Untold lives blog

187 posts categorized "Politics"

21 January 2020

George Orwell and the Strange Case of the Three Anarchists Jailed at the Old Bailey

In 1945 George Orwell signed up as a sponsor of the Freedom Defence Committee in defence of three anarchists who had been jailed at the Old Bailey.

List of members of Freedom Defence CommitteeList of members of Freedom Defence Committee from pamphlet 1899.ss.4.(29.) Noc

It was just before the end of the Second World War, and a small group of anarchists in Britain had been publishing anti-war articles in a publication called War Commentary since 1939. The anarchists believed that governments with a strict top-to-bottom hierarchy were to blame for war and that Britain’s mistreatment of colonies in the empire was unjust. They didn’t approve of borders, and thought that private property caused conflict.

The intelligence service MI5 had been aware of the anarchists’ subversive publications for many years, but it wasn’t until the end of the war neared in 1944 that MI5 began to be concerned.  They feared that returning soldiers might try to overthrow the British government, and that the anarchists were telling servicemen to hold on to their guns for the revolution!

Freedom is it a crime? Header from pamphlet about trial of anarchists at Old Bailey 1945Freedom - Is it a Crime? Header from pamphlet 1899.ss.4.(29.) Noc

Eventually, four anarchists—Marie Louise Berneri, Vernon Richards, John Hewetson, and Philip Sansom—were charged on 22 February 1945 with dissemination of seditious materials.  Only three anarchists were prosecuted, however, as Marie Louise Berneri was married to Vernon Richards and technically could not conspire with her husband.  Outside their trial, art historian Herbert Read gave speeches in support of their cause: ‘I speak to you as an Englishman, as one proud to follow in the tradition of Milton and Shelley –the tradition of all those poets and philosophers who have given us the proud right to claim freedom of speech and the liberty of unlicensed printing’.

In addition to Herbert Read’s speeches, the Freedom Press Defence Committee was set up to help raise funds for legal fees.  George Orwell was a part of this committee which stated its aims as existing as a ‘vigilance’ against cases ‘concerning the infringement of civil liberties’.  While MI5 were worried about revolutions, many well-known writers and politicians were worried about the British government keeping military law after the war was over.  Famous sponsors of the committee included Aneurin Bevan (who would go on to establish the NHS) and Alex Comfort (who would go on to write The Joy of Sex).

A copy of the speeches was kept by Orwell in his collection of political pamphlets which is now held at the British Library.  He himself would go on to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about a government suppressing the free speech of citizens in England.

Claudia Treacher
University of Brighton PhD candidate on conscientious objection during WWII
@ClaudiaTreacher

Further Reading:
Read, Herbert. Freedom, Is It a Crime?: The Strange Case of the Three Anarchists Jailed at the Old Bailey, April 1945. London: Freedom Press Defence Committee, 1945.
Honeywell, Carissa. ‘Anarchism and the British Warfare State: The Prosecution of the War Commentary Anarchists, 1945’. International Review of Social History 60, no. 2 (2015): 257–84.
George Orwell 
Collection of pamphlets, mainly political, formed by George Orwell 
Pamphlet literature by George Orwell

 

03 January 2020

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive

The Granville Archive recently acquired by the British Library includes a collection of supplementary material previously hidden from public view.  When Castalia Leveson-Gower prepared her edition of the private correspondence of diplomat and statesman Granville Leveson-Gower (1773-1846), her father-in-law – the bulk of them are letters from his lover, Harriet Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough (1761-1821) – she carefully omitted any letters referring to the couple’s passionate affair, the secret births of their two children, and the delicate discussions between them and Lord Granville’s eventual wife, Harriet’s niece.  Even letters that were chosen for inclusion in the published edition had to be carefully filleted to cut out any tender endearment or reference to their illegitimate daughter and son.  The entire collection of original letters, including those published, was retained in private hands.  Its whereabouts was unknown to researchers until its acquisition by the British Library (along with Castalia Leveson-Gower’s research papers and her own private correspondence with her husband, the second Earl Granville).  The collection arrived at the Library, bundled in boxes and trunks, at the same time as the main, larger, Granville Archive (Add MS 89317).  Now the supplementary collection has been catalogued (Add MS 89382), and it provides a fascinating complement to the main family archive.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Noc

The new cache of letters will be a rich new source for researchers into late 18th and early 19th century politics and upper class society.  They shed particular light on the personal and political lives of aristocratic women of the period.  Besides the intimate letters between Lady Bessborough and Lord Granville relating to their clandestine affair and children, there are letters from other members of their circle of friends and relations, including Lord Granville’s mother, Susanna Leveson-Gower, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Lady Bessborough’s sister), and Caroline Lamb (her daughter).

Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 'I leave you and give you the only valuable gift in my power, wrote in my blood, my blessing.'  Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 (Add MS 89382/3/4) Noc

Alongside discussion of the latest books and politics, perennial concerns about reputation, scandal and money run throughout this correspondence.  Huge gambling debts were a worry for many in their circle: in a bundle of letters to Lord Granville, the Duchess of Devonshire pleads urgently for funds to stave off creditors.  When the Duke of Devonshire died in 1811, a litigious dispute arose between his heir, the sixth Duke, and his widow, former mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, over the family diamonds.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum there are smaller sums, such as the itemised accounts for housing and educating their illegitimate children which feature in Lady Bessborough’s letters to Lord Granville.

Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807. 'I have just given 30 guineas for a piano forte for tho it is a lump down it is cheaper in the end than hiring.'  Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807 (Add MS 89382/2/27) Noc

The letters from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville tell a vivid story of their long relationship.  Frequent, often daily, letters passed between them, from their first meeting in Naples in 1794, when she was a married woman of 32 and he a 20 year old ‘Adonis’, until her death in Florence in 1821.  They describe the course of their affair through flirtation, intimacy, subterfuge, and passion, and the enduring friendship that survived it, cemented by the birth of their two children and his eventual marriage into her family in 1809.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts
 
Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Amanda Foreman, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (London, 1998)
Janet Gleeson, An Aristocratic Affair: the Life of Georgiana's Sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006)

01 January 2020

A New Year card from MI5

This New Year Card was sent 100 years ago to Sir Malcolm Seton of the India Office by Colonel Sir Vernon Kell and the staff of MI5.  They wished him a happy and peaceful New Year for 1920.  The main message on the card is 'To Liberty and Security 1914-1919. Malevolence Imposes Vigilance 1920'.  The Great War had ended recently but threats to peace and stability continued.

New Year card MI5 1920

MI5 Greeting card from the Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E 267/10B Images Online

 

We wish our readers a happy and peaceful New Year 2020.

 

01 December 2019

100 years of women in Parliament: Nancy Astor MP takes her seat

On 1 December 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons.  She was only the second woman elected to the British Parliament after Constance Markievicz , who did not take her seat in the Commons because of Sinn Fein’s policy of abstention.  Nancy Astor was the only woman among 634 men, but, as a vocal member of the House, she would illustrate to others that women could fulfil the role of MP.

Photograph of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor 1923Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, by Bassano Ltd, 18 June 1923 NPG x18820 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC NPG

Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born in Danville, Virginia.  She moved to the UK in 1905 after her first marriage broke down.  In England, she met Waldolf Astor whom she married in 1906.  He introduced her to English aristocratic society.  She became well known and well liked for her wit and humour. 

Waldolf Astor began his career in politics in 1910 and inherited his father’s peerage in 1919, leaving his constituency seat open for a by-election in November 1919.  Nancy Astor saw the opportunity to take her husband’s seat and she embarked on a swift and successful campaign to become Unionist Party MP for Plymouth Sutton.

Upon taking up her post, she would face hostility and sexism from members.  She would soon learn how to hold her own in the Chamber, contributing frequently to debates and becoming an avid heckler.  Likewise, she infuriated the other members by adding her own running commentary to parliamentary debates.

Her political interests were wide-ranging and often contradictory.  One of her lasting legacies was a successful Private Member’s Bill which raised the drinking age from 16 to 18.  From her relative distance from the women’s suffrage movement, she grew to support several women’s rights issues including the provision of nursery schools, widows’ pensions, equal employment, equal suffrage and maternity leave.  However, her outlook was not wholly progressive: she opposed equal rights in divorce and she displayed some prominent prejudices that would affect her reputation, including anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.  These views, alongside her strong anti-communist feelings would lead to her being branded as a member of the Cliveden Set - a group of powerful individuals rumoured by the press as having pro-Nazi sympathies, which Nancy Astor later described as a myth.

