Tag Archives: Peace

News Update: two new exhibitions

We’ll be back with the final three Objects soon!  We put them on hold to get our archives accreditation sorted out – and not to mention working on two exhibitions which readers of this blog may enjoy …

Pots Before Words.  Kate Morrell created artworks inspired by Jacquetta Hawkes.  Gallery II, University of Bradford, until 22 May 2014.


Artwork by Kate Morrell, part of Pots Before Words at Gallery II. Credit: Kate Morrell.

J.B. Priestley soldier writer painter – a rare chance to see the fragile surviving objects from Priestley’s time in the First World War trenches.  Bradford Industrial Museum until 19 August 2014.

We’ve also been busy with the Peace Studies 40th anniversary conference. We’re contributing two elements to this international conference: a display (A Concern for Peace) telling the story of the department and a paper about our wonderful collections of peace-related archives.  1-3 May 2014.  If you aren’t going to the conference, you can find similar information by exploring our Objects!


95. A Letter to the Lancet: the story of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War

On 20 January 1951, at the height of the Korean War, seven distinguished doctors published a letter in the Lancet expressing concern about the arms race, the impact of arms spending on healthcare (“each pound spent on bombs means … more dead babies now”) and the apathetic drift towards another world war.

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

The signatories (Richard Doll, Alfred Esterman, Ian Gilliland, Horace Joules, Duncan Leys,  Lionel Penrose, and Martin Pollock) argued that doctors could use their unique expertise and authority to work towards disarmament:

“We appeal to all our fellow doctors who think there may yet be an alternative to merely providing treatment for casualties ; we ask them to join us, in the spirit of our chosen profession of healing, in doing all in their power to halt preparation for war …”

The letter provoked many responses, to the Lancet and privately.  Not all agreed with its perspective.  Doll et al. summed up and tried to refute those arguments in a further letter in February.

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Some respondents had argued that war and peace were political matters which should not be discussed in a medical journal.  The seven profoundly disagreed: “Doctors have a social responsibility as well as a personal one to their patients ; they have an ethical tradition and an international allegiance.  War is a symptom of mental ill health.  Its results include wounds and disease.  Doctors are therefore properly concerned in preventing it”.

The February letter called for a forum to discuss how doctors could put these ideas into action.  The resulting event, held in London on 16 March and chaired by Dr Joules, was attended by 130 doctors and led to the founding of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW).

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Over its forty year lifespan, MAPW brought the expertise and authority of doctors and, later, other medical professionals to many issues via its publications, conferences and advocacy: nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, radiation, terrorism, the medical needs of developing countries, even expressing concern about the bellicose lyrics of national anthems.  It was explicitly politically independent, though accused of being a communist front and proscribed by the Labour Party during the 1950s.

In 1992, MAPW merged with the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW), which had been founded in 1980. A merger had been discussed since the mid-1980s but, as Dr Alex Poteliakhoff observed in a position paper in 1990 “the changing international and global scene, namely the collapse of the cold war, hesitant moves towards nuclear disarmament” and increased public concern about environment and quality of life meant both organisations needed to rethink their missions to survive and be useful.

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Given their long-term collaboration on joint conferences and projects such as the Medical Educational Trust (not to mention shared office and fax machine!), a merger made sense.   The result was Medact, which continues to bring together health professionals working for a “fairer, better and safer world”.

I decided to write about medical campaigners this week as I recently learned that the Wellcome Library plan to catalogue the substantial and hitherto inaccessible MCANW and Medact archives they hold.   I look forward to working with the Wellcome to promote the distinctive archives of medical professional campaigns to researchers in many disciplines.

Sources: quotations and images from MAPW Archive (references H2, M3, M10.  Note that we are about to release a new edition of the Archive catalogue).  I am indebted also to Physicians and the Peace Movement, by Nick Lewer (Cass, 1992) and many published and unpublished articles in the Archive concerning the history of the association.

Postscript (18 December 2013): the catalogue of this Archive is now online as part of our Quick Wins programme.  Find it on the MAPW webpage in PDF and Word format.

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.

89. An A to Z of Protest in the 20th Century: the Commonweal Peace Pamphlets

This week, not one Object but thousands!  Introducing our collection of peace campaign pamphlets, now fully available to the public …Strachey, Scrap all the H bombs. CoverAn incredible resource for researchers, they date from the First World War to the Iraq War and span the century and the world.  Here’s a quick A-Z sampling of authors and topics, to give you a sense of what we can offer:

