Donald Somervell, Baron Somervell of Harrow

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Somervell of Harrow
Donald Somervell 1945.jpg
Home Secretary
In office
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Herbert Morrison
Succeeded by James Chuter Ede
Attorney General for England and Wales
In office
18 March 1936 – 25 May 1945
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
Winston Churchill
Preceded by Sir Thomas Inskipp
Succeeded by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
29 September 1933 – 19 March 1936
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by Sir Boyd Merriman
Succeeded by Sir Terence O'Connor
Personal details
Born 24 August 1889 (1889-08-24)
Died 18 November 1960 (1960-11-19) (aged 71)
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Loelia Helen Buchan-Hepburn
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford

Donald Bradley Somervell, Baron Somervell of Harrow, OBE, PC (24 August 1889 – 18 November 1960) was a British barrister, judge and Conservative Party politician. He served as Solicitor General and Attorney General from 1933–45 and was briefly Home Secretary in Winston Churchill's 1945 caretaker government.

Background, education and legal career

Somervell was the son of Robert Somervell, master and bursar of Harrow School, and was educated at Harrow before reading Chemistry with a demyship at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with a First in 1911. In 1912 he was elected a prize fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, the first chemist to be elected.[1] He then joined the Inner Temple, but his legal training was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. Commissioned into the British Army, he served with the Middlesex Regiment and the 53rd Brigade in India and Mesopotamia. For his war service, he was appointed OBE in 1919.[1]

Having been called to the bar in absentia in 1916, he completed his pupillage and practiced in the chambers of William Jowitt, specialising in commercial law matters arising out of the Treaty of Versailles.[1] He took silk in 1929.[2]

Political career

In 1929 he entered politics. Although a Liberal by inclination, the decline of that party and his admiration for the then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin led him to instead join the Conservative Party and he stood unsuccessfully for Crewe in the 1929 general election. He won the seat in the 1931 election and held it for the next fourteen years.

In 1933 he became Solicitor General,[3] receiving the customary knighthood,[4] followed three years later by a promotion to Attorney General. In this latter post he served for no less than nine years, during which he oversaw crises such as the Abdication Crisis of Edward VIII. He was the longest-serving Attorney General since 1754.[citation needed] He was sworn of the Privy Council in the 1938 Birthday Honours.[5] He was Recorder of Kingston upon Thames from 1940 to 1946.[1]

In 1945 he was briefly Home Secretary in Winston Churchill's caretaker government. Both the government and Somervell were defeated in that year's general election.

Judicial career

In 1946, Somervell was made a Lord Justice of Appeal by Clement Attlee. In 1951 Churchill returned to power but passed over Somervell's claims to the Lord Chancellorship.[1] On 4 October 1954 Somervell he became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and, as a Law Lord, he received a life peerage as Baron Somervell of Harrow, of Ewelme in the County of Oxford.[6] He retired in 1960, shortly before his death.


Somervell married Loelia Helen Buchan-Hepburn, daughter of Sir Archibald Buchan-Hepburn, 4th Baronet, in 1933. She died in July 1945, aged 48. Somervell survived her by fifteen years and died in November 1960, aged 71. His grave can be found in the grounds of Saint Mary's Church in Ewelme, opposite that of the writer Jerome K. Jerome.


  1. ^ a b c d e Evershed; Marc Brodie. "Somervell, Donald Bradley, Baron Somervell of Harrow". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36189.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "No. 33473". The London Gazette. 1 March 1929. p. 1448. 
  3. ^ "No. 33983". The London Gazette. 3 October 1933. p. 6351. 
  4. ^ "No. 33984". The London Gazette. 6 October 1933. p. 6418. 
  5. ^ "No. 34525". The London Gazette. 24 June 1938. p. 4056. 
  6. ^ "No. 40294". The London Gazette. 5 October 1954. p. 5649. 

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Donald Somervell
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John William Bowen
Member of Parliament for Crewe
Succeeded by
Sydney Scholefield Allen
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Boyd Merriman
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir Terence O'Connor
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Inskip
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
Political offices
Preceded by
Herbert Morrison
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
James Chuter Ede
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