John Poulson

John Garlick Llewellyn Poulson (14 April 1910 – 31 January 1993)[1] was a British architect and businessman who caused a major political scandal when his use of bribery was disclosed in 1972. The highest-ranking figure to be forced out was Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Poulson served a prison sentence, but continued to protest his innocence, claiming that he was "a man more sinned against than sinning".[2]

John Poulson
John Garlick Llewellyn Poulson

14 April 1910
Died31 January 1993 (aged 82)
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
OccupationArchitect (unregistered)
Spouse(s)Cynthia Sykes (m. 1939–31 January 1993 (his death)); 2 daughters

Family and early life

Poulson came from a strict Methodist family and inherited a strong faith which stressed the importance of self-help.[1] He did badly at school and at Leeds College of Art but nevertheless was articled to a Pontefract firm of architects, Garside and Pennington. He left to start his own architecture practice with financial backing from his father. He never registered with the ARCUK (Architects' Registration Council of the United Kingdom), later claiming "I was too busy to complete my examinations". Poulson soon began to cultivate contacts in the local borough council and officials at the larger West Riding county authority. Work soon began to arrive and Poulson told friends that he was "on his way". Poulson also became politically involved with the National Liberals, although he never let political differences stop him from making friends who were in charge of commissioning public buildings. He was a Freemason.[3][4]

Post-war business

Manasseh - John Poulson Residence
Manasseh, Poulson's former residence

Poulson obtained a medical exemption from wartime service in 1939. The same year he married Cynthia Sykes whose sister Lorna was married to John King, Baron King of Wartnaby. He was thus well placed to expand his business throughout the wartime years. He was a workaholic and demanded the same commitment from his staff, dismissing staff who would not work his way. He had his own firm build him a house called 'Manasseh' at a cost of £60,000, helped by building contractors donating services for free in the hope of getting contracts in the future. The house won the 'Ideal Homes' House of the Year competition in 1958. When Poulson's problems caught up with him in later life, he sold the house to a young couple for just over half the build cost.

Poulson revolutionised the accepted architectural method of completing a design then handing it over for costing, planning and building. He developed a combined architecture and design practice, an all-in-one service which employed all the separate disciplines in integrated teams. This approach facilitated the development process and reduced costs. In the post-war years Poulson's business boomed and by the sixties was one of the largest in Europe at the time. He later admitted that the practice expanded "beyond my wildest dreams" and offices were opened in London, Middlesbrough, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh, Beirut and Lagos, Nigeria.[5]

Local authorities

Leeds International Swimming Pool
Poulson's Leeds International Swimming Pool, opened in 1966

In 1958, the National Liberal MP Sir Herbert Butcher advised his friend Poulson to set up a servicing company to win business for his architect's practice. Poulson established Ropergate Services Ltd., named after the street in Pontefract where he was based. This company also had the advantage of reducing Poulson's tax liability considerably. In the late 1950s, there was a building boom as many local authorities embarked on major building schemes.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, council leader T. Dan Smith's ambition to redevelop Newcastle attracted the attention of the construction firm Bovis which had worked for Poulson. Bovis' managing director suggested formalising links and in February 1962 Smith was appointed as a consultant to the Poulson organisation. This connection was extremely valuable to Poulson as Smith had a network of contacts among other authorities in the north-east, many of whom were also recruited as Poulson consultants. Smith's involvement with the Labour Party reassured many Labour councillors wary of dealing with someone involved in the Conservative-allied National Liberals.

Poulson also found a useful contact in Andrew Cunningham, a senior figure in both the General and Municipal Workers Union and the Labour Party in North East England. Some of Poulson's largest residential blocks were built in Cunningham's home town of Felling, County Durham. Cunningham later went to prison for his dealings with the architect.[6]

Nationalised industries

Cannon Street station
Cannon Street railway station, a Poulson building
City Station
City House (originally British Railways House) over Leeds City railway station was a Poulson building design built in 1962.