Nancy Astor retired from politics in 1945 and she left 24 female MPs in the House of Commons.  Those women may have heeded the advice she offered when she was the only female sitting MP:
’It is not an easy job for a woman to stand for parliament, and it is not an easy job when one gets there; but the work waiting to be done is almost unlimited, and the need for the help of women is great and urgent’.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Nancy Astor Correspondence in the British Library Manuscript Collections:
- With Marie Stopes, Add MS 58555
- With Lytton Strachey, Add MS 60656
- With Sir Sydney Cockerell, Add MS 52703
Musolf, Karen. From Plymouth to Parliament: A Rhetorical History of Nancy Astor’s 1919 Campaign. (London: Macmillan, 1999)
National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship: Pamphlets. 08415.k.61

 

14 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 2

Continuing our story of Arthur Thomas Williams and the Peace Pledge Union….

The fake telegrams were carefully run off on a duplicator and then planted. 

One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office - from The National Archives file KV 2/1093 Crown copyright

On 18 December 1942 Williams left the India Office carrying an attaché case and made his way to Endsleigh Street.  Before he could reach the PPU offices, he was arrested and taken to New Scotland Yard.

Williams told the police that he was taking home documents to read for his own interest before returning them to the India Office. Fourteen official deciphered telegrams were found in the case; none were the planted ones.

A thorough search was then made of the offices of the PPU.  Stuart Morris made no attempt to obstruct this and it was ‘carried out in the friendliest and politest manner possible’.  Morris said he looked at the documents brought by Williams and then burned them.  Five India Office deciphered telegrams were found in one drawer, and a second batch in a sealed envelope in another drawer including one of the spurious telegrams.  Stuart Morris was then also arrested.  

Williams’s statement made on 18 December stated that he had heard someone in Hyde Park talking about India. He thought that the speaker was being unfair to the British government and told him that he saw documents at the India Office showing that the government was interested in Indian reform and independence.  Williams then took documents from the secret waste and delivered them to the PPU about once a week.  Morris returned the telegrams from the previous visit and William put them back in the sack for pulping. However the authorities did not believe that Morris had returned the documents and they judged Williams to be disloyal to the British government and to the India Office in particular.

The next day Williams and Morris were charged at Bow Street with ‘retaining’ and ‘receiving’ under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Acts. They were remanded in custody and taken to Brixton Prison. The proceedings were held in camera and no reference to the case was to be made in newspapers.

However the Daily Worker reported on 21 December that Stuart Morris was being held on unknown charges.  Evening newspapers mentioned the Official Secrets Act.  The Censorship Department moved to stop further press speculation.

Visits to Williams in Brixton Prison from Annie, Rose, his son Sid, his brother and a friend are recorded in the Security Service file with details of their conversations.  Williams was heard to say that his conscience was clear and he had only been guilty of a ‘grave indiscretion’.

The trial was held in camera at the Old Bailey on 19 January 1943.  Williams’s defence said he had been interested in India since serving eight years there with the Army.  He was described as a foolish and simple man, without political motivation. The judge accepted that it was not a case of treachery.

Williams was sentenced to twelve months in prison, Morris to nine.  Further interviews were conducted with both men in Wormwood Scrubs.  A notice about the case was drafted for the press – the India Office insisted that it was not identified as the government department involved.

Report of Official Secrets Act trial -  Western Daily Press 17 February 1943Report of trial of Williams and Morris Western Daily Press 17 February 1943 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams - available as a download
British Newspaper Archive

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

 

12 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

Our last post told the story of how India Office Records were stored in a Cheshire salt mine during the Second World War.  I felt sorry for paperkeeper Arthur Thomas Williams who worked in very uncomfortable conditions in Winsford.  What had happened to him after he returned to London?  I was very surprised at what I discovered!

A staff list revealed that Arthur Thomas Williams left the India Office suddenly in December 1942.  And the reason why is found in a Security Service file at The National Archives.  Williams was tried in January 1943 under the Official Secrets Act.  The file reads like the plot of a spy novel. 

MI5 Christmas card croppedDetail from MI5 Christmas card 1924 in papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 Mss Eur E267/224

On 15 September 1942 a letter was sent by MI5 to the Indian Political Intelligence section at the India Office.  A man, referred to as ‘Q’, had attended a public meeting in Hyde Park and introduced himself to Stuart Morris of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).  ‘Q’ told Morris that he was sympathetic to Morris’s views on India.  He worked for the India Office and could pass on information from secret telegrams.  Every effort was being made to identify ‘Q’ as quickly as possible.

