It literally started with one item, a John Stuart Mill document donated by Professor Harold Laski of the London School of Economics.
The numerous collections now held include several of potential interest to Liberal Democrat party historians. Indeed, the first collection of any size to be received, in 1933, was the archive of the nineteenth-century polymath and Radical MP, Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783-1869).
Born in Hull, the son of a wealthy local merchant and banker, this extraordinary man enjoyed several different careers. He graduated in mathematics at Queens College Cambridge in 1802, and then had periods in the navy and the army. Close family connections with William Wilberforce led to his appointment in 1808 as governor of Sierra Leone, from where he was recalled in apparent disgrace within two years, having tried to change too much too fast. He rejoined the army, and was involved in disastrous campaigns in the Gulf (including the evacuation of Ras-al-Khyma in July 1820), leading to his court martial.
Returning home, he threw himself into Radical politics, met Jeremy Bentham, and made the first of many contributions to The Westminster Review. Inheriting his father’s fortune in 1828, he spent most of it on his life as a political journalist (he immediately bought The Westminster Review) and Radical politician. His two most significant publications, pamphlets on The True Theory of Rent and Catechism on the Corn Laws, appeared in 1826 and 1827.
He also took up the cause of Catholic Emancipation, and his pamphlet on the subject quickly sold 40,000 copies. He was a strong supporter of the Reform Act of 1832, and soon sought a more active political role by standing for parliament himself, winning a by-election for Hull in 1835 as a Radical, in which capacity he was one of only six MPs to sign the original People’s Charter in 1837, calling for a wider franchise and parliamentary reform. He also became active in the Anti-Corn Law League, and following victory in 1846 was publicly praised by Richard Cobden for his support. In 1847 he won Bradford for the Radicals, holding it until 1852, regaining it in 1857 and holding it until his retirement in 1859. The surviving papers of this life-long supporter of free trade and social justice are quite extensive, and a valuable source for Radical/Liberal politics during the early to mid-nineteenth century.
The BJL also holds the surviving papers of H.B. Lees-Smith. Lees-Smith (1878-1941) was born in India but brought up in London and graduated from Queens College Oxford in 1899. He joined the Fabian Society, and his first employment was at Ruskin Hall. He was appointed a lecturer at the LSE in 1906, and to a chair of public administration at Bristol in 1907. In January 1910 he was elected as one of two Liberal MPs for Northampton. Like many other Liberals of the time, his eventual switch to the Labour Party came via his opposition to secret diplomacy and membership of the Union of Democratic Control, the general council of which he later joined (and the archives of which are also held in the BJL).
He served as a private soldier in the army during the First World War, being invalided out in 1917. He continued to support a negotiated peace, and in December 1916 was the first to mention the idea of a League of Nations in the House of Commons. At the general election of 1918 he stood as an Independent Radical and lost. He then joined the Independent Labour Party, and was returned as Labour MP for Keighley in 1922, losing to a Liberal in December 1923. He regained the seat in October 1924, and in June 1929 was made Postmaster-General in the second Labour government, moving to become Minister of Education in February 1931. When Labour joined Churchill’s coalition in 1940 he remained outside the government, becoming Chairman of the Labour Party and, effectively, leader of the opposition. He died in December 1941.
The small collection of his papers in the BJL includes correspondence, 1919-41 (including letters from Arthur Ponsonby and Winston Churchill), speeches, press cuttings, articles and other papers.
Another leading figure to make the switch from Liberal to Labour was William Allen Jowitt (First Earl Jowitt of Stevenage, 1885-1957). After graduating from New College Oxford, he enjoyed a brilliant legal career, taking silk in 1922. He was a Liberal from an early age, winning the Hartlepools seat in 1922 as an independent Liberal. In 1929 he was returned for Preston and immediately offered the position of Attorney-General in the Labour Government. Having accepted, he resigned and sought re-election as a Labour candidate, increasing his vote. After the 1945 election he was made Lord Chancellor. He was knighted in 1929, ennobled in 1945 and created an Earl in 1951. The BJL holds a small collection of papers collected by J. Peart-Binns whilst producing a biography of Jowitt, including photocopied correspondence (1905-51), and speeches (1940s).
Moving closer to the present, Eric Lubbock (b. 1928) was a successful businessman prior to his stunning by-election victory for the Liberals over the government candidate at Orpington in March 1962, a seat which he held until his defeat in the 1970 general election. He was the Liberal Whip in the House of Commons between 1963 and 70, before succeeding to the peerage as fourth Baron Avebury in 1971.
His political papers in the BJL include over 3,000 case files for the 1962-70 period, plus subject files on topics such as metrication and fluoridation.
Finally, the BJL holds papers assembled and donated by the secretary of the Beverley & Haltemprice branch of the Social Democratic Party in East Yorkshire between 1981 and 1989. There are some 245 items in the collection, and they reflect the sometimes frenetic activities of the group during that period, particularly in relation to fund-raising, recruitment, policy matters (at local, regional and national level), and relations with other parties, notably the Liberals. The collection sheds as much light on regional and national matters as it does on local issues, with many papers of the SDP’s various councils and conferences, plus numerous policy pamphlets and leaflets produced under the auspices of the Council for Social Democracy.
All the above collections are fully catalogued and available to researchers, whether or not they are members of the University of Hull. The HUMAD2 computer system allows direct access to catalogues or lists of most of the collections, and is available via the World-Wide Web (address below). Original documents may be consulted in the BJL. Written application is required before a first visit, but thereafter appointments can be made by telephone or email. For further details contact: The University Archivist, The University of Hull, Brynmor Jones Library, Hull, HU6 7RX; telephone: (01482) 465265; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hull.ac.uk/lib/archives.