Poulson was also in a good position to win work for the nationalised industries, partly due to his having offered gifts to many civil servants when they were relatively junior and calling upon them for a return of gratitude years in the future. As an example Poulson had met Graham Tunbridge, a railway employee, during the war. After the nationalisation of British Rail Tunbridge became estates surveyor for its Eastern Region and sent Poulson several contracts for modernisation of stationmasters' homes. When Tunbridge became Estates and Rating Surveyor for BR Southern Region, Poulson moved on to contracts at Waterloo railway station, Cannon Street station and East Croydon station. In return, Poulson had at first supplied Tunbridge with £25 weekly, and later loaned him a Rover car.

Another productive contact was Scottish Office civil servant George Pottinger, who in the late 1950s was put in charge of a £3 million redevelopment of Aviemore as a winter sports complex. Poulson gave Pottinger gifts worth over £30,000 over six years, and was appointed by Pottinger as architect in charge of the Aviemore project. Pottinger also had a degree of political knowledge and skill which Poulson lacked, and drafted political speeches for him.

Poulson's connections with the National Liberals began to give him political advancement in the early 1960s. He was Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Liberal Council from 1961 and frequently hosted National Liberal events in London at which he met senior government ministers. He also made contact with the Labour MP Albert Roberts, for whom Poulson designed a house free of charge. Roberts had useful contacts with the Portuguese government and was offered a consultancy by Poulson at £2,500 per annum.

Overseas work

Poulson was increasingly interested in obtaining commissions outside Britain in the mid-1960s. This required making more contacts. The Conservative MP John Cordle had extensive contacts in West Africa and after helping on several small contracts, in 1965 became a consultant to Poulson at £1,000 per annum. However, Cordle's approaches to governments in Nigeria, the Gambia and Libya proved unfruitful. Cordle wrote a letter outlining everything he had done for Poulson, which eventually doomed his Parliamentary career.


Another contact was the then Shadow Commonwealth Secretary Reginald Maudling, whom Poulson knew from his National Liberal activities. Maudling was anxious to build up a business career to keep up his income and Poulson needed a big name as chairman of one of his companies, Construction Promotion. In 1966 Maudling accepted an offer to be chairman for £5,000 per annum. In addition, Maudling's son Martin, who had left Oxford University without taking a degree, went to work for another Poulson company. Poulson agreed to donate large sums of money to a charity patronised by Maudling's wife.

In return, Maudling helped to bring pressure on the government of Malta to award a £1.5 million contract for the new Victoria Hospital on Gozo to Poulson. In Parliament, Maudling vociferously opposed the plans of the Labour government to reduce the amount of defence spending and number of UK troops in Malta. He traded on the goodwill this created to bring extra pressure, and also changed Conservative Party policy so that overseas development assistance to Malta would be 75% grant and 25% loan, instead of the even split which the Labour government had introduced.

Financial trouble

Poulson's business model was initially highly successful and, at its apogee, was making an annual turnover of £1 million;[7] he himself admitted to being a millionaire. However, it was consuming more contract work than was becoming available, and Poulson resorted to tackling these difficulties by bribing and corrupting local councillors, local authority officials and civil servants at all levels. This was an expensive strategy and Poulson later estimated that he "gave away" about £500,000 in the last few years of his involvement in the business.

As part of his attempts to get noticed, Poulson had become a local Commissioner of Taxes. However his own tax payments were seriously in deficit by the mid-1960s, mainly due to his extravagance on consultancies and gifts. In January 1968 the Inland Revenue finally decided to sue Poulson; on 18 November 1968 they obtained judgment in their favour for £211,639. Poulson struggled on, but in June 1969 his staff confronted him with the fact that he was approaching bankruptcy. He attempted to recoup cash he had poured into subsidiary companies, which alerted his consultants that all was not well. Maudling and his son quietly resigned in November 1969.

