervene in the politics of peace making, his only enthusiasn was for the foundation of a League of Nations to prevent any such war ever happening again.
Sir Edward also knew how the full effect of the war felt. His own nephew, Adrian Graves was killed in March 1918 while Adrian’s brother, Cecil, was taken prisoner in 1914, and after it was found out that his uncle was Edward Grey, he was treated particularly badly.
Because of his prominence in Government Sir Edward was given a few perks. One of those was the ability to stop trains at the crossing near the estate which was the ‘Fallodon Station’ at the time.
Sir Edward also had high-profile visitors to Fallodon, including Winston Churchill, who wrote a letter thanking the family for his stay.
In his private life Sir Edward Grey was not fortunate.
He married Dorothy Widdrington from Newton on the Moor in 1885, the same year he was elected to Parliament.
But in 1906 she died after a Pony and Trap accident in Ellingham. He re-married his long-term friend, Pamela Glenconner, in 1922, she was pregnant with his child but lost the baby, and then died suddenly in her garden in 1928.
He also lost all three of his brothers – in 1911, George was killed by a lion on Africa; 1914 saw the loss of Alexander and in 1928 Charles was killed by a buffalo in Africa.
This meant there were no heirs from Edward or his male siblings – however his sisters had a better record.
After leaving office Sir Edward enjoyed more time at Fallodon, he was a lover of nature, and specifically birds and fishing and has written books on both.
But in 1917, while he was on holiday in Scotland part of Fallodon Hall burnt down, and Sir Edward had to live in the kitchen wing, which had been saved, while it was rebuilt, using the same bricks but making it only two storeys instead of three.
Sir Edward died at Fallodon Hall on September 7, 1933 aged 71. He left the hall to his nephew Cecil who loved it, but his wife did not and it was sold to Colonel the Hon H Bridgeman, grandfather of the present owner, Mark Bridgeman, who lives there now with his wife, Lucia and six children.
His ashes are buried under a tree in the woods at Fallodon, with those of his wife Dorothy.
The owners of Fallodon held an exhibition about Grey earlier this year and are keen for historians and school groups to visit and find out more about him and his history.