The role of Chancellor of the Exchequer has an incredibly rich history. The inaugural holder of the position was apparently a chap named Hervey de Stanton, who took up the role on 22 June 1316, an astonishing 700 years ago.
Since then, more than 150 chancellors have been and gone, and since the 1600s they have become known for brandishing their famous red briefcases. Apparently the tradition began during the Elizabethan era when the Queen’s representative, a Francis Throckmorton, presented a Spanish ambassador with a specially crafted red briefcase laden with black puddings.
Around this time, Britain had a chancellor who had the somewhat surprising name of Julius Caesar. He took office in 1603 and held the post for eight years.
Chancellor William Gladstone popularised the use of the most famous red box, using it to store his speech for his 1860 Budget. It has since been used on and off by chancellors up until 2010, whereupon it was retired due to fragility – neatly mirroring the state of the UK economy at the time.
The role of chancellor is generally recognised as the second most powerful office in the British political system, and indeed, a great many chancellors have made the leap to become prime minister. Though we have had a female prime minister, no women have yet become Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain.
Chancellors have not always been the most popular members of the cabinet, mainly because decisions on where to spend and cut are largely in their control. Indeed, Chancellor Robert Lowe, in a speech in 1870 said: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a man whose duties make him more or less of a taxing machine. He is entrusted with a certain amount of misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can.”
With this sentiment in mind, we take a photographic trawl through the UK’s taxing machines and their iconic briefcases.
George Osborne presents the Budget box during his first year as chancellor in June 2010. This was the last time the original Gladstone box made a public appearance.
Alistair Darling presents the Labour Party’s last budget to date, in March 2010
Labour’s Gordon Brown was chancellor from 1997 until he became Prime Minister in 2007. Brown was only the second chancellor is the modern era to break the tradition of holding up the original Gladstone briefcase.
Ken Clarke delivered the 1995 Budget as chancellor under John Major. Clarke is seen here with his wife Gillian.
Norman Lamont makes his best Budget face at the photocall for the 1993 Budget.
John Major delivers the 1990 budget – his last before becoming prime minister.
Nigel Lawson spent six years as chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Sir Geoffrey Howe
Sir Geoffrey Howe and Lady Elspeth Howe on the steps of Number 11 in 1979. Howe was Thatcher’s first chancellor when the Conservatives came to power in 1979.
Labour’s Denis Healey hoists the red briefcase aloft alongside his wife Edna at the 1977 Budget. Healey spent five years as chancellor in both Harold Wilson’s and James Callaghan’s governments.
Anthony Barber waves and smiles at the photocall for the 1971 Budget. Barber spent four years as chancellor in Edward Heath’s Conservative government.
Iain Macleod was appointed as chancellor in Edward Heath’s new Conservative government in 1970. Tragically, Macleod died a month after the appointment and didn’t finish the Budget he was working on. Here he is outside the Spectator offices, which he edited in the mid-1960s.
Labour’s Roy Jenkins delivers his Budget ahead of the Summer of Love.
Hold it up properly James. Callaghan was chancellor for three years in Harold Wilson’s Labour government.
Reginald Maudling challenged Edward Heath for the Tory leadership in 1965. Prior to that, he was chancellor for two years and served in both Harold Macmillan’s and Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s cabinets.
Back on the steps again for this photo, Selwyn Lloyd wears a bowler hat as he delivers the 1962 Budget for Harold Macmillan’s government.
Derick Heathcoat-Amory spent two and a half years as chancellor for Harold Macmillan. He was well known for his passion for sailing and had his yach
t brought up the Thames in order to stylishly whisk him away after delivering the Budget.
Baron Peter Thorneycroft
Baron Peter Thorneycroft was Chancellor between 1957 and 1958 serving in Harold Macmillan’s government. Here he is with his wife Lady Carla Thorneycroft.
Another seated budget photograph, Harold Macmillan was chancellor for just over a year in Sir Anthony Eden’s government.
Baron R.A. Butler
Baron R.A. Butler, or Rab, as he was known, was chancellor for four years in Winston Churchill’s government.
Seen here walking to Buckingham Palace during the 1951 Budget “procession”, Gaitskell was chancellor for one year in Clement Atlee’s Labour government. During his tenure Britain faced growing financial issues stemming from its involvement in the Korean War.
Sir Stafford Cripps
Cripps, seen here with his wife Lady Isobel Cripps, was chancellor for three years in Atlee’s government.
Look this way Hugh! Dalton spent two years as chancellor for Atlee.
Sir John Anderson
Sir John Anderson was chancellor in Winston Churchill’s all-party government during the Second World War. Here he is on Budget day 1945 on the steps of his house with his wife Lady Anderson in front of press photographers.
Sir Kingsley Wood
Sir Kingsley Wood was also a Chancellor in Churchill’s coalition government, serving from 1940 until his death in 1943. Wood is credited with creating the Pay as You Earn method of taxation (instead of retrospective taxation), which remains in use. Wood died suddenly on the day he planned to announce the policy to Parliament.
Sir John Simon
Sir John Simon was chancellor for three years in Neville Chamberlain’s early Second World War coalition government. He’s photographed here with his wife Lady Simon on Budget day 1939.
Top hatted and in the company of his wife Anne, Neville Chamberlain leaves home for the House of Commons during his tenure as chancellor (though not on Budget day).
Philip Snowden pays a cab driver after delivering a notorious four hour budget in 1931.
Winston! Look where you’re going! Churchill was chancellor from 1924 – 1929 in Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government. Here he is striding through Whitehall in 1925.