On 31 December 1969 Poulson was formally removed from control of J.G.L. Poulson and Associates. On 9 November 1971 he filed his own bankruptcy petition, revealing debts of £247,000. The bankruptcy hearings in spring 1972 were assisted by Poulson's meticulous record-keeping which detailed his payments and gifts. Poulson's generosity drew the comment from Muir Hunter QC during the bankruptcy proceedings that "[i]n fact, Mr Poulson, you were distributing largesse like Henry VIII". The bankruptcy hearing also revealed Poulson's love for a lavish lifestyle and his penchant for rubbing shoulders with senior figures in the establishment. This desire to show his financial superiority over others only served to highlight his true character as a lonely, friendless and insecure person. One of Poulson's biggest creditors was the Inland Revenue to which he owed around £200,000. Whilst the Revenue were pressing Poulson for payment of this amount, he was himself presiding over debt hearings in Wakefield in his role as a Commissioner of Inland Revenue.

It swiftly became apparent that Poulson was at the centre of a massive corruption scandal, and in July 1972, the Metropolitan Police began an investigation for fraud. This precipitated the resignation of Reginald Maudling, then Home Secretary and notionally in charge of the police.[8]


On 22 June 1973, Poulson was arrested and charged with corruption in connection with the award of building contracts. The trial at Leeds Crown Court lasted 52 days, and cost an estimated £1.25 million. Defending Poulson, QC Donald Herrod, said: "He has nothing to live for and his abiding fear is that he will never complete his sentence because of ill health".[9] Donald Herrod later described his client as "hypocritical, self-righteous and perhaps something of a megalomaniac". Following the trial which was widely reported in the press, he was convicted on 11 February 1974 of fraud and jailed for five years (later increased to seven years). Sentencing him, the judge called Poulson an "incalculably evil man". For his part, Poulson denied the charges, saying "I have been a fool, surrounded by a pack of leeches. I took on the world on its own terms, and no one can deny I once had it in my fist".

Many of his contacts, in particular T. Dan Smith[7] and George Pottinger, were similarly convicted and jailed, though not the three MPs: it was found that there was a legal loophole through which members of parliament could not be considered as in charge of public funds. The Poulson scandals did much to force the House of Commons to initiate a Register of Members' Interests. A subsequent Select Committee inquiry which reported in 1977 found that all three had indulged in "conduct inconsistent with the standards which the House is entitled to expect from its Members". Cordle was forced to resign although the Commons then voted only to 'take note' of the Committee's report rather than endorsing it.

After serving periods in Armley Jail, Wakefield and Oakham prisons, Poulson was released on 13 May 1977 from Lincoln Prison after Lord Longford had appealed on his behalf. Longford had successfully argued that to keep a sick man in jail was an "indefensible cruelty".[5] His bankruptcy was discharged, with creditors receiving 10p in the pound, in 1980. A condition of the discharge was that half the proceeds of his autobiography would go to his creditors; the resulting book, The Price, gives his side of the corruption scandal and maintains his innocence. Only a few copies of the book remain in circulation as it was withdrawn and pulped by the publishers through fear of libel actions.[10] Throughout the rest of his life Poulson said that he was simply developing advanced public relations and consulting techniques.

Poulson died in the General Infirmary in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, on 31 January 1993. His wife and two daughters survived him.[10]


Among buildings designed by Poulson are the City House (1962) and International Pool (1965–1968),[5] both in Leeds, and Forster House in Bradford, which was demolished in 2005 as part of the Forster Square redevelopment.[11] The International Pool in Leeds was closed in 2007 and razed to the ground in 2009. The site is now used for car parking.[12]

In an indirect way, Poulson did make a contribution to the UK's broadcasting culture. A special edition of the investigative ITV series World in Action, The Friends and Influence of John L Poulson, became a cause célèbre in the debate about the power of Britain's television regulators to interfere with broadcast journalism. The Poulson programme was banned by the then regulator, the ITA, even though its members had not seen it. A furious debate followed in which newspapers as varied as The Sunday Times and Socialist Worker united in calling for an end to such "censorship".

