Tag Archives: Newspapers

94. Pioneering Pacifist Journalism: the Peace News Story

This week, two little pamphlets which tell the story of a unique newspaper: Peace News.  The history of  Peace News is that of the peace movement in Britain.  Written, edited and read by activists, it reflected and shaped campaigns and debates.

Cover of The Peace News Story by Harry MisterThe Peace News Story was written by Harry Mister.  This particular issue dates from around 1951 or 1952, just after Allen Skinner became editor.  It begins with a potted and very positive account of the early years of the paper.

Half-title page of The Peace News Story by Harry Mister, image of paper's founder Humphrey S. MooreThe paper’s first editor, Humphrey S. Moore, a young Quaker journalist, believed that existing peace publications did not reach out to ordinary people.   A popular newspaper-style weekly could explain and promote pacifism more effectively.  On 6 June 1936, with the support of the Wood Green Study Group (who became the Peace News Group), the first issue was published.

The Peace Pledge Union quickly saw the potential of this new publication to share pacifist ideas.  The PPU was born in 1934 from the mass response to a letter by clergyman Dick Sheppard.  In this famous letter, Sheppard renounced war and called on others who felt the same to join him.  The Union had recently taken a more organised form.  Peace News became the official newspaper of the PPU.

From the first print run of 1,500 copies, the paper grew quickly as it tapped into concern about the threat of war.  Peak circulation of 35-40,000 was reached during the late 1930s.

The Second World War saw circulation drop considerably, for several reasons, including the varying responses of pacifists to the war and the refusal of printers and newsagents to handle the paper.  Peace News survived (and actually made a profit) thanks to dedicated street sellers and other volunteers.  Given these difficulties and restrictions on the use of newsprint, the paper concentrated on supporting conscientious objectors rather than reporting on general peace issues.

Front page of Peace News a short history 1962

A similar yet intriguingly different version of the pamphlet appeared in 1962.  Much of the history section in the 1952 version came from a PPU source.  The version in the 1962 pamphlet was based on another Peace News Story by Margaret Tims* and has a different, more candid tone.

Tims shows how from the explosion of the first atomic bombs in 1945, Peace News helped to create “a new movement against nuclear war based on the idea of unarmed resistance to tyranny”.

From about 1948 we see (and the newspaper reports on) pacifists studying Gandhian ideas of nonviolent resistance and considering how these might be used to campaign against the Bomb.   Hugh Brock, who became editor of Peace News  in 1955, played a key role in these groups.  Although very small, these organisations were exploring ideas and methods which came into their own from 1957, when (as we have seen) the testing of Britain’s H-Bomb led to mass protest and the founding of CND.  There was great overlap between Peace News people and the Direct Action Committee (who organised the first major Aldermaston march in 1958).

Photograph of protesters with placards at Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19 image 22). Photographer and date unknown.

Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19). Photographer and date unknown.

Alongside campaigning against nuclear weapons and exposing the dangers of nuclear tests, Peace News encouraged struggles for colonial freedom and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.  Gene Sharp, the American campaigner, joined the staff in 1955 and began to cover the black civil rights movement.  Increasingly the paper, like the peace movement of which it was part, sought to address the causes of conflict by calling for changes in society.

These developments worried some absolutist pacifists such as the PPU’s Sybil Morrison.  She complained in I Renounce War (1962)  of the paper’s “all-out support and advocacy of the CND” and that Peace News “appeared to be the organ of the Movement for Colonial Freedom”.   The paper became independent of the PPU in 1961.

However, this split, like those amongst CND’s leaders, was perhaps less relevant to activists.  There were not really two sides: traditionalist PPU versus the new campaigns.  Individuals involved in the latter were active in the PPU too; indeed the first studies of Gandhi’s ideas in Britain were PPU initiatives.

This continuity at the grassroots can be seen in the “practical guide for propagandists” in the pamphlets.  The text changes little between the two editions, offering  advice to activists on getting Peace News read: ask your local librarian to take it, advertise at the railway station, write to the press, leave old copies where they will be seen … The main differences between 1951 and 1962 are technological (in 1962 you can get colourful green and yellow posters and a Peace News sticker for your car).

