First Commissioner of Works Despatch Box, 1905
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15cm (6in) x 45.5cm (17.5in) x 35cm (14in)
Red leather over wood with brass fittings, and conforming to the 1860s ministerial despatch box design, the hinged lid centrally applied with recessed handle (to guarantee that the box is locked before being carried) between two gilt crowned EVIIR cyphers of Edward VII within twin black panels, the leading chamfered edge embossed ‘First Commissioner of Works 1905’. The interior forward edge stamped with the maker’s name ‘Wickwar & Co / 6 Poland Street - Makers to / H.M. Staty. Office’ and fitted with a Wickwar security lock with working key.
The First Commissioner of Works was a Government position often at Cabinet level. The role was renamed Minister of Works in 1940, and was subsumed into the Department of the Environment in 1970. In 1905 Lewis ‘Loulou’ Harcourt (1863-1922) held the post. He was Liberal Member of Parliament for Rossendale, Lancashire from 1904 to 1916, and served in Campbell-Bannerman’s Government (with Cabinet rank from 1907) and afterwards in H.H.Asquith's cabinet of 1908-10 and again between 1915 and 1916. As First Commissioner he authorised the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens in 1912. In 1911 the suffragette Ada Wright smashed the windows of his home in Berkeley Square and received two weeks in prison for her trouble. Educated at Eton and Oxford,iewas private secretary to his father, Sir William when Home Secretary and
Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1880s and 90s. Between 1910 and 1915, Harcourt was Secretary of State for the Colonies under Asquith, and was raised to the peerage as Viscount Harcourt in 1917. He married in 1899 Mary Ethel Burns, a niece J. P. Morgan. Through her, the family acquired the famous ‘Harcourt emeralds’. Harcourt was known to London Society for his wandering eye. A contemporary wrote of him that "It is so tiresome that Loulou is such an old roué. He is as bad with boys as with girls…'