Sir Peter Gadsden

Energetic City businessman who became the 652nd - and 'unstuffiest ever' - Lord Mayor of London


Peter Drury Gadsden, businessman and public servant: born Mannville, Alberta 28 June 1929; Sheriff, City of London 1970-71, Alderman (Ward of Farringdon Without) 1971-99, Senior Alderman 1996-99; President, National Association of Charcoal Manufacturers 1970-86; assumed by Royal Licence 1973 the additional surname of Haggerston; Lord Mayor of London 1979-80; GBE 1979; Chancellor, City University 1979-80; President, Metropolitan Society for the Blind 1979-2004; Founder Master, Engineers' Company 1983-85; President, Publicity Club of London 1983-2001; Chairman, Britain-Australia Bicentennial Committee 1984-88; Master, Guild of Freemen 1984-85; chairman, Private Patients Plan (later PPP Healthcare Group) 1984-96, president 1996-98; Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society 1984-88; Master, Guild of World Traders in London (later Company of World Traders) 1987-88; Founder Chairman, Bermuda Society 1987-89; Hon AC 1988; Master, Clothworkers' Company 1989-90; Chairman, Britain Australia Society 1989-92; Chairman, City of London Branch, Institute of Directors 1995-99, President Emeritus 2004-06; Chairman, PPP Healthcare Medical Trust 1996-99; Chairman, PPP Healthcare Foundation 1996-2005; President, Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce 1997-2001; married 1955 Belinda Haggerston (four daughters); died Middleton Scriven, Shropshire 4 December 2006.

Peter Gadsden was, for many, "Mr City": the archetypal English gentleman who had spent a lifetime working in the City of London, taken a very active part in civic life and risen to the highest office as Lord Mayor of London.

Yet, even when his year of office was over, Gadsden continued to play an important role of ambassador for the country and the capital. Often this was unofficial and arose out of the warm personal contacts he made and maintained. At other times his role was played out at a national level, as when he organised the Britain-Australia Bicentennial Committee. Long after most men retire, Gadsden remained a familiar face around Guildhall, maintaining civic contacts and giving time to assist all manner of organisations.

Because he cared deeply about history and traditions, it was important to him that things were done according to the book. As he explained once in a speech: "We keep these traditions not because we are backward-looking, but because they are the foundations on which we build the future." When it came to choosing the personal motto for his coat of arms, he knew exactly what he wanted: "Thoroughly with Enthusiasm" had been his approach to life both public and private.

This archetypal Englishman was actually born in Alberta, Canada, in 1929, the eldest of three children of an English missionary priest and his wife. The first five years of Gadsden's life were spent in Canada and he remained proud of his links with the country. Not only did he keep a Canadian passport, but he liked to use his influence to develop closer bonds between the two countries.

Gadsden grew up in a Shropshire country rectory ruled over by a Victorian father who held fixed, puritanical views. Life at the rectory was disciplined, with great emphasis placed on the virtues of service, integrity and hard work. Although relations between them were never easy, Gadsden acknowledged his father was a powerful influence on him and the way he approached life.

In the school holidays the Gadsdens were expected to play their part in visiting parishioners, digging for victory in the rectory garden and all manner of practical tasks like cleaning buckets of pigs' chitterlings from the local farm. Tasks like this ensured Gadsden developed a practical approach to life. Whether in business or civic life, he was never above any task. As Lord Mayor in 1979-80 he surprised many by donning a boiler suit and paying an official visit down the London sewers.

His early education was at Rockport School in County Down and the Elms in Worcestershire before moving to Wrekin College in Shropshire. It was typical of Gadsden's loyalty to people and organisations from his past that he remained in touch with all his former schools, assisting their fund-raising activities with his City contacts and giving his time to serve on governing bodies. At the time of his death he was actively involved with Wrekin College as President of the Old Wrekinians. It was not just that he wanted to give back something to these establishments, but he believed it was important for pupils to be given an insight into the workings of the City of London.

From Wrekin Gadsden went to Jesus College, Cambridge, after a short period of National Service. His degree in Geology and Mineralogy led him into the marketing of minerals when he was appointed to Fergusson Wild & Co. This successful business career regularly took him round the world and in Australia earned him the nickname "Trader Gadsden".

Gadsden was an inveterate traveller. When asked which was his favourite country, he said the one he was going to next. Trading in minerals took him to the Far East and that included China during the days of Mao Tse-tung, to Africa, India and many other countries. Travel and business with Australia was a Gadsden favourite; he delighted in the people and their approach to life.