MI5 was still trying to put a name to ‘Q’ on 10 October 1942.  He was described as ‘a nondescript, middle-aged Civil Servant paid at a comparatively low-grade rate, and who had been previously employed in the Records Office either at Chester or in Cheshire’.  The words salt mines had been overheard.  ‘Q’ dealt with cables in his work.

By 22 October, the India Office had reported that the only person who fitted the description was 57-year-old Arthur Thomas Williams who had worked there since 1927.  One of Williams’s tasks was to collect waste paper from the Telegrams Branch.  His wife Rose had a temporary wartime job in the India Office External Department Registry, where she might possibly have had access to most of the telegrams cited in the case.

A description of Williams was provided to MI5: ‘Height about 5’ 5”, fairly slim build, clean shaven, somewhat pointed chin, black hair rather thin but well plastered down, going bald on crown: does not wear glasses; young looking for his age’.  Williams had not supplied his home address to the India Office since his return from Cheshire and it was established that he was not living with his wife Rose in Clapham.  Rose was observed meeting her husband in Parliament Square shortly before 9am and then continuing to King Charles Street with him, thus giving the impression that they had travelled in together.

MI5 reported in November that Arthur Williams lived in Hounslow.  Unfortunately their agent had mistakenly followed a messenger called Earney home from the India Office.  On 23 November Williams was successfully tracked back to Red Lion Square where he was found to be living with a woman called Annie Homard.

Surveillance of Williams continued throughout December.  He bought beer and cigarettes, had tea at Lyons, changed his library books, visited relatives and went to the offices of the PPU in Endsleigh Street.  The authorities wanted sufficient legal evidence against him for a prosecution.  A plan was devised to place fake telegrams in the waste which Williams collected from the Telegraph Branch.  If these appeared at the PPU offices, then MI5 would have their man!

To be continued…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams – available as a download
IOR/L/AG/30/18/58 India Office Establishment List

 

29 October 2019

Sir Thomas Roe’s letters: People, products and politics of the first English embassy to India

One of the benefits of studying original manuscripts is in feeling a direct connection with the author to a degree that is not experienced in print. Much of Sir Thomas Roe’s writings during his embassy in India, from his journal to his letters, have been transcribed and printed.  We owe a debt of gratitude for this to Sir William Foster (1863-1951), the industrious and prolific Registrar and Superintendent of the India Office, as well as to the Hakluyt Society of which Foster served as President.  These transcribed and printed materials are easily and freely accessible in digital format online.  It is to these resources that I often turn during my own research.

Yet in encountering the handwritten original manuscripts, we draw closer to the people behind the writings.  We become conscious of their intentions as they write and the intended audience they write for. In the case of Roe, we become conscious that this was an official state ambassador recording his embassy perhaps for the benefit of his superiors back in England.  Thus his recollections in his journal may be coloured by an awareness of his audience.  And his accounts in his letters may seek to portray an embassy in a manner that reflects well on himself as ambassador.

Sir Thomas Roe's handwritten memoirsSir Thomas Roe's handwritten memoirs, Add Ms 6115  Noc

Roe’s memoirs and original letters are available for perusal at the British Library, and they prove an engaging read.  While his memoirs are part of the Western Manuscripts collection, which I have blogged about previously, his letters are in the East India Company archive in the India Office Records.  This in itself reflects the two cultural spaces Roe traversed and the engagement between them he sought to establish and nurture.

One of the topics often raised by Roe in his letters is the subject of saleable items at court.  Roe was after all a merchant ambassador seeking to secure a trade agreement with the Mughals.  In his letters we see lists of items deemed popular and saleable to the Indian court.
    
   Roe letter in IOR1

Roe letter in IOR2

Roe letter in IOR3

Roe letter in IOR4Advice by Sir Thomas Roe on goods and presents for Surat February 1617/18-  IOR/E/3/5 ff. 376-377  Noc

Roe also includes copious lists of presents. Mughal court protocol required visiting diplomats to present a gift to the Emperor. Roe’s letters accordingly include details of suitable gifts to be sent by the East India Company that he might impress the Emperor Jahangir.  Although in his memoirs and letters Roe would lament the “bribery” of having to give so many presents, as envoy he recognised the importance of the protocol to the Mughal court and sought to fulfill it.

