This week’s Object is Commonweal Library. Commonweal is an independent library devoted to non-violent social change, which like Special Collections lives in the J.B. Priestley Library at Bradford University. Commonweal’s archives are part of Special Collections and will make several appearances as individual Objects. Here is Commonweal’s own story.
Commonweal was founded by David Hoggett. He had become a pacifist during military service in the Second World War and was interned as a conscientious objector, later working in forestry. After the war he helped in International Voluntary Service for Peace work camps in Europe, and later in India. During his time there, he was deeply influenced by Gandhi’s ideas of “sarvodaya”, a transformed society based on nonviolence. On returning to Europe in 1955, David trained as a carpenter; he was putting these skills to good use building houses for refugees in Austria in 1956 when a serious fall left him paralysed.
On leaving hospital, he moved to the family home at Cheltenham, where he built an excellent collection of books on non-violent protest and social change, encouraging his many contacts to help him develop the material. David, his carer and companion Alfred Heslegrave, and the books moved to a community based on Gandhian ideas at Garthnewydd. The anti-nuclear campaigners of the late 1950s and early 1960s were keen to learn about the ideas underlying non-violent action and found David’s growing book collection very helpful. A postal library began to develop. David called it Commonweal: an English version of Gandhi’s “sarvodaya”: the good of everyone.
David’s work on behalf of refugees was recognised by the award of the Nansen Medal by the United Nations Association in 1958.
After the community was dispersed, David ran Commonweal from a nearby cottage, later moving back to Cheltenham. In 1965, he obtained a POSSUM suck-blow typewriter, which allowed him to do his own typing. The work of Commonweal included answering enquiries, creating bibliographies, seeking donations of books, journals and funding, and managing the postal loans system.
A few records of his work at this time survive in the Commonweal Archives. To save effort in typing, he used a form of shorthand, as you can see here.
In poor health following his accident, David turned Commonweal into a Trust during the 1960s so that it would continue. After his death in 1975, the Trustees decided to move the library to the University of Bradford, where the department of Peace Studies had recently been created.
Two memorial sculptures were created in memory of David Hoggett by his brother Chris, featuring a dove of peace and related inscriptions. One of the sculptures now lives in Commonweal, the other in the Peace Museum.
Perhaps David Hoggett’s most important memorial though is Commonweal itself. The Library is still very active and offers a unique resource to staff, students and local people. You can find out more about David Hoggett and Commonweal in an article I wrote with my colleague Ellie Clement in the Journal Information for Social Change.