*A small mystery: I have never encountered a copy of this work or seen it on a library catalogue.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housman's bookshop in 1959 and remains home to both today.  Image is frontispiece to Articles of Peace, photographer not known.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housmans bookshop in 1959. It is still home to both paper and bookshop. Image from Articles of Peace.

Sources and credits. Quotations are from the pamphlets, unless otherwise noted.

Peace News created a huge published and archival presence which can be seen in Special Collections and Commonweal Library.  Two key books from 1986, the paper’s anniversary year: the short history Against All War and the more reflective discussions in Articles of PeaceIn Special Collections, most of our peace archives, but in particular  Peace News Archive, the papers of Hugh Brock, our pamphlet and ephemera collections and the artworks of Peggy Smith who sold the newspaper on the street for most of her life.   Commonweal has a complete run of Peace News.

Recent editions of Peace News are freely available online on the paper’s website and a welcome initiative to digitise historic issues is under way.

And finally, thank you to our PaxCat Project archivist, Helen Roberts, who catalogued the Peace News and Hugh Brock archives and to my colleague Martin Levy who has been cataloguing the pamphlet collection.

STOP PRESS. 76. Into the Seventies: Prog, Punk and More

By popular request, we’ve taken the List of bands at the University of Bradford Students Union up to 1979 (see Object 76 for the 1960s stories).   I’ll write about this in more detail soon and expect updates on the 1980s and beyond later this summer.  Memories, tickets, posters, and corrections all welcome.

Objects in Retrospect

No new Object this week: curator Alison Cullingford is away.  We’re back on the 7th, with more delights to discover.

Have you seen all 39 Objects so far?  If not, here’s a few recent highlights:

Glimpses of 1880s Bradford

1882 saw a a big day for Bradford when the new Technical School was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales.   The students commemorated the day by creating a beautiful silk panel.  Too fragile to show, but everyone can see it online.  In 1889, Bradford entrepeneur Joseph Riley made an exciting and difficult journey across Europe, which he later wrote up to share with his family.

1930s in the news

Peace campaigner and artist Peggy Smith sketched politicians, writers, artists and musicians for the newspapers.  Bradford author J.B. Priestley made an English Journey: find out what the regional newspapers made of his candid remarks about their towns.




38. A View from the Motor Coach: J.B. Priestley’s English Journey scrapbook

This week’s Object made its own strange journey before reaching a safe home in Special Collections.  It is a bulging scrapbook of press cuttings and correspondence documenting the marketing of J.B. Priestley’s English Journey (1934).

English Journey is one of Priestley’s most influential books.   As the subtitle explains, it is a “rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England during the autumn of the year 1933”.  He travelled the country by motor coach, sharing his insights via some of his most memorable writing: the last remnants of old rural England, the new Americanised world of arterial roads and cinemas, and the terrible deprivation  of people in the inner cities.  The book has been reprinted several times with new illustrations  (most recently by Great Northern) and has inspired other writers  and artists e.g. Beryl Bainbridge, who retraced Priestley’s route in 1983.

And what of the scrapbook?  Discarded in a skip during the clearance of Priestley’s home Kissing Tree House, it was rescued by one of the workers who later took it to New Zealand.  A few years ago, he contacted the Priestley Estate about it, and eventually arrangements were made to get it back to England.  We were delighted when it turned out to to be a record of the huge and skilful marketing campaign by Heinemann in March 1934.

The publishers knew the book’s candid observations about individual places by a famous author would provoke comment and therefore sales in those places.  To stimulate this interest, review copies were sent to the editors of regional newspapers with individually tailored letters pointing out the highlights from their perspective.  It worked!

The stark picture Priestley painted of deprived social conditions in industrial areas such as Coventry and Birmingham caused a furore in the local newspapers, all recorded in the scrapbook.  Stung by the criticism of their towns, local citizens responded vigorously to Priestley’s comments, suggesting that he had no right to comment as someone who had visited only for a short time.  On Middlesbrough, the paper exclaimed “This town is not a dismal place”, as Priestley had suggested.  The town clerk commented “For a man who has spent less than a week in an important county borough to criticise it in such a derogatory manner was the height of impudence”.

Others pointed out local efforts to address the massive social problems outlined by Priestley.  On West Bromwich, where Priestley memorably described the desolation of Rusty Lane, the local M.P. remarked that “Mr Priestley had not pointed out that by devoted efforts and voluntary service … they had rehoused in municipal dwellings one-sixth of the whole population.”

