Object of the Month – June 2014

June 2014 - Labour Autograph Album, 1906-1949

Labour Autograph AlbumWhile we don’t know much about June’s Object of the Month, the sheer number of key signatures, most combined with favourite quotes from figures in the early labour movement, make this autograph book a very interesting and historically important item. Its 88 pages are filled with signatures and quotes from Kier Hardie, Victor Grayson, Emmeline Pankhurst, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Henderson and Robert Blatchford to name but a few.Victor GraysonGeorge Bernard Shaw

Although we don’t know who the owner once was, it can be speculated that they were perhaps a member of the Labour Party or the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and collected signatures during meetings. The autographs run from 1906 – 1949, the year the party adopted the name ‘The Labour Party’ until they were in the midst of their first majority government under Clement Attlee – decisive years.

J. H. HarleyThe first page features a quote from J.H.Harley, a member of the ILP and London City Council, in 1906. He reflects the hope and anticipation felt within the movement for the successes that were on the horizon;

“The day was drear,

And through the rain the trees stood black and bare,

I had no fear,

For in the darkest hours the ILP can dare”.

As the years pass on throughout the book, the pages are filled with quotes hopeful for the future of the labour movement. Phillip Snowdon, future Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote in 1911;IMG_6901

“In the loom of destiny we weave colours all our own, and in the field of destiny, we reap as we have sown”

Dick Wallend summarised the feeling of motivation within the labour movement in this quote which he wrote in 1914;

IMG_6901“Socialism is the dream of the past, the inspiration of the present, and the glory of the future.”

Kier HardieKier Hardie, one of the Labour Party’s founders and its first leader, features in the book twice. Scottish himself, he quotes Robert Burns both times. First, in 1909, he quotes from Burns’ poem, Epistle to a Young Friend. He says;

“When self the wavering balance shakes ‘Tis rarely right adjusted”.

His second entry at the end of 1912, three years before his death is more philosophical, he quotes;

When Death’s dark stream I ferry o’er,

A time that surely shall come; In Heaven itself I’ll ask no more

Than just a Highland welcome”.

Similarly philosophical, Mary MacArthur quoted from the Quran in 1914;Mary MacArthur

“If a man hath two loaves, let him sell one and buy flowers, for bread is food for the body, but flowers are food for the soul”

MacArthur was a women’s rights activist and founder of the National Federation of Women Workers. MacArthur created the NFWW which had a major role in unionising women- most of whom were in jobs too difficult to organise. By 1914, when MacArthur wrote this entry, membership had grown to 20,000. MacArthur was a supporter of universal enfranchisement of women and opposed those in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who would accept the vote onlyEmmeline Pankhurst being given to certain groups of women. This book also contains Emmeline Pankhurst’s signature, founder of the WSPU.

Towards the back of the book are the signatures of Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosely, thought to be collected in the late 1920s, a few years before they defected from the Labour Party and Oswald founded the New Party. The New Party based itself on Mosely’s Memorandum, an economic policy designed to tackle the national crisis the Great Depression brought. After spending time in Europe, Mosely gradually saw merits in Fascist policies and in 1932 the New Party merged with other fascist organisations to become the British Union of Fascists. Cynthia died in 1933 and due to the party’s close links with the Nazis, the BUF was condemned in 1940 and Mosely was imprisoned.

With its many famous names and inspiring quotes, this collection is a very valued one. Its owner was obviously committed to filling the books pages, having carried on taking it to meetings and gatherings for well over forty years.

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