Walter Elliot

Biography of Walter Elliot

Walter  Elliot
Walter Elliot

Walter Elliot Elliot (1888-1958) was a University graduate and Conservative Party politician. He served as Rector from 1947 to 1951 and the Elliot Library in Glasgow University Union is named for him.

Born in Lanark, Elliot studied Science and Medicine at the University, graduating BSc in 1910 and MB ChB in 1913. During his student days he formed a lasting friendship with a fellow medical student and Union stalwart OH Mavor (who later became famous as a playwright under the pseudonym James Bridie). He was editor of Glasgow University Magazine from 1909 to 1910, President of the Union from 1911 to 1912, and was the co-author of the Union song, Ygorra.

Elliot served as a Medical Officer during the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross and bar. You can find more information on his war service on the University of Glasgow's World War I Roll of Honour.

In 1918 Elliot was elected MP for Lanark. He lost his seat in 1923 but the following year was elected to represent the Kelvingrove seat in Glasgow. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1932 and Secretary of State for Scotland in 1936 and he served as Minister of Health from 1938 until 1940. In a by-election in 1946 he was elected to the Combined Scottish Universities seat, just a year after losing Kelvingrove, but he was re-elected to represent Kelvingrove in 1950.

Elliot was a centrist who acquired a reputation for progressive politics. He supported devolving powers to Ireland in 1920 in the Ireland Act, was an enthusiast for the Empire Marketing Board, free milk for schoolchildren and greater intervention by the state to improve people's lives. He had an impressive record of fighting Scotland's corner, especially in housing, where he set up the Scottish Special Housing Association to stimulate more action on building and design. On the national stage, as Minister for Agriculture he helped pull farmers out of a period of slump in the markets. As Minister of Health he made a major contribution towards preparedness for war, both in hospital reorganisation and in the planning of an evacuation scheme that was put into action.

As well as politics, Elliot continued to pursue academic research after the First World War. Following an invitation from John Boyd Orr (who he became friends with in the Officers' Training Corps before the War) he worked on a project on pig nutrition at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, and spent his vacations researching there. Based on this work, he completed a thesis for which he was awarded a DSc by the University in 1923.

Elliot was awarded and honorary LLD degree in 1937 for his work as Secretary of State for Scotland. He was elected Rector in 1947, defeating his old friend OH Mavor and another former Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston, in the process. After he left Parliament he farmed, ran a family business and did some writing and broadcasting.

Walter Elliot died of coronary thrombosis on 8th January 1958 and is buried in Hobkirk churchyard.


Walter Elliot

Born 19 September 1888, Lanark, Scotland.
Died 8 January 1958.
University Link: Alumnus, Honorary Graduate, Rector
GU Degrees: DSc, 1923; BSc, 1910; MBChB, 1913; LLD, 1937;
Occupation categories: politicians
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P149086
View Major Archive Collection Record
Additional Information: Gordon F. Millar, ‘Elliot, Walter Elliot (1888–1958)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [, accessed 15 June 2015]
Record last updated: 15th Jun 2015

University Connections

University Roles

  • Rector, 1947-1950
  • Alumnus
  • Honorary Graduate


World Changing Achievements

Walter Elliot is listed on the University of Glasgow World Changing website.

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