NALGO Civil defence bunkers or bonkers. CoverArms trade, atomic power.
Bunkers or bonkers? (fall-out shelters and civil defence).
Common Wealth, CND and conscientious objectors.
Doctor Spock is worried … (about atmospheric nuclear tests)
Education for peace, in schools and universities.
Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence and Indian society.
Housmans Bookshop published many of the pamphlets.
Dr Spock is worried, 1962. CoverInternational Voluntary Service.
J.B. Priestley.
Kingsley-Hall, Stephen.
Lawyers against the Bomb – and other concerned professionals.
Marches – songs for.
Nuclear-free Zones and other Council initiatives.
Oliver Postgate.
Williamson, Industry in the country. PPU CoverPeace Pledge Union.
Quakers and Quaker groups.
Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA).
Thompson, E.P.
University of Bradford Peace Studies.
Vietnam War – especially draft resistance.
War Resisters International and many women’s groups and campaigns, from WILPF to Greenham.
X, an unknown author, who wrote a First World War pamphlet about the role of the Church in war.
Yorkshire CND and other regional groups such as the Northern Friends Peace Board.
Zilliacus, Konni (and many other politicians)

Lonsdale, Some account of life in Holloway Prison, 1943 CoverThe pamphlets are important historical sources because of their timeliness, their immediacy, the strong views of their writers and creators.  It seems that for much of the 20th century many people’s natural response to an issue that mattered (not just pacifist concerns) was to write a pamphlet.  Pamphlets were cheap and quick to produce and to disseminate via sympathetic bookshops, meetings, marches etc.

Civil Defence is it any use in the nuclear age CoverPamphlets can be elusive in libraries because of the qualities that made them so useful for quick communication.  They can be hard to collect, to store and to manage.  Ours came via the networks created by Commonweal Library: donated by individual activists, or found in Commonweal archives, notably the immense subject files gathered by Peace News.

IVSP Youth Service Bulletin, 1944-45. CoverAlongside their interest for historical research and as inspiration for modern campaigners, the pamphlets often have great visual appeal, as this mini gallery shows: vivid graphic designs and powerful imagery.   Many were created by well-known artists and designers.

Litherland, Short Guide to Disarmament, 1982. CoverThis summer (2013) we are cataloguing the pamphlets, opening up the names, places, ideas and campaigns to new audiences.   We’re careful to include provenance and details of illustrations as well as information about authors and publishers.   Thanks to my colleague Martin Levy and our graduate trainee Katie Mann for their fantastic work so far.

Poison gas. Cover

Jude, Experiments for survival. Cover

Postscript – a note on definition.  We are defining a pamphlet as a”short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public” (from Orwell’s 1948 introduction to British Pamphleteers).  However, this collection also offers us a suitable way to manage items which are pamphlet-shaped but which were written for slightly different purposes, as some of the examples above suggest – we are not being too prescriptive about this.

54. Witches, Webs, Womyn: Sarah Meyer’s Greenham Common Archive

From 1981, the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp mounted a sustained campaign of non-violent direct action against the first cruise missile site in Britain.  Sarah Meyer, a peace activist who spent time at the camp from late 1982 onwards, gathered an archive full of colour, striking images, songs and radical ideas.

Poster: Women come together, Greenham December 1982

Leaflets, newsletters, personal letters and photographs were threaded through with symbols of personal and political identity, including witches, dragons, snakes and spiders’ webs, and written in a language which tried to challenge and undermine preconceived ideas about women: witness spelling of “womyn” on the envelope in the picture.

Envelope to womyn at Greenham Common with silver web

The archive gives a real flavour of the experience of campaigners, not only at Greenham: Sarah Meyer was involved with groups across the South West of England and in Europe.  Find out more about her on the web page for her archive.

La Ragnatella, a witch

Sarah Meyer’s archive was catalogued as part of the PaxCat Project (funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme).  Most of the above text was written by the Project Archivist, Helen Roberts, who did a wonderful job unpicking and reflecting on the complex histories of our many peace-related archives.

52. Reunion and Reconciliation: The Peace Sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos

This week’s Object links to Bradford University’s work for peace and reconciliation and has become a global symbol of these ideas.  The sculpture Reconciliation is on permanent display in the square outside the J.B. Priestley Library, on the University’s city campus.  It shows two exhausted figures, a male and a female, kneeling and embracing.

Reconciliation sculpture with view of trees, J.B. Priestley Library, University of Bradford. Photo by John Brooker, copyright University of Bradford.

Reconciliation sculpture with view of trees, J.B. Priestley Library, University of Bradford. Photo by John Brooker.

Its creator, Josefina de Vasconcellos (1904-2005), was born to “an English Quaker mother and an atheist Brazilian diplomat father”: a figurative sculptor, her work was driven by her religious faith and concern for others.  She married painter Delmar Banner in 1930; the couple made their home in the Lake District.  Find out more about her fascinating life (she was also a “musician, composer, poet, dancer and inventor”) in two works quoted in this piece: the Guardian obituary by Linda Clifford and the biography Josefina de Vasconcellos: her life and art, by Margaret Lewis (Flambard, 2002).