Roe letter in IOR5

Roe letter in IOR6 Advice by Sir Thomas Roe on goods and presents for the Mughal court November 1616 IOR/E/3/5 f. 375 Noc

Roe would not manage to secure the trade agreement he sought, ultimately returning to England empty-handed in 1619.  The Mughals were among the most powerful and wealthy empires in the early modern world, and our less influential English isle had little to tempt them with.  Yet the ambassador’s letters reveal both the diplomatic efforts he invested in his embassy as well as his meticulous mind as a merchant in identifying commodities to sell, gift and, albeit unsuccessfully, entice the Mughals with.

Four centuries on we can look back upon a dramatic, impactful and often fraught history of Anglo-Indian relations that Roe is unlikely to have envisaged, but certainly was among the crucial first actors to play in.  As we recall that momentous embassy today, the manuscripts at the British Library are a perfect place to start to explore the historic journey.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Doctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool
Her AHRC funded research explores early modern English encounters with Mughal Indian imperial femininity. She tweets @Lubaabanama.

Further reading:
Sir Thomas Roe’s journal 1615-1617 Add Ms 6115
Sir Thomas Roe’s letters in East India Company correspondence IOR/E/3/3-6
Sir Thomas Roe’s journal of his voyage to the East Indies Add Ms 19277 

 

24 October 2019

The General Strike 1926

Whilst cataloguing a new acquisition to the India Office Private Papers, I came across some interesting items relating to the General Strike of 1926.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection also contains letters between Garrod and Isobel before they got married and moved to India, and it is in these letters that Garrod described his experience as a volunteer policeman during the Strike.

Oxford Daily Strike BulletinOxford Daily Strike Bulletin 10 May 1926 (Garrod Papers) - Copyright of heirs to proprietors of Oxford Monthly (discontinued 1972)

Emergency Bulletin 10 May 1926Emergency Bulletin (shelfmark Mss Eur F142/82) - Copyright of heirs to Chandler & Co

The General Strike was one of the biggest industrial disputes in British history.  It started with a dispute over the pay and working hours of miners, and spread to workers from other industries who came out in support of the striking miners.  Between 4 May and 12 May 1926, thousands of bus and train drivers, dock workers, print workers, and workers in the gas, electricity, building, iron, steel and chemical industries went on strike.  Protests by strikers took place in towns and cities around Britain, often coming into conflict with the police.  The Army was mobilised to protect food lorries and volunteers began doing some of the work of strikers, such as driving buses. 

Recruitment poster for volunteers during the General StrikeVolunteer recruitment poster (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Government’s efforts to find volunteers to fill jobs temporarily is clear from a file in the India Office Records.  The India Office’s Military Department put together lists of Indian Army officers who happened to be on leave in Britain at the time, and who could be called on to temporarily fill civilian jobs.  A letter was sent to everyone on the lists stating that they were at liberty to offer their services to the local authorities during the ‘present emergency’.  However, they were not to wear their uniform, and any volunteer employment was not to be allowed to interfere with their return to duty in India at the end of their leave.

List of Indian Army Officers on leaveList of Indian Army Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530)  Noc

 

Circular letter to Officers on leave Circular letter to Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530) Noc

In four letters to Isobel, Garrod describes travelling from Oxford down to Southampton docks.  At 10am on Tuesday 11 May, he was sworn in as a Special Constable along with a number of other Oxford men.  Equipped with an armband and a truncheon, the men patrolled the docks in two 12 hour shifts, and were garrisoned on the cross-Channel steamer Alberta.  Garrod was on the night shift patrols and described it as ‘frightfully boring’.  He wrote that the docks were busy, with very little likelihood of any trouble, and that he got a cheer from some strikers when he walked through the dock gates. 

Garrod letters (Garrod Papers)Letters from the Garrod Papers Noc

Garrod’s time as a Special Constable was brief; the strike was called off on 12 May and he returned to Oxford a few days later. 

City of Westminster poster about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collectionsCity of Westminster poster 17 May 1926 about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collections (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Garrod Papers will be available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room from next year.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers [Collection reference: Mss Eur F730] 
Papers published during the General Strike May 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F197/536] 
General Strike news-sheets 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F142/82] 
General Strike, May 1926: arrangements for emergency duties by personnel of India Office [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/7/12530]
A collection of posters and pamphlets issued during the general strike, 1926, in the City of Westminster (London, 1926) [General Reference Collection 1851.d.30.]  
The National Archives online guide: The General Strike

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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