Clarence Harry Willcock

Harry Willcock (1896 – 1952)

Willcock, Clarence Harry (1896 -1952), campaigner against identity cards, was born on 23rd January 1896 Alverthorpe, Wakefield, Yorkshire, the son of Harry David Simmons Cruickshank (1872-1930), a native of Leeds who worked in the textile trade and later emigrated to the United States of America, and Ella Tempest Brooke, whose family ran a wholesale tailoring business, Preston Brooke Limited. Willcock’s parents never married, although they also had a daughter, and Willcock was adopted by Mary Willcock (1850-1919), a widow from he took the surname.

On leaving school Willcock worked as a clerk for Henry Leatham Limited, millers. He served in the Northumberland Fusilers during the First World War, although was not posted overseas, and afterwards became a sales representative for Spillers. He married Lena Gladys Crabtree (1897 – 1960) in Leeds in 1920 and they had one child, David Charles Willcock, born 5th October 1924. The family lived at Rowan, 221 Hall Lane, Horsforth, Leeds, Yorkshire, where Willcock was an independent councillor. (Harry Willcock was also the secretary of the Liberal Party in Horsforth for 20-years. 1924 – 1944.)

Willcock moved to the London area in 1944, where he was the manager of dry-cleaning firm which had prospered during the second world war. By this time he was divorced from his wife and in 1948 he was married for a second time, to Mary Riley. Prominent in Barnet Liberal Association, Willcock sought election to Parliament as a Liberal for Barking in 1945 and 1950 but was well beaten both times. (In 1945 the Labour party enjoyed a large majority in the House of Commons.)

Willcock’s fame derives from an incident of 7th December 1950 when he was stopped for speeding on Ballard’s Lane, North Finchley, and asked by police constable Harold Muckle to show his identity card. Willcock refused, apparently stating “I am a Liberal, and I am against this sort of thing” (Egan 17); refused to accept the form for the production of the card at a police station within two days, throwing it to the ground; and was subsequently summonsed to appear before Hornsey magistrates.

Willcock was convicted for speeding and for failing to produce his identity card. He had argued that the legislation governing the identity card scheme, the National Registration Act 1939, no longer had effect, because “the emergency” for which this and thirty-odd other acts had been passed shortly before the outbreak of the second world war had now ended. The magistrates disagreed with this interpretation of the law but gave Willcock an absolute discharge and encouragement to appeal.

The High Court, including the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, heard the case of Willcock v Muckle in June 1951. Willcock’s defence team was made up of prominent Liberals including A.P. Marshall KC, Emrys Roberts MP and Basil (later Lord) Wigoder, who offered their services for free. The Attorney General appeared as an amicus curiae and argued that Parliament had legislated in 1939 to deal with several manifestations of the same emergency, or even several overlapping emergencies, and a declaration that “the emergency” had ended in relation to one piece of legislation did not affect the continuance of other emergency powers. The High Court agreed, although with two dissenting opinions. On the wider issue of whether a scheme introduced as an emergency wartime measure should now be used for routine administrative purposes – such as to check whether motorists had any previous convictions – Lord Chief Justice Goddard as damning:

“This Act was passed for security purposes: it was never passed for the purposes for which it is now apparently being used. To use Acts of Parliament passed for particular purposes in wartime when the war is a thing of the past – except for the technicality that a state of war exists – tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers which is most undesirable state of affairs.” (King’s Bench Division, 851)

Willcock became something of a minor celebrity as a result of the case. He formed the Freedom Defence Association, destroying his identity card in front of the National Liberal Club for the benefit of the press, a stunt later repeated outside Parliament by the British Housewives League. A rally was held in Hyde Park and when the incoming Conservative government finally abolished identity cards, in 1952, Willcock received hundreds through the post to auction for charity.

The Liberal Party’s attitude to this campaign was surprisingly half-hearted and, despite questions in the Commons from Clement Davies MP and a Liberal-led debate in the House of Lords, the issue did not feature at all in the party’s 1951 election manifesto. Willcock was identified with the die-hard free trade wing of the party and this may have discouraged the Liberal leadership from offering him their wholehearted backing. In 1952 Willcock forced a rare contested election for the four honorary positions of vice-president of the party, standing against such luminaries as Beveridge and Lady Violet Bonham Carter, but was defeated.

Willcock collapsed and died of a heart attack while addressing a meeting of the Eighty Club at the Reform Club in London on 12th December 1952. A “jolly, kind and generous man, a natural Liberal” and “always full of conviction” (Herrington), Willcock’s stand inspired those campaigning against the reintroduction of identity cards in later years. His campaign certainly stemmed the flow of prosecutions under the 1939 Act – reduced from 235 convictions in 1951 to just three in 1952 – but whether it led to the identity card scheme being discontinued is open to question, given that Churchill had spoken out against the use of identity cards in peacetime in 1945. Nevertheless, Willcock is commemorated by a plaque in the National Liberal Club which records that, when he died, “the last word on his lips was freedom”.

These notes come from

Robert Ingham 29th September 2005; revised 9th December 2005.

Attached to them is a post it note from

Mark Egan
10 Beltinge Road
Herne Bay


Harry David Simmons Cruickshank in Google brings up one link – but this required a library subscription to view the content.

“Ella Tempest Brooke”

Clarence Harry Willcock Died 12th December 1952 at the Reform Club London, at the time he was living at Hadley Wood, Herts.

Harry Willcock was cremated at Enfield Crematorium EN1 4DS Tuesday December 16 1952 2.45pm