Granada Television, the makers of World in Action, broadcast a blank screen as a protest against the banning. There was some irony in this: the editor of World in Action was Raymond Fitzwalter who earlier, as deputy news editor of the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford, had led an investigation into Poulson's activities, which the newspaper published. Eventually, after the film was shown to the ITA, it was transmitted on 30 April 1973, three months late, and under a different title, The Rise and Fall of John Poulson.[13]

The 1996 BBC television drama serial Our Friends in the North, written by Peter Flannery, contains a character, John Edwards (played by Geoffrey Hutchings), who is closely based on Poulson. One of the reasons the production took so long to reach the screen—Flannery had originally written it for the stage in 1982—was the fear of the BBC that Poulson and others fictionalised in the drama might take legal action. In the event, the deaths of Poulson and T. Dan Smith in 1993 finally allowed the production to commence.[14]


  1. ^ a b Calder, John (4 February 1993). "Obituary: John Poulson". The Independent. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  2. ^ John Poulson The Price, Michael Joseph, 1981
  3. ^ "PROPOSITIONS : Revealing the silent minority", The Independent, 23 February 1995
  4. ^ Shaw, William (28 January 2008). "Now you can log on to the online lodge". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Clark, Ross (6 June 2003). "Final insult to Poulson". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  6. ^ "The rise and fall of Mr Newcastle". The Journal. 10 March 2004. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Poulson affair: Pelicans brief that stunned a country". The Scotsman. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  8. ^ Finch, Paul (10 March 2017). "Corruption is not just about financial inducements". Architects Journal. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  9. ^ "1974: Architect jailed over corruption". BBC News. 15 March 1990. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  10. ^ a b Luder, Owen (23 September 2004). "Poulson, John Garlick Llewellyn (1910–1993)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53151. Retrieved 28 January 2018.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ Greenhalf, Jim (13 February 2012). "Out with the old in with the new". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Parking idea floated for former pool site in Leeds". Yorkshire Evening Post. 16 April 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  13. ^ [1] Archived 25 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Flannery, Peter. Retrospective – An interview with the creators of the series. Included as a bonus feature on the DVD release. (BMG DVD 74321 941149).


  • Nothing to declare: The Political Corruptions of John Poulson by Michael Gillard (John Calder, London 1980)
  • The Price by John Poulson (Michael Joseph, London 1981)
  • Web of Corruption: The Full Story of John Poulson and T. Dan Smith by Raymond Fitzwalter and David Taylor (Granada, London; 1981)
  • "John Poulson: Obituary", The Times, 4 February 1993, p. 19
1977 Bournemouth East by-election

The Bournemouth East by election was a by election for the Parliament of the United Kingdom held on Thursday, 24 November 1977 after the resignation of John Cordle following his criticism by a Select Committee for business links to corrupt architect John Poulson.

Cordle had been elected at the October 1974 general election for the Conservative Party with a majority of 10,661 votes over the Liberal Party.

Albert Roberts (British politician)

Albert Roberts (14 May 1908 – 11 May 2000) was a British Labour politician.

Roberts was educated at Whitwood Technical College and worked as a mining engineer and mines inspector for the Yorkshire Safety Board 1941-51. He was elected a councillor on Rothwell Urban District Council 1937-51, serving as chair in 1948.

Roberts was Member of Parliament for Normanton from 1951 to 1983. His career was controversial for his support for Francisco Franco, his relationship with the corrupt architect John Poulson and his regular votes in favour of capital punishment. His successor was Bill O'Brien. He was vice-chairman of the British branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Bournemouth East (UK Parliament constituency)

Bournemouth East is a borough constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. It has elected Conservative MPs since its creation.

Cannon Street station

Cannon Street station, also known as London Cannon Street, is a central London railway terminus and connected London Underground station in Travelcard zone 1 located on Cannon Street in the City of London and managed by Network Rail. It is one of two London termini of the South Eastern main line, the other being Charing Cross, while the Underground station is on the Circle and District lines, between Monument and Mansion House. The station runs services by Southeastern, mostly catering for commuters in southeast London and Kent, with occasional services further into the latter.

The station was built on a site of the medieval steelyard, the trading base in England of the Hanseatic League. It was built by the South Eastern Railway in order to have a railway terminal in the City and compete with their rivals, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The City location of the station necessitated a new bridge across the River Thames, which was constructed between 1863 and 1866. The station was initially a stop for continental services from Charing Cross, and that route was convenient for travel between the City and the West End, until the construction of the District Railway. It remained popular with commuters, though its off-peak services were discontinued in the early 20th century, leading to it being closed on Sundays for almost 100 years. The original hotel on the station was unsuccessful, and eventually closed. The station was controversially renovated in the late 1950s by John Poulson, while further construction on top of the station building occurred during the City's 1980s property boom. The Poulson building was replaced in 2007 as part of a general renovation of the station to make it more accessible. As part of the Thameslink Programme development in the 2010s, it was re-opened on Sundays and began to offer more long-distance services in place of Charing Cross.

City House

Platform, formerly known as City House and British Railways House, is a building over Leeds railway station that was built by Taylor Woodrow in 1962. The buildings were, like many other railway buildings in the UK, designed by the subsequently disgraced architect John Poulson. Poulson also designed the Leeds International Pool. Upon its construction it was famously lambasted by the poet John Betjeman, who said that the building blocked all the light out of City Square and was only a testament to money, having no architectural merit. He made similar criticism in 1968.

The building was bought by a property company, Kenmore, in 2006 with a view to regenerating what it described as a "tired and dilapidated" building. Kenmore received planning permission in 2008 to extend the building at the back (on the south side) and re-clad it in glazed curtain walling. The scheme was due to be completed in 2009. However Kenmore went into liquidation in 2009 before the scheme had started. A December 2011 photo shows little change from the 2008 image (right).In 2010 the building was bought by office property company Bruntwood which plans to redevelop it. Planning permission for the refurbishment was granted by Leeds City Council on 13 October 2011. Bruntwood's brochure for the redevelopment claims that:

"our aim is to transform this neglected property into a new high-profile business destination, creating office space to suit all sizes and types of organisation. The exterior of the building will be given a striking new look with contemporary curtain wall glazing. On the inside, the offices will be completely refurbished with the upper floors also boasting unrivalled panoramic views across the city".Work commenced in October 2015, with the refurbishment completed in 2017. It was renamed Platform.

Forster Square

Forster Square in central Bradford was redeveloped in the (2006) Broadway development, but gives its name to Bradford Forster Square railway station and a retail park.

Geoffrey Hutchings

Geoffrey Hutchings (8 June 1939 – 1 July 2010) was an English stage, film and television actor.

HM Prison Leeds

HM Prison Leeds is a Category B men's prison, located at Gloucester Terrace in the Armley area of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, which opened in 1847. Leeds Prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service, and is still known locally as Armley Gaol, the historical name for the prison.

HM Prison Lincoln

HM Prison Lincoln is a Category B men's prison, located in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England. The prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. A category B prison which allocates convicted prisoners within its catchment area.

Herbert Butcher

Sir Herbert Walter Butcher, 1st Baronet (12 June 1901 – 11 May 1966) was an English Conservative and National Liberal

politician. He sat in the House of Commons from 1937 to 1966.

Butcher was the son of Frank Butcher. He was educated at Hastings Grammar School, and served in the Royal Navy during World War I, from 1916 to 1919. He was as a Hackney Borough Councillor from 1928 to 1961, serving as Mayor of Hackney in from 1935 to 1937.He was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Holland with Boston at a by-election in June 1937, after the death of the National Liberal MP Sir James Blindell. He held the seat at the next six general elections until his retirement at the 1966 general election, when Richard Body was elected as his successor.

From 1950 to 1951, Butcher was Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Walter "Stoker" Edwards. after serving as a Lord of the Treasury from 1951 to 1953. In 1958, he advised his friend and parliamentary colleague John Poulson to set up a servicing company to win business for his architect's practice.

Having been knighted on 10 February 1953, Butcher was created a Baronet of Holland in the County of Lincoln on 22 July 1960.After 29 years as an MP, Butcher died less than two months after his retirement, aged 64.

Leeds Crown Court

Leeds Crown Court, more accurately the Crown Court at Leeds, is a venue of the Crown Court in West Yorkshire, England. The buildings are situated on Westgate in Leeds city centre, adjacent to Leeds magistrates courts.

Leeds International Pool

The Leeds International Pool often referred to as the Leeds International Baths, was a swimming facility in Leeds city centre, West Yorkshire, England. The pool was situated at the lower end of Westgate and was notable for its brutalist architecture. The pool was constructed in the 1960s and designed by architect John Poulson.The facility closed in October 2007 and was jointly replaced by the Aquatics Centre at the John Charles Centre for Sport (former South Leeds Stadium) in the south of the city and partly by 'The Edge' sports centre at the University of Leeds which has periods open to non-university members. The building stood unused until late 2009, when demolition commenced. In the interim it was subject to vandalism.

Muther Grumble

Muther Grumble was an alternative newspaper produced between 1971 and 1973 in Durham City, UK, and circulating in North-East England. Seventeen issues were published, originally in large format and then later in A4 format, and the print run peaked at 8,000. It was set up with finances from a local journalist and was edited and largely by a voluntary collective from an office upstairs in Silver Street in Durham city. It covered politics and citizen rights as well as music and culture. It broke the story of corrupt building contracts involving T. Dan Smith and John Poulson. It was sold on the streets and in a few bookshops all over the North-East. The collective that ran it also ran a general advice service and a claimants advice service.


Poulson may refer to:

Poulson, the codename of an Itanium processor by Intel

Brandon Poulson, American professional baseball player

John Poulson, a British architect who caused a major political scandal

Norris Poulson, mayor of Los Angeles, California from 1953 to 1961

Theodore Frederick Poulson, writer. Author of the book 'The Flying Wig' (1948)

Reginald Maudling

Reginald Maudling (7 March 1917 – 14 February 1979) was a British politician who held several Cabinet posts, including Chancellor of the Exchequer. From 1955 until the late 1960s, he was spoken of as a prospective Conservative leader, and he was twice seriously considered for the post; he was Edward Heath's chief rival in 1965. He also held directorships in several British financial firms.

As Home Secretary, he was responsible for the UK Government's Northern Ireland policy during the period that included Bloody Sunday in 1972. Soon afterwards, he left office due to an unrelated scandal in one of the companies of which he was director.

T. Dan Smith

Thomas Daniel Smith (11 May 1915 – 27 July 1993) was a British politician who was Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965. He was a prominent figure in the Labour Party in North East England, such that he was nicknamed Mr Newcastle.Smith sought to clear Newcastle of slum housing and put a great deal of effort into regeneration plans, suggesting that the city should become "The Brasilia of the North". He also supported the expansion of higher education in Newcastle and funded local arts institutions. Among the developments begun under Smith were the Eldon Square Shopping Centre, Newcastle Civic Centre and Swan House, the latter leading to the demolition of John Dobson's Royal Arcade. Smith's legacy became associated with the destruction of historic buildings in favour of unpopular concrete structures.While leading the redevelopment of his city, Smith formed business links with architect John Poulson which led to his trial for accepting bribes in April 1974, at which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. In his later life he campaigned for prisoners' issues and continued to comment on public affairs. He starred in a film of his life released in 1987.

The Death List

"The Death List" is the tenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 9 March 1981. In this episode, the final Yes Minister is uttered by Sir Humphrey Appleby.

William George Pottinger

(William) George Pottinger (11 June 1916 – 15 January 1998) was a Scottish civil servant who was imprisoned for corruption in 1974 following the John Poulson trial.


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