Birth and early life
Rupert Evelyn Beckett was born at Meanwood, near Leeds, on 2 November 1870. He was the third and youngest son of William Beckett Denison (1826-90), partner in the Leeds bank Beckett & Co, and Helen Duncombe, daughter of 2nd Lord Feversham. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and subsequently entered the family bank.
Beckett served an apprenticeship in the Leeds office of Beckett & Co and was admitted as a partner in 1891, managing the Doncaster branch for a time before returning to head office. When his uncle, Edmund Beckett-Faber, 1st Baron Faber, the senior partner, died in 1920, Beckett took control of the bank.
In 1918 Beckett sat on the Treasury Committee on bank amalgamations. He was well aware that the days of private, local banks were numbered. Astutely, he steered Beckett & Co towards merger with the much larger London County & Westminster Bank of London (later known simply as Westminster Bank), one of the ‘big five’ high street banks, in 1921.
Following the merger, Beckett and his brother Gervase joined Westminster Bank’s board. There, Beckett’s banking and business acumen did not go unnoticed. He went on to occupy senior positions in Westminster Bank as vice chairman (1927-30) and chairman (1931-50). Under his leadership Westminster Bank grew strongly, despite the challenges posed by the long years of economic depression and the Second World War.
He resigned from the chairmanship in 1950, at the age of 80. His successor as chairman, Lord Aldenham, later recalled this as ‘perhaps the most admirable and the most difficult and the most human achievement of all his banking career…in full possession of all his great talents, he decided to step down when nobody else wanted him to do so, and still continued his daily work at our Bank, always both able and anxious to help his successor.’ Beckett continued as an active director for the rest of his life, attending the bank’s head office almost daily until shortly before his death in 1955.
Beckett was a long-term director of Yorkshire Penny Bank, as a nominee of the guaranteeing banks under the 1911 reconstruction arrangements. He was also vice president of the Institute of Bankers, 1931-55, and chairman of the Committee of London Clearing Bankers, 1947-8.
Other business activities
Beckett’s principal business activity beyond banking was as a board member of Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company, publisher of the Yorkshire Post, from 1911 until 1950. He spent 30 years as the company’s chairman and robustly protected its editorial freedom.
Throughout his life Beckett retained a close connection with Leeds and was a well-known local businessman. In addition to the newspaper company he was a director of Great Northern Railway, later London & North Eastern Railway (established by his grandfather), and of the Aire & Calder Navigation Company. He was made a freeman of the city of Leeds in 1930 and awarded an honorary degree by Leeds University in 1938. He was treasurer of Leeds University for more than 30 years and president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, as well as a local JP and deputy lieutenant of the West Riding.
On 21 December 1896 Rupert Beckett married Muriel Florence (d.1941), daughter of Lord Berkeley Paget. They had four daughters together.
Rupert Evelyn Beckett died in London on 25 April 1955. Lord Aldenham reflected that 'for 20 difficult years, in peace and in war, he guided our affairs with complete reliability and with sturdy Yorkshire good sense'; 'Many people have told me of the strength of his influence...in guiding the decisions of the banking world to the most upright and the most sensible course. A great man, Rupert Beckett.'
Related publications and online sources
- ‘Rupert Evelyn Beckett’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- ‘Rupert Evelyn Beckett’ in David J Jeremy, Dictionary of Business Biography (Butterworth, 1984), pp.237-9
- Articles in The Westminster, bank staff magazine, April 1950 and June 1955
- Obituaries in Yorkshire Post, 26 April 1955; The Times, 26 April 1955 and 3 May 1955; and Bankers Magazine, vol. 179, 1955
- TE Gregory, The Westminster Bank through a Century, 2 vols (Oxford University Press, 1936)