Leonard James Callaghan

JamesCallaghan3x2(BW)Leonard James Callaghan better known as James Callaghan (but also known as Jim Callaghan or Baron Callaghan of Cardiff) was born in on March 27, 1912 at 38 Funtington Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, England to an Irish father and a mother of Jewish decent. Attempts to trace James' roots on his Irish side have been complicated by his father's decision to give a false surname and age, when he ran away from home to join the Royal Navy a year younger than the legal enlistment age. His father's original family name was said to be Garogher which, in genealogy terms, is a somewhat rare name (try searching for it on Google or on any popular ancestry site). Most occurrences seem to be associated with the prefix 'Mc' meaning 'son of'. Some researchers have commented that, superficially Garogher is somewhat similar to Gallagher, which is a variation of Callaghan but that may be only speculation. Such debates are not especially unusual since the notion of correct spelling is relatively new (the first dictionary wasn’t published until 1604!) hence there are numerous variations of the surname 'Callaghan' and, historically, those wanting to evade authorities would sometime deliberately switch to a variation of their surname or invent a new spelling! While none of this materially affected James is life, it does raise the question of whether James is part of the biological (DNA) 'Callaghan' lineage or not, a question that can't be answered here and is best left to others more expert in this area. That said, whatever the answer to this puzzle is, his achievements have raised significantly the profile of the 'Callaghan' surname and he is therefore fully merits inclusion in this site.


Concerning his life, he took his middle name from his father, James (1877–1921), who was the son of an Irish Catholic. His mother Charlotte Cundy (1879–1961) was an English Baptist and widow (her first husband had died in a naval accident). At the time, the rules operated by the Catholic Church meant his parents were unable enjoy a Catholic marriage ceremony so his father abandoned Catholicism and married in a Baptist chapel (becoming a Baptist). They had two children, Dorothy Gertrude Callaghan (1904–1982) followed by Leonard James Callaghan (1912-2005).


At school James proved to be an able student attending Portsmouth Northern Grammar School where in 1929 (some 8 years after his father died of a heart attack at the age of 44, leaving the family without an income) he was awarded the Senior Oxford Certificate but being in a single parent family they were poor and he could not afford university education so he sat for the civil service entrance exam, getting a job as a tax inspector for Inland Revenue. There he met his future wife Audrey Moulton, marrying her in July 1938 at Maidstone going on to have three children. During his time as a tax inspector, he joined the Labour Party and in 1931 left his Civil Service job to take up work as a full-time trade union official. In 1942, he joined Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman during World War II, serving in the East Indies Fleet being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1944, before being discharged from the navy after illness (in contrast to his father who had risen to the rank of Chief Petty Officer). Soon after, he was elected as the Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff South, winning a landslide victory on July 26, 1945 in the UK General Election. This began his legendary ascent up the political ladder with the main positions he held being:


·         Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979 (preceded by Harold Wilson, succeeded by Margaret Thatcher)

·         Leader of the Opposition: 4 May 1979 – 10 November 1980 (preceded by Harold Wilson, succeeded by Michael Foot)

·         Leader of the Labour Party: 5 April 1976 – 10 November 1980 (preceded by Harold Wilson, succeeded by Michael Foot)

·         Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: 5 March 1974 – 8 April 1976 (preceded by Alec Douglas-Home, succeeded by Anthony Crosland)

·         Home Secretary: 30 November 1967 – 19 June 1970 (receded by Roy Jenkins, succeeded by Reginald Maudling)

·         Chancellor of the Exchequer: 16 October 1964 – 30 November 1967 (receded by Reginald Maudling, succeeded by Roy Jenkins)


JameCallaghan(WestminsterPlaque)BWAt the age of 64 he was the oldest person to become prime minister after Winston Churchill (see image on left which is a plaque at Westminster to honour his service as Prime Minister). Also, he was the only person ever to have occupied the four Great UK Offices of State; the Exchequer, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and Prime Minister! Sadly, despite the numerous positive achievements in his career (eg as Home Secretary, passing the Race Relations Act, as Foreign Secretary, playing a key role in negotiating the terms of the UK membership with the Common Market and supported a ‘yes’ vote in the 1975 referendum) he is most commonly remembered for his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, when (during November 1967) he presided over a humiliating devaluation of the pound (a 14.3% devaluation from the existing fixed exchange rate of $2.80 to $2.40 (to the pound) which, in a 24 hours period,  cost the UK £1,500 million as investors sold Sterling bequeathing the UK troublesome consequences for many years.


After his term as Prime Minister ended, he returned to the backbenches of the Commons, resigning as the leader of the Labour Party on October 15, 1980 before working with Gerald Ford to establish the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Between 1983 and 1987 he enjoyed the title Father of the House of Commons. On retiring from the Commons in 1987 aged 75, he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.


He passed away on March 26, 2005 (aged 92), in Ringmer East Sussex, of lobar pneumonia, kidney and cardiac failure. His death occurred just 11 days after his wife of 67 years, Audrey, died. His ashes were scattered near the Peter Pan statue in London. His autobiography titled, ‘Time and Chance’, was published in 1987.


Coat of Arms



A Sea-Dragon sejant Gules, langued and scaled Or, its tail Or, scaled Gules, the dorsal fin Gules, gorged with a Mural Crown Or, masoned Gules, supporting to the front with the fin of the dexter foreleg a Portcullis Or.


Quarterly Vert and Azure, in the former a portcullis chained Or, in the latter a lymphad with an anchor at its prow and masted also Or, the sail set Argent, and pennants flying Gules, over all a fess Or, to the sinister thereof a grassy mount thereon a hurst of oak trees and issuing therefrom passant to the dexter a wolf, all proper.


Malo Laborare Quam Langure (I had rather labour than be idle)


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Last Updated: 16 July 2021