The sculpture at Bradford has its origins in a small bronze figure called Reunion, exhibited by Josefina in a 1955 joint exhibition with Delmar at the Royal Watercolour Society.  She explained that,

“the sculpture was originally conceived in the aftermath of the [Second World] War … I read in a newspaper about a woman who crossed Europe on foot to find her husband, and I was so moved that I made the sculpture. Then I thought that it wasn’t only about the reunion of two people but hopefully a reunion of nations which had been fighting.”

Twenty years later, like many other people who supported the idea, Josefina was inspired by the proposal to create a Chair of Peace Studies at Bradford University.  She offered to create a larger version of her sculpture to be sited on the University’s campus.   The result was unveiled by Nobel Peace laureate Sean MacBride on 4 May 1977.  He and Josefina were awarded honorary degrees (DLitt) as part of the celebrations.

Poster advertising the unveiling of Reunion on 4 May 1977

Poster advertising the unveiling of Reunion on 4 May 1977 (University Archive ref UniC6)

Josefina’s links with Bradford University continued until her death: she donated paintings by Banner, created a wall piece, After the Storm, in memory of our first Vice-Chancellor Ted Edwards, and exhibited works by herself and her late husband at Bradford locations including the University in 1987.  The image below shows her at a second unveiling in 1994 following repairs to the statue.

Josefina de Vasconcellos with Reconciliation, 1994, photo from November 1994 News and Views

Josefina de Vasconcellos with Reconciliation, 1994, photo from November 1994 News and Views (University Archive ref UniO5)

The original name, Reunion, was changed to Reconciliation to emphasise the wider idea behind the design and to tie in with the work of Peace Studies.  The design has become a worldwide symbol of reconciliation.  Bronze casts of Reconciliation were unveiled in Coventry Cathedral and in Hiroshima Peace Park in 1995, fifty years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan; others were sited at the Chapel of Reconciliation at the former Berlin Wall and at Stormont in Belfast.

47. The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace Studies: Adam Curle’s Inaugural Lecture

Front cover of The Scope and dilemmas of peace studies, lecture by Adam Curle

Front cover of The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace Studies, lecture by Adam Curle

This little book, The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace Studies, reproduces the inaugural lecture given in 1974 by Professor Adam Curle, the first Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University.  We already saw how Peace Studies at Bradford began thanks to the efforts of a group of Quakers.  Himself a Quaker, Adam Curle came to Bradford as a distinguished academic with a long career of mediation and reconciliation in conflict zones.

The lecture offers an invaluable structured introduction to the ideas underlying the growing discipline of peace studies and to Professor Curle’s own intellectual journey.

Adam Curle in 1973

Adam Curle in 1973

Born in 1916, he studied anthropology at Oxford then served in the British Army during the Second World War.  He worked at the Tavistock Institute, followed by appointments as Lecturer in Social Psychology at Oxford, Chair in Education and Psychology at Exeter University, consultant on education policy in Pakistan, and Professor of Education at the University of Ghana. He set up the Harvard Center for Studies in Education and Development in 1962.

Professor Curle explained in the lecture how during his time “directly involved in mediation efforts in wars in Africa and Asia”, he realised that negotiation alone was not enough.  The negotiator might “ease a particular situation, but the circumstances, the rivalries, the oppression, the scarcity of resources – which had given rise to it – remained”.   He also observed that injustice and inequality even in the absence of actual war could not be seen as peaceful conditions given their effects on people’s lives.

From which he concluded that peace studies should be about more than “preventing or terminating wars” and should not promote social arrangements which led to injustice.  He believed that those working in the discipline should identify and analyse relationships between people, groups or nations and then “use this information in order to devise means of changing unpeaceful into peaceful relationships”.  This link between theory and practice ties the subject into the University’s distinctive mission and has continued ever since.

Adam Curle with Peace Studies group, 1976

Adam Curle with Peace Studies group, 1976

Adam Curle retired from Bradford in 1978 but continued to work as a peace-maker.   He died in 2006.  Special Collections at the University holds his archive, containing published and unpublished writings, and a collection of the many books he wrote on peace-making and peace education.  Find out more about his life and the significance of his work in the Guardian obituary by his colleague and friend Tom Woodhouse.

35. “I Drew Anybody who came to London”: Peggy Smith’s 1930s sketches

This week, a collection of over 100 portraits, pencil sketches by Peggy Smith (1895-1976) which offer fresh insight into the newsmakers of the 1930s: peace campaigners, politicians, artists, writers and musicians.  Ellen Wilkinson, Gandhi, Lord Soper, Dick Sheppard, Fred Jowett, Fridtjof Nansen, Norman Angell, Vera Brittain, and many many more (see list below).

Gandhi, by Peggy Smith

Gandhi, by Peggy