The scrapbook is also full of positive reviews, praising the quality of the writing and Priestley’s courage in speaking out about social conditions e.g. this from W.L.A. in the Leeds Mercury:

“My great respect for Mr J. B. Priestley has been increased by his latest book … I feel he is using his great influence unselfishly and helpfully. Instead of offering the profitable sweetmeats of fiction to his well-to-do customers, he gives them strong doses of medicinal fact”.

As these brief selections show, the scrapbook offers a wonderful record of the marketing and reception of English Journey and the debate it continues to inspire.

(A longer version of this article was originally published in the Great Northern edition of English Journey).

12. It was 1913: J.B. Priestley’s “scribbling books”

Detail from The Modern Juggernaut

First paragraph of “The Modern Juggernaut”

In his 1962 memoir, Margin Released, J.B. Priestley looked back to his teens in Bradford, when he worked as a junior clerk with Helm and Company in the Swan Arcade (now sadly demolished).  In his spare time, he was “a lad bent on writing”, “scribbling and scribbling away” in what Priestley calls his scribbling books, notebooks he made at work in the copying press when no-one was looking.  Some of his works were typed up for him, by a “soft-hearted” girl who had her own typing agency near his office.

Round the Hearth logo, from Bradford Pioneer 1913In 1913 he began to find his way into print.  For most of the year he wrote a cultural column, “Round the Hearth”, for Labour weekly newspaper The Bradford Pioneer.  This work was unpaid.  But later that year an imaginary interview, “Secrets of the Ragtime King”, was accepted by a weekly magazine, London Opinion: payment, one guinea.  A version of the piece shown above, “The Modern Juggernaut”, appeared in The Labour Leader.

Priestley did not hoard paperwork, but somehow a box file containing scribbling books and typescripts survived to inspire him when writing Margin Released.  Two scribbling books and the typescripts are now in the J.B. Priestley Archive, along with issues of The Bradford Pioneer.

Priestley's scribbling books and typescripts

This image shows how fragile the surviving volumes are.  The hand-writing is “dark with closely-pencilled lines” and often smudged.   Transcripts of some of these early works, with critical commentary by John F. Bennett, appear in recent issues of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal.

In the memoir, Priestley was scathing about his early writing.  “Even as teenage efforts they seem to me to have hardly any merit”, he wrote of three short stories.  I think he was rather hard on himself.  The young Priestley was a beginner, experimenting with forms and styles, and was persistent enough to finish works and get them published.  It is exciting to see him finding the topics that were to interest him later: the value of the arts, popular culture, especially the music-hall, the impact of mechanisation and the mass media on people’s lives.

6. Radical Reading: Reynolds News, Sunday Citizen

Reynolds's Illustrated News 17 August 1930 p.1

Reynolds’s Illustrated News 17 August 1930 p.1

Reynolds News was a radical weekly newspaper published from 1850-1967.  Founded by prolific popular author and Chartist G.M.W. Reynolds, the paper later passed from family ownership to the National Co-operative Press.  It changed its name several times, ending up as The Sunday Citizen.  Find out more about Reynolds News, its name changes, and the story of the set at Bradford University on the collection web page.

Reynolds News is significant for historians because it offers an alternative to papers of record, such as The Times.  It was politically radical and aimed at working class readers.  Contents were often sensational, featuring plenty of  glamour, sex, crime, and sport, alongside thoughtful pieces about politics and ideas.  Well-known authors and thinkers contributed, notably J.B. Priestley, who wrote over fifty articles and book reviews for the paper.

J.B. Priestley article, Reynolds' News 9 June 1940 p. 6

J.B. Priestley article, Reynolds News 9 June 1940 p. 6

Unfortunately, as usual with historic newspapers, our set is in very poor condition.  Even the conserved volumes cannot stand much handling.  This is frustrating because the rich and relatively underused content cannot be easily shared with readers.  Furthermore, the paper is not indexed.   We are delighted that the British Library digitised the 19th century volumes of Reynolds in its British Newspapers programme, making them searchable and really usable for the first time in their long lives.

Is this man an anarchist?  Union advertisement from Reynolds News 5 October 1919 p.3

From Reynolds News 5 October 1919