Sydney Chapman, "Some memories and reflections"

Scope and Content

Chapman's autobiography entitled "Some memories and reflections". Although Chapman completed the manuscript before his death, it was never published. The volume is typescript (with a few manuscript additions) and divided into the following chapters:

  • Preface (ff.iii-v)
  • Chapter 1 - Cambridge (ff.1-31)
  • Chapter 2 - Manchester (ff.32-78)
  • Chapter 3 - The Board of Trade (ff.79-135)
  • Chapter 4 - War Economy and Recovery (ff. 136-187)
  • Chapter 5 - The League of Nations (ff.188-225)
  • Chapter 6 - The Gold Standard and Tariffs (ff.226-261)

Chapter 1 Chapman describes his education in moral sciences at Cambridge, including intellectual influences (John McTaggart, Henry Jackson and Alfred Marshall). Discusses Marshall's influence in deciding to specialise in economics, and his methods of teaching and analysis.

Chapter 2 describes his time as a research student at Manchester and a lecturer at the University College, Cardiff. There is a long section describing his return to Manchester as professor of political economy, the dissolution of the Victoria University, the creation of the University of Manchester and its Faculty of Commerce and Administration, and a description of academic life at Manchester at the time, including some leading personalities (Samuel Alexander, Grafton Elliott Smith, Joseph Petaval, George Unwin) and the sense of academic community there, both in and out of work. Chapman refers to his involvement with the University Settlement and Art Museum and Workers' Educational Association. He provides an account of his research into the cotton industry, including the methods of the "organic" approach to economic analysis, which he subscribed to. There are also brief portraits of his Faculty colleagues, an account of his involvement with the British Association, and his friendships with the economists and statisticians, Robert Giffen, Arthur Bowley and Edwin Cannan.

Chapter 3 provides an account of Chapman's work at Board of Trade during the First World War, including the different working methods of successive presidents of the Board of Trade, Walter Runciman and Sir Albert Stanley. Chapman outlines his early work on intelligence gathering on wartime industries, the introduction of the reserved occupation scheme, and discusses the general difficulties of manpower planning in wartime. He also considers the more general issue of government intervention in the economy and the special nature of taxation during wartime, and compares the experiences of the First and Second World Wars, generally favouring the latter. Chapman briefly discusses the role of businessmen in wartime government, including their membership of the control boards and argues they were generally successful. He deals with some common criticisms of civil servants in relation to their involvement with business issues, and defends their methods of working and system of accountability. There is an account of the reorganisation of the Board in the immediate post-war period, which saw Chapman promoted to be permanent secretary. He gives his views of Sir Henry Payne, the senior official at the Ministry of Mines, as well as the senior officials at the Board.

Chapter 4 includes a more detailed exposition of wartime economic problems, including the effects of inflationary pressures, the role and efficacy of the taxation of profits and the potential of "forced" lending by the public as an economic control against inflation. Recounts how wartime inflationary pressures were linked to rising food prices and describes work of the Royal Commission on Food Prices and the Food Council, as well as a general bidding-up of the prices of non-essential goods. Argues in favour of rationing of essential goods and price controls for non-essential goods as was adopted during the Second World War shows wisdom of this policy. Chapman argues that the managed economy of the First World War was preferable to a command economy and expresses doubts about whether regulations seriously affected the economic incentives of business. Chapman also discusses how the concept of the "organic" economy, which takes into account economic motivations other than individual motivations and desires, was particularly relevant during wartime conditions, which demanded "preservation and solidarity". Chapman describes the work of the Board in the post-war era, including the issues of import controls, support for exports (export credits), decontrol of industry and work of the Ministry of Reconstruction. he recounts his work at the 1922 Genoa conference, and the later Hague conference, which included trade and financial negotiations with the Soviet government, and how these were ultimately unsuccessful.

Chapter 5 describes Chapman's work as chief economic adviser to the government, which led to extensive involvement with the League of Nations, including the Economic Committee of the League Nations; discusses the 1927 World Economic Conference. Chapman describes some of the personalities of the Economic Committee, and their work on trade restrictions and tariffs etc. Also discusses the methods of working of politicians and officials at the League.

Chapter 6 Chapman describes his work on the Import Duties Advisory Committee, his evolving views on tariffs as an economic tool, how they were applied and with what purpose in the 1930s. He also makes a few general comments about Imperial economic co-operation and he defends the decision to leave the Gold Standard in 1931. He concludes that managed currency regimes have now replaced it because they are more sensitive to economic conditions.

Chapman's autobiography is a valuable document for its description of the development of academic economics in British universities before 1914, for its account of the workings of the Board of Trade and the systems of economic regulation during the First World War, and for aspects of national and international trade policy during the inter-war period.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sydney Chapman was an academic and public servant. Originally an academic economist, he rose to become permanent secretary at the Board of Trade.

Chapman was born in Wells, Norfolk, the son of a businessman. His family later moved to Manchester, where Chapman attended Manchester Grammar School. This was followed by Owens College, Manchester, where he studied for the London B.A. degree. After graduating he worked for a short time as a school master, before entering Trinity College, Cambridge in 1895. He studied moral sciences, which at the time included economics, and Chapman was much influenced by the economist Alfred Marshall. He graduated with a double first in moral sciences and then became a research student at Owens College, studying the Lancashire cotton industry. His research was published as The Lancashire cotton industry in 1904.

In 1899 he took up a lectureship at University College, Cardiff, before returning to Manchester in 1901 as Stanley Jevons professor of political economy. Chapman stayed at Manchester until 1915, playing an important role in the new Faculty of Commerce and Administration. The Faculty aimed to teach and research economics so that it related to real-world phenomena, something to which Chapman with his personal experience of the Lancashire cotton industry was ideally suited.

The First World War formed a turning point in Chapman's career. In the spring of 1915 he joined the Board of Trade on part-time basis to investigate problems of wartime industrial organization. This soon became a full-time post, and Chapman spent the rest of his working life as a senior civil servant. In August 1919 he was made joint permanent secretary of the Board of Trade, and in the following year, became the sole permanent secretary at the Board. During the 1920s, he was much involved in issues of economic reconstruction and trade policy, both at home and abroad. In 1927, he was made chief economic adviser to the government, and acted as a British economic representative to the League of Nations. In his later career, he participated in the implementation of a tariff regime in light of the Depression and the negotiation of the Ottawa Agreements. he was chairman of the Imperial Economic Committee, 1931-1932 and a member of the Import Duties Advisory Committee from 1932 to 1939, when he retired.

In September 1903 he married Mabel Gwendoline Mordey of Newport, Monmouthshire, the daughter of a shipowner. They had two sons and a daughter. Chapman was knighted in 1920 and died at his home in Ware, Hertfordshire in 1951.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The manuscript was donated initially to the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies in 1966 by Chapman's son, Sir Stephen Chapman. It was subsequently rebound and transferred to the custody of the Library .

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the manuscript can be supplied for private research and study purposes only, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the manuscript. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

Another version of the autobiography is held by the London School of Economics Library, Archives and Special Collections (ref. COLL MISC 0664). This has different foliation to the current manuscript, indicating there may be some variation in content.


Keith Tribe 'Chapman, Sir Sydney John (1871-1951)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -'