FAY, Charles Ryle



13th January 1884 to 19th November 1961

Biographical Text

Fay was a Cambridge-educated economic historian who taught at both Cambridge and the University of Toronto. A political and economic liberal, he was interested in the co-operative movement and the concept of co-partnership between workers and employers. 

Fay was born in Manchester on 13 January 1884. In 1902 he entered King’s College, Cambridge where he read economics under the tutelage of Alfred Marshall, and was also a fellow student of John Maynard Keynes, who seems to have had little time for him. He also studied at the London School of Economics, where the influence of Beatrice Webb inclined him towards his early interest in the co-operative movement. In 1909 Fay travelled for the first time to Canada, researching the grain-producing co-operatives of Saskatchewan. 

In 1914 Fay joined the British army and served as an officer in the Machine Gun Corps, rising to the rank of captain. He saw front-line service, where he was mentioned in dispatches, but later wounded and invalided out with shell shock. Recovering, he served for a time with the Central Educational School of the Machine Gun Corps, and was then later appointed to a staff position on the Western Front. This post brought him into contact with the Canadian Corps, and renewed his interest in Canada. In 1918 Fay returned briefly to Cambridge where he was a reader in economics, but in 1921 he took up a post teaching in the department of political economy at the University of Toronto. 

In 1930 Fay returned to Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his career. He continued to take a keen interest in Canadian affairs, however, and in 1953 gave a series of lectures in Newfoundland on the revival of the province’s economy and culture. Fay died in Cambridge on 19 November 1961. 

Fay’s early career, which is of most interest here, saw a strong interest in themes such as co-operation and co-partnership. He supported greater rights for workers and also women’s suffrage. Co-operation at Home and Abroad, a very popular work in its day, argues the case for co-operatives as a kind of ‘third way’ between pure capitalism and worker-controlled industries as advocated by many socialists. Fay believed that workers and employers had common interests, and was particularly interested in how co-operation had developed in frontier societies such as Canada. Copartnership in Industry is a lesser work but still interesting; it is in essence a manifesto calling for greater collaboration between capital and labour. Fay’s third book, Life and Labour in the Nineteenth Century, published around the time of his Rowntree lecture, is a useful history written from a Whig perspective. 

Thereafter, as Ludlow (2010) says, Fay became a liberal imperialist, one of a faction of economists who believed that the empire could be reformed on the basis of a kind of ‘social contract’ between Britain and the colonies. The reason why the American colonies revolted in 1775, Fay believed, was because the British government started to see the relationship between mother country and colonies as a purely financial one, a zero-sum monetary game rather than a relationship between kindred peoples. Once it became clear that the empire was dissolving, Fay retreated towards more conventional economic history, writing detailed if uninspired works on William Huskisson and Adam Smith. 

Fay’s lecture on education begins with a musing on the nature of education itself. ‘We have been told in this Conference to look upon every career as social service’, he says. ‘That certainly applies to education.’ In Fay’s conception, the purpose of education is to teach people how to think, to broaden their capacity for rational thought, in two directions: first, to analyse and understand what is going on, and second, to understand the historical currents that brought us to this point.  

From there, Fay goes on to elucidate his own theory of how the economy has developed and reached its present point. He argues – perhaps teasing his audience here – that capitalism and socialism are really just two sides of the same thing. Capitalism is the organisation of productive capacity, socialism is the organisation of labour. Fay argues, with perhaps a touch of influence from Friedrich Engels, that the Industrial Revolution was in some ways a good thing, for it brought workers together under the aegis of the factory and enabled them to organise more easily. Fay believes that the rise of industrial associations and trades unions is potentially a boon for society, as it will enable better and more constructive bargaining and relationships to benefit both sides. He is particularly interested in organisations like the Whitley Councils that try to bring both sides together and establish cooperation. 

An understanding of the past, says Fay, is vital if we are to avoid its mistakes and make a better future. ‘We cannot understand the present if we are ignorant of the past’, he says. ‘We are not in the position of a scientist who…if his experiment goes wrong, can try it again with fresh precautions. We are dealing with human material.’ He ends with a plea for more cooperation between businesses and the universities, each of which he believes has much to teach the other. This is not an entirely successful lecture and may have somewhat missed its brief, but Fay’s arguments for cooperation are very similar to others being advanced at the time, notably by Beatrice and Sidney Webb. 

Major works 

Co-operation at Home and Abroad: A Description and Analysis, 1908. 

Copartnership in Industry, 1913. 

Life and Labour in the Nineteenth Century, 1920. 

Great Britain from Adam Smith to the Present Day: An Economic and Social Survey, 1928. 

Imperial Economy and Its Place in the Formation of Economic Doctrine, 1600-1932, 1934. 

English Economic History, Mainly Since 1700, 1940. 

Huskisson and His Age, 1951. 

Palace of Industry, 1851: A Study of the Great Exhibition and its Fruits, 1951. 

Life and Labour in Newfoundland, 1956. 

The World of Adam Smith, 1960. 


Gault, H., The Quirky Dr Fay: A Remarkable Life, Cambridge: Gretton Books, 2011. 

Ludlow, P., ‘Searching for the Past, Writing for the Present: Charles Ryle Fay and Newfoundland’s Contested Past’, Acadiensis 39 (2), 2010, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/acadiensis/article/view/18422/19905  

Original Source

Lecture Education as a factor in industry1920University College, Durham 


“FAY, Charles Ryle,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed December 3, 2020, http://rowntree.exeter.ac.uk/items/show/33.