With his boundless energy and ideas, working for one company was too restricting for Gadsden. He left Fergusson Wild at the beginning of the 1960s to set up his own mineral consultancy business in the City. He became managing director of the Australian mining company Murphyores, setting up an office to run their business operations in London. At the same time, having obtained their permission to undertake other business where there was no conflict of interest, he set up another office conducting business for J.H. Little (part of the Inchcape group), who traded minerals with China. In addition he represented Associated Minerals Consolidated (part of Consolidated Goldfields).

Those working with him found it hard to keep up. When he was in the UK, he not only conducted several businesses at the same time but physically ran between their offices in different parts of the Square Mile. (Someone remarked: "Surely one man can't do all that! There must be at least a set of twins.") At the end of the working day office phone calls were directed home, and with many clients on the other side of the world Gadsden regularly took calls in the middle of the night.

This busy international timetable was only made possible by a happy family life. In 1955 he married Belinda Haggerston, eldest daughter and heiress of Sir Carnaby Haggerston, 11th baronet, whose family seat was Ellingham Hall in Northumberland. The couple were working in the same office block and met one day in the lift. They went on to have four daughters and 17 grandchildren. After the death of Sir Carnaby in 1971, Peter Gadsden assumed the additional surname of Haggerston.

It was in the 1960s that Gadsden's civic life started. A chance meeting with an old schoolfriend led to membership of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers. He served his mother company as Master in 1989-90 and they permitted him to become a member of six other livery companies, most notably as Founder Master of the Worshipful Company of Engineers.

Gadsden delighted in the City and began building a civic career alongside a business one. This took off in earnest in 1969 when he was elected to the Court of Common Council for the Ward of Cripplegate. Shortly before Sir Peter Studd became Lord Mayor, he discovered the preferred candidate for Sheriff was no longer available so approached Gadsden, who never refused a challenge and at the young age of 41 became Sheriff. In the middle of that shrieval year there was a vacancy for alderman of Farringdon Without. Gadsden campaigned and was successfully elected alderman in 1971.

Towards the end of 1979 he was elected 652nd Lord Mayor of London and knighted. At 50, Gadsden was the youngest Lord Mayor for many years and brought to the office the same energy and dynamism that had characterised his business career. One newspaper described him as "the unstuffiest Lord Mayor ever". It was Gadsden who instigated the now traditional firework spectacular on the Thames because he thought Lord Mayor's Day was an anticlimax once the Lord Mayor's Show had passed.

His year in office signalled a change in the character of the mayoralty, moving it away from the purely ceremonial towards the ambassadorial role it has today. The youthful Lord Mayor quickened the pace of life at the Mansion House. A colleague said mayoral engagements went from "busy" to "non-stop" as the civic party travelled up and down the British Isles and toured abroad to Luxembourg, Tunisia, the United States, Canada, Australia and - most notably - China. No Lord Mayor of London had ever visited China before but Gadsden knew an official visit would pave the way for better diplomatic relations and better trade links.

Summing up his mayoralty, a national newspaper applauded Gadsden's term of office, saying he would "probably be best remembered as a much-travelled roving ambassador for this country".

Gadsden now picked up the reins of his mineral-marketing business and added a large number of non-executive directorships to his portfolio. As a senior alderman he continued to take a very active role in civic life. As he once explained,

My professional life is divided into three parts: a third of my life is concerned with civic activities, a third with social and charitable activities and a third with business to pay for the other two.

The importance of his Australian connections was recognised when he was approached to chair the Britain-Australia Bicentennial Committee that would organise the celebrations for 1988. The success of the event exceeded everyone's expectations and strengthened links between the two countries. Australia honoured Gadsden by investing him as an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, their highest award.

Although it is Gadsden's national achievements that attracted press attention, he also gave much time and assistance to smaller local groups. After a childhood spent in Shropshire, Gadsden always regarded it as his home and many organisations from the large Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust down to a small community housing project had cause to be grateful to him.

Peter Gadsden was never a person to consider retirement or give in to old age. He remained involved in many organisations and only stood down when the rules demanded he retire. Not surprisingly he was seen rushing around the City a few days before he died. "If you are an achiever," he said, "you can't sit around and let things be done. You want to get involved."

Ina Taylor

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