Noel Curtis-Bennett

'We Are 20s People' square image20 People of the 20s is part of 20sPeople – our season to mark the release of the 1921 Census, connecting the 1920s and the 2020s. This story was researched by Keith Mitchell, Volunteer Projects Officer.

Founder of the Civil Service Sports Council

Greyscale illustration of Noel Curtis-Bennett, on a pink background.

An illustration of Noel Curtis-Bennett, created from a photograph. By Sophie Glover.

Sir Noel Curtis-Bennett, son of Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of his day, was educated at Tonbridge, and had some training in estate management before appointment as an Inspector under the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1905. Between about 1910 and 1911 he served as the private secretary to Lord Lucas, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board. He was transferred to the National Health Insurance Commission in 1911, joining the Ministry of Health on its formation in 1920; this is his listed employer on his 1921 Census return.

Noel served in the Civil Commissioner’s Department from 1925 to 1930, before becoming Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 1930. He was created Commander to the Royal Victorian Order (C.V.O) in 1926 and Knight Commander to the Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O) in 1932. He spoke on behalf of the National Savings Committee from 1939 until his retirement in 1942, touring the country and speaking to a great variety of audiences.

A screenshot of Noel’s 1921 Census record. The main image is darkened slightly. His name and employer are superimposed on top, in the original colour.

Noel’s 1921 Census record

Noel will be remembered most of all for his work to improve the lives of others. In co-operation with a few colleagues who were unimpressed with the lack of co-ordination of sports in the Civil Service, the lack of competitiveness and the need for adequate facilities, he formed the Civil Service Sports Council in 1921. He was its first treasurer, but quickly took on the mantle of vice-chairman; he remained vice-chairman for 25 years, during which time he took a leading part in organising the work of the Council.

The Council flourished, and, when Noel became chairman in 1942, there was a membership of 50,000. Grounds had been provided in numerous centres, associations formed, and competitions arranged in all major sports. Representative games were regularly played (until the outbreak of the Second World War) against other Crown Services, and the standard of performance improved immeasurably. Noel became vice-president on relinquishing the chairmanship in 1944.

A black and white photo of Noel, side on, wearing a suit and bow tie.

Sir (Francis) Noel Curtis-Bennett, by Walter Stoneman (1932)

Just as his love for his colleagues led him to devote so much of his time to their wellbeing, his natural compassion led him to work in many areas outside the Civil Service, in particular improving sport facilities and healthy outdoor recreation as a means of furthering general welfare.

He was one of the founders and the first treasurer of the National Playing Fields Association, a role which he retained for over 20 years, when he became Chairman. He was also instrumental to the National Association of Boys Clubs, the Joint Committee of the National Trust, the National Council of Social Service, among many others. Despite these commitments, he found time to serve as Vice-Chairman of the British Olympic Council, a member of the International Olympic Committee, and a Governor of the London Hospital.

Noel was driven by his faith in the value of work as a contribution to national wellbeing, his hope for a better future for the nation, and his deep sense of compassion for all people; with the conviction to ‘strengthen the moral, spiritual and physical qualities of all men and women’.

Find out more

Having served on the British Olympic Council, Noel would surely have been delighted to see Great Britain’s medal haul from the 2012 Games; discover our research guide for Olympic and Paralympic games here: Olympic and Paralympic Games and sporting history research guide

Keen to learn more about life in the 1920s? Our 1920s-themed exhibition is now open: The 1920s: Beyond the Roar

What is 20 People of the 20s?

20 People of the 20s is a project where staff members at The National Archives have researched a story of someone from the 1920s. From family members and First World War service personnel, to famous performers and politicians, we hope these stories will encourage you to explore the breadth of experience in 1920s Britain. 20 People of the 20s is part of 20sPeople – our season to mark the release of the 1921 Census, connecting the 1920s and the 2020s.  Find out more here.

20sPeople Banner - Pink banner with face composite, one from the 1920s and one from the 2020s with a logo saying We are 20sPeople