Leeds University Library

Lord Boyle of Handsworth (1923-1981)

Lord Boyle of Handsworth

Vice-Chancellor of the University, 1970-1981

Honorary LLD, 1965

Edward Boyle, the son of a distinguished barrister, was educated at Eton and Oxford. Even as a schoolboy and student, his good judgement, breadth of knowledge, public-speaking prowess and considerate manner set him apart. To his contemporaries, he seemed much older and wiser than his years.

Boyle became Conservative MP for Handsworth, Birmingham, aged only 27. He quickly rose through the party ranks, holding various junior offices (notably in economic affairs), reaching the peak of his political career as Minister of Education from 1962 to 1964. He firmly believed in higher education, presiding over the rapid expansion of the university sector, and showing a far greater commitment to comprehensive schooling than was typical in his party at the time. His views on race relations and immigration were also well to the left of those of many Conservative colleagues, bringing him into conflict with his constituents, particularly after Enoch Powell delivered his notorious "Rivers of Blood" speech in Birmingham in 1968.

Disenchanted with party politics, Boyle moved to the House of Lords and became Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds in 1970. His main aims for the University were to establish "Teaching in an atmosphere of research", to this day a concept central to the University's vision, and to pursue research excellence by attracting the finest academic staff. His success was recognised when he was elected to chair the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals from 1977 to 1979, effectively making him the national leader and spokesman of the university sector.

His unmistakable bulky figure and shuffling walk belied his energy. He attracted enormous affection in the University as well as respect. At a time of national student unrest, student radicals found him inconveniently impossible to dislike. When urgent economies were required, he insisted on giving up his official car, travelling by bus instead and chatting with student passengers.

To universal regret, he rapidly succumbed to cancer in his late fifties, continuing to immerse himself in University business to the last.

Lord Boyle's papers, his bequest to the Library, are a major resource for insights into British politics and society in the 1960s and 1970s. They are equally revealing about the history of the University and the development of higher education generally. They also reflect the extraordinary range of Boyle's cultural and intellectual interests and activities, particularly his passion for music.

He is more openly remembered in the naming of our Edward Boyle Library, a pioneering library designed for the students to whom he was so committed.