Sir Leslie KIRKLEY (1911–1989)

Humanitarian, Director of Oxfam

25 Capel Close, Summertown, Oxford

Sir Leslie Kirkley was an eminent humanitarian who transformed a local charity, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, into Oxfam, a global aid agency.

Born and bred in Manchester, son of Albert Kirkley, schoolmaster, and his wife Elizabeth (née Davies), he became an associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and at first worked in local government, taking an early interest in social welfare and pacifism. In 1940 he lost his job because he was a conscientious objector. He became a Quaker at this time and acquired business acumen as manager for a Quaker painting and decoration firm. In 1942 he became honorary secretary of the Leeds European relief committee.

Cecil Jackson-Cole, honorary secretary of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, was ambitious to take the local charity forward with a wider remit. In 1951 he recruited Leslie Kirkley to become general secretary (in effect CEO). Over his long years of leadership, first as Secretary, then as Director from 1961 of the renamed Oxfam, he totally transformed the character of the organisation. He visited disaster areas and pioneered professional fund raising. Oxfam became associated with prompt disaster relief such as in the Congo. He established a network of field staff and campaigned to focus on the causes of hunger and poverty as well as relief. This new concept of charitable work at first met with opposition from the Charity Commission. He was responsible for the growth of Oxfam shops in our high streets, together with Oxfam Trading and the creation of independent Oxfam initiatives in other countries.

After retiring from Oxfam in 1974, he went on to chair or direct a number of voluntary and public organizations, including the Refugee Council, the Disasters’ Emergency Committee, and Help the Aged which evolved into Help the Aged International under his direction. He was knighted in 1977 and received many other honours, including honorary degrees. At the time of his death in 1989 he was actively involved with over thirty organisations as a committee member, trustee, patron or chairman.

Kirkley's house at 25 Capel Close25 Capel Close, Sir Leslie Kirkley's home from 1976 to 1989


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Frank Judd
  • A cause for our times: Oxfam, the first 50 years by Maggie Black (1992)

The plaque was unveiled at 25 Capel Close on 16 June 2023. Tributes were given by Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, current CEO of Oxfam GB and Jean and Paul Kirkley. Among those attending were the Lord Mayor of Oxford (Cllr Lubna Arshad), Kirkley family members, current and former employees of Oxfam, and friends and neighbours.

Photographs taken at the unveiling ceremony:

Speech made by Paul Kirkley at the ceremony (PDF)


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

Director of Oxfam
who transformed a local charity
into a global aid agency
Lived here

Oxford Civic Society

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com