Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Cremer, William Randal

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CREMER, Sir WILLIAM RANDAL (1838–1908), peace advocate, born on 18 March 1838 at Fareham, Wiltshire, was son of George Cremer, a coach-painter, by his wife Harriet Tutte, daughter of a local builder. Soon after his birth his father deserted his family, and the child was brought up in great poverty. At twelve years of age he went to work as a pitchboy in a shipyard. Three years afterwards he was apprenticed to a carpenter. Then he went to Brighton, where he came under the influence of Frederick William Robertson [q. v.], and in 1852 found his way to London, where he soon mixed in politics and trade unionism. A good speaker, he represented his fellow workmen on the committee in charge of the nine hours' movement of 1858, which involved the lock-out of 70,000 men in 1859–60. From this arose the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (4 June 1860), Cremer being one of the promoters. He was secretary to the workmen's committee, formed to maintain sympathy with the Northern states of America, after the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, and he organised the meeting in St. James's Hall addressed by John Bright, to protest against the British government having allowed the privateering Alabama to escape.

When the International Working-men's Association was formed in 1865, Cremer was the secretary of the British section, and next year he was a delegate to the conference at Geneva, when wide divergence was discovered between the English and some of the continental representatives. Cremer and his friends pleaded for a practical programme, the others for a revolutionary propaganda. Thereupon Cremer severed his connection with the association. But he was steadily extending his international friendships. He knew Mazzini, and was active in the receptions given in London to Garibaldi. At length in 1870 he formed a committee of working men to try to keep Great Britain neutral during the Franco-German War. This committee became in 1871 the Workmen's Peace Association, of which Cremer was secretary till his death, and on behalf of which he journeyed repeatedly to America and the continent, bearing petitions and appeals for international arbitration. He thus became an international figure whose name was known everywhere, especially among workmen. In 1889 the Inter-parliamentary Union was formed, and Cremer became British secretary until his death. For his unwearying service in the cause of international arbitration he was awarded by the Swedish government in 1903 the Nobel prize of 8000l., 7000l. of which he handed over in trust to the International 'Arbitration League. For his work in the cause of peace he was made commander of the Norwegian Order of St. Olaf in 1904, and was knighted in 1907. He had received the cross of the legion of honour in 1890.

In politics Cremer was a radical. He was a member of the Reform League from its commencement in 1864, and he always claimed that he proposed 'that it would be for the health of the reformers if they should take an airing in Hyde Park on 23 July 1866,' the suggestion which led to the demolition of the Hyde Park railings. In 1868 he addressed a meeting in Warwick, and accepted an invitation to stand as radical candidate. He was defeated with only 260 votes to his credit. He fought the same constituency in 1874, and found only 183 supporters. Twice he failed in his candidature for the London School Board, in 1870 and 1873; but in 1884 he was elected to the St. Pancras vestry. The reform bill of 1885 increased the representation of London, and Cremer contested the Haggerston division of Shoreditch with success. In the elections of 1886 and 1892 he retained his seat, but was defeated in 1895. He recovered it in spite of the South African war fever in 1900, and kept it till his death. In the controversies which arose inside trade unionism when the labour party came into existence, Cremer stoutly opposed the new independent labour movement and remained with the liberal party.

He died at 11 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, on 22 July 1908, and was buried in Hampstead cemetery after cremation. He was twice married: (1) in 1860, to Charlotte, daughter of J. Wilson of Spalding; she died in August 1876; (2) to Lucy Coombes of Oxford, who died on 8 Aug. 1884. He had no children.

He intended to write his autobiography, but only left some notes behind him. His literary work is confined to the pages of the 'Arbitrator,' a monthly peace journal which he edited from its appearance in 1889. On 7 Dec. 1911 a bust executed by Mr. Paul Montford for the International Arbitration Society was unveiled by Mr. J. W. Lowther, the Speaker, in the library of the House of Commons; the bust is intended ultimately for the Palace of Peace at the Hague.

[Howard Evans, Sir Randal Cremer; his Life and Work, 1911; Sidney Webb's History of Trade Unionism; Dr. Eugene Oswald, Reminiscences of a Busy Life, 1911; The Times, 23 July 1908.]

J. R. M.