John Passmore Edwards – journalist, campaigner for the working people, chartist, pacifist and anti-war campaigner, philanthropist, he twice refused Royal recognition

John Passmore Edwards

John Passmore Edwards was born on 24th March 1823 in Blackwater, between Redruth and Truro, Cornwall, the son of a carpenter.

After an education at the village school, he became a journalist and by the early 1840s was working as a free-lance writer in London.

During this time he became an activist and served on several committees. These included such causes as the abolition of capital punishment, the suppression of the opium trade and the abolition of flogging in the services. Passmore Edwards also helped direct the Political Reform Association.

From 1848 onwards, he attended various peace conferences in Europe as a delegate from the London Peace Society. He also published and edited various magazines, promoting such things as peace and temperance. Over the following years, he purchased several successful publications and in 1876 bought the ‘Echo’, the first London daily halfpenny paper.

He stood as an Independent candidate for Truro in the General Election of 1868. From 1880 to 1885 John Passmore Edwards was Liberal MP for Salisbury and later he began his philanthropic activities.

However, he soon became sceptical about the quality of professional politics and the inability of politicians to effectively represent the interests of their constituents. He twice refused knighthood, and his opposition to the Second Boer War made him somewhat unpopular.

A lifelong champion of the working classes, Passmore Edwards is remembered as a generous benefactor. Over the space of 14 years, 70 major buildings were established as a direct result of his bequests. These included hospitals, 11 drinking fountains, 32 marble busts, 24 libraries, schools, convalescence homes and art galleries and the Passmore Edwards Settlement in Tavistock Place. He was also a generous donor to the Workers' Educational Association.

He also gave money to many hospitals including Tilbury Hospital next to Tilbury Dock Essex, where he built a ward which was named after him. Wards in Wembley Cottage Hospital and Willesden General were also named after him.

Some of his major beneficiaries were the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the London School of Economics.

He founded 24 libraries in London, the Home Counties and Cornwall. In a short period, more than 70 major buildings were established as a result of bequests from John Passmore Edwards.

He died on 22nd April 1911 aged 88 years.

Photographs show John Passmore Edwards, a plaque to his work in Launcestion and his fine library and telephone exchange in Truro.

This article has been kindly provided by Kernow Matters to Us and is the thirteenth in a series on Famous Folk of Kernow (Cornwall).