(Edward) Raymond Streat was born at Prestwich, Lancashire on 7 February 1897, the son of a commercial traveller. He attended Manchester Grammar School, and on leaving school in 1913 found employment as an office boy. He served in the First World War, and was wounded on active service on the Western Front. Following demobilisation, he found employment as a secretary to the director of a Manchester insurance firm, and soon after he was successful in his application to become Assistant Secretary of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Shortly after taking up this post, the Secretary of the Chamber died, and against formidable competition, the Directors appointed Streat to be his successor (by a majority of one vote) in January 1920. At the age of twenty two, Streat had become the senior official of the largest and richest chamber of commerce in the country.
The Manchester Chamber, which had over 2000 members, was dominated by Lancashire cotton interests, particularly the merchanting sector. Apart from usual activities of a chamber of commerce, such as providing commercial information and certain types of certification, the Manchester Chamber was an important lobbying body on behalf of the cotton industry. Streat's duties included organising deputations and petitions, and producing intelligence to be used in dealings with central government and other bodies. The Chamber was very active in dealing with the issue of foreign competiton to the Lancashire cotton industry, particularly from India and Japan. In the inter-war period, there was increasing concern about the situation in India, which was the main export market for Lancashire cotton goods. British imports were facing higher entry tariffs, and occasional trade boycotts by Indian nationalists. At the same time Japanese imports were increasingly penetrating the Indian market. Streat was actively involved in negotiations with Indian producers over this situation; in 1933 he was a member of the British Textile Mission to India which secured preference for British cotton goods in India, in return for a promise by Lancashire to use more Indian raw cotton. Lobbying against the Japanese also proved successful, with the introduction of quotas on Japanese goods within the Empire in 1934.
Streat had been concerned about the long-term economic effects of the Depression on the Lancashire economy, and promoted various policies for economic revival. He helped establish the Joint Committee of Cotton Trade Organisations, which attempted a reorganisation of the Lancashire cotton industry and he was instrumental in the creation of the Lancashire Industrial Development Council in 1931, which tried to bring new industries to Lancashire.
Streat believed strongly in a tactful and diplomatic approach in his dealings with Whitehall. Some members of the Chamber criticised his approach, believing that conditions demanded more forthright political campaigning. Streat was however successful in gaining a number of concessions for the cotton industry, and by the late 1930s it did appear that the government was willing to take a more constructive role in assisting it.
Streat's administrative talents were soon recognised with the outbreak of war. In 1940, he joined the Export Council and a few months later in June 1940, was made chairman of the Cotton Board. The Board was made up of eleven members, selected from both sides of industry with Streat as the independent chairman. Unlike the wartime Cotton Control, the Board was not a government department, and was funded by a levy on the industry. Initially it was mainly concerned with export promotion, but as the war progressed it developed a wider remit, working closely with the Cotton Control to oversee regulation of the industry. This required the closure and maintenance of many mills for the duration of the war, and the implementation of the 'Utility' scheme, which supplied standard cotton cloth for civilian needs during wartime. The Board had authority to negotiate on behalf of the industry on all non-wage and working condition issues during wartime. It also investigated research and development issues, collected statistics, and advised the government on any matter concerned with the industry. On a personal level, Streat was responsible for setting up a Colour, Design and Style Centre for the cotton industry, which he believed would be vital for post-war recovery of markets.
The Board was actively involved in the discussions about the post-war reconstruction of the industry, although Streat frequently found himself in disagreement with courses of action proposed by ministers. The Attlee government saw the Cotton Board as a model for the development councils it wished to encourage as intermediaries between government and private industry. In 1947 the Board was reconstituted as a permanent statutory body, based in Manchester, and continuing under Streat's chairmanship. It was now engaged in attempts to boost productivity in the industry through re-equipment and redeployment of labour. The Board also oversaw attempts to build confidence in the industry through minimum price schemes. Streat shared the view of the majority in the industry that such schemes, would encourage new investment, and were more useful than the amalgamation (possibly compulsory) of existing firms into larger concerns as a means of stimulating modernisation. However the post-war years were again dominated by trade questions, as India and Pakistan put up barriers against British textiles, and as competitors, particularly Japan, ate into Lancashire's traditional export markets. Although Streat believed firmly that "only Lancashire can save Lancashire", it was apparent at the time of his retirement in 1957 that the battle to save the cotton industry had been virtually lost. The Cotton Industry Act of 1959 which sponsored the scrapping of machinery radically reduced the industry's capacity, without halting the loss of markets.
Apart from his involvement in the cotton industry, Streat had been associated with various wartime initiatives on post-war social and economic reconstruction; he was a member of the Nuffield College Conferences on Post-War Reconstruction and the Archbishop of Canterbury's 'Religion and Life Campaign' (born into a Wesleyan family, Streat became an Anglican in adult life). On retiring from the Cotton Board, Streat became a director of several private companies, although the prestige post he was seeking eluded him. In public life, he served as Chairman of the Council of Manchester University from 1957-1965, at a time of great expansion for that university. Streat was also a Visiting Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford. He was knighted in 1942. Throughout his professional life, Streat was a much sought-after after-dinner speaker. He married Doris Davies in 1921, and had three sons, one of whom predeceased him. Streat lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, although he moved to Eynsham, near Oxford to be near one of his sons in the early 1970s. Streat died in 1979.