It's become one of my favourite trivia questions: who was the only Prime Minister born in Wales? Most people would probably answer David Lloyd George, and it would make sense given he was a Welsh speaker. But, in fact, he was born in Greater Manchester. The answer is actually the former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who was born in Barry, South Wales.
Nevertheless, the so-called 'Welsh Wizard' is buried in Wales, and it's perhaps the prettiest of the prime ministerial graves I've visited. Designed by Lloyd George's architect friend Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, it's at a site chosen by the former premier within ear-shot of Afon Dwyfor (a river). Oval-shaped and built from local stone, a pebbled path leads to a gabled arch with an opening containing an iron monogram over a plaque. This bears the inscription:
Bedd David Lloyd George
Y maen garw, a maen ei goron, – yw bedd
Gwr i'w bobl fu'n wron;
Dyfrliw hardd yw Dwyfor lon,
Anwesa'r bedd yn gyson.
Roughly translated, this refers to the grave of Lloyd George (the Earl of Dwyfor) and the 'rough' or 'crown' stone at the memorial, on which he used to sit by the river. It continues, more mystically, declaring: 'Husband of his people who had been our bearers'. Lloyd George was a romantic, a larger-than-life figure who dominated Welsh and then UK politics for two decades. Like many former Prime Ministers, he was restless out of office, and sought quixotically to recapture his former prestige and influence. He had an unusual private life which only became public knowledge years later. He was eloquent, radical, populist and a politician to his fingertips.
The David Lloyd George birthplace and museum, also in Criccieth, is the nearest the UK has to a US-style presidential library. It has seen better days, but it remains an absorbing time capsule for scholars of 20th-century political history. I spotted a 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition medal among the paraphernalia, for Lloyd George served on its committee.
I explored Lloyd George's nationalism in a recent book, or rather his 'nationalist unionism', for he was one of that fascinating breed of politicians who deftly balanced two nationalities – two interlinked patriotisms. Like many before and after, he began his career preaching Home Rule and ended it by satisfying his people's aspirations by other means. He created a Welsh regiment during the Great War and made sure that National Insurance – one of his great achievements as Chancellor – was administered separately in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England, an early devolutionary scheme swept away by Clement Attlee.
On that same visit in August last year, I rediscovered the eccentric charm of Portmeirion (also designed by Clough Williams-Ellis) and attended my first National Eisteddfod, where I was guided through the (largely invented) tradition by two Welsh-speaking friends, an Anglican priest and a professor of politics. North Wales is an intriguing part of these islands, caught between its Welshness and the elephant with which it shares a bed (England). For that reason, Liverpool – the closest major city for many North Walians – remains as much a Welsh city as it is English, Scottish and Irish.
One friend replied 'James Callaghan' to the trivia question with which I began, but despite having represented a Cardiff constituency in parliament for many years, Sunny Jim wasn't from Wales but Portsmouth. When he was elected to the House of Commons after the war, constituencies didn't require a local connection (however contrived) of the sort they do today. Representatives were judged on their own merits, and Callaghan clearly satisfied the necessary majority of Cardiffians.
When I first started researching prime ministerial graves, Wikipedia told me Callaghan's ashes had been scattered near a statue of Peter Pan at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. This struck me as unlikely but, sure enough, one day I happened to be in the area and tracked it down easily enough near the main entrance to that famous children's hospital. It was unveiled by Lord and Lady Callaghan in the year 2000.
I once corresponded with Callaghan while researching my first book. I wrote with some pointy-headed query about a ministerial appointment he had probably forgotten about, and he responded with a short, polite note which gave nothing away. By many accounts, a difficult and bad-tempered politician, the more I've read and seen of Callaghan over the years, the more impressed I've become with his style and judgement. But his premiership, unlike Lloyd George's, was short and unhappy.
A plaque at the hospital reads: 'In grateful memory of Sir James Barrie (1860-1937) for his gift to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and in warm appreciation of the exceptional support of Audrey and James Callaghan'. Another notice makes it clear that the ashes of James and his wife Audrey were scattered in the flower bed at the base of the statue. They died just days apart in 2005.