Biography of Charles Wakefield
Charles Cheers Wakefield was born in Liverpool in December 1859, the son of John Wakefield, a Customs official, and his wife Margaret, née Cheers. After schooling at the Liverpool Institute, he began working for an oil-broker, and travelled extensively around the world. He started his own firm, C.C.Wakefield & Co., dealing in lubricating oils and appliances. At a time when the petrol engine was still in its infancy, Wakefield specialised in lubricants for locomotives and steam engines. But he also had the foresight to plan for a rapid expansion of the automobile market. The brand name of his products, Castrol, became known around the globe. The name was chosen because early motor lubricants contained a considerable proportion of castor oil.
As a result of the world-wide success of the business, Wakefield opened a head office in Cannon Street in the City of London . He became a zealous worker for the City, and an enthusiast for its traditions. He was elected to the Court of Common Council in 1904, and served as a sheriff in 1907-08, being knighted in the letter year. He became an alderman in 1908, and was Lord Mayor in 1915-16. He took an energetic part in the recruitment drives for the forces during the First World War, and in 1916 paid visits to the Western Front, and to the Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow . He was made a baronet in 1916, and was awarded the CBE in 1919.
The continuing international success of Castrol lubricants allowed Wakefield to pursue many interests, and to become a ready benefactor to daring pioneers. He was interested in the growth of aviation; he financed Sir Alan Cobham’s return flight to Australia in 1926, and gave funds for Amy Johnson’s flight to Australia in 1930, the first solo flight from Britain to Australia by a woman. Motor sport was also close to his heart, as well as being linked to his business. He supported Sir Henry Segrave’s speed trials at Daytona and Miami , and presented the Wakefield Gold Trophy for the world land speed record.
He also became a ready benefactor to London and Londoners. He served at various times as Master of the Haberdashers’, the Cordwainers’, the Gardeners’ and the Spectacle Makers’ Companies, and was especially proud to be the first member of the Corporation to be made an honorary Freeman of the City. He was a generous President of the Bethlem Royal Hospital , and a governor of St Thomas ’s and Bart’s Hospitals. In 1937, together with the Rev Tubby Clayton, he set up the Wakefield Trust to help All Hallows by the Tower, Toc H, and good causes in the East End , and the Trust continues to bear his name.
In 1930, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Wakefield of Hythe. He was made a Viscount, also of Hythe, in 1934. He remained active in business until a month before his death in January 1941.
At his funeral, snow was falling, and Tubby Clayton described the scene as “each flake a ‘Thank You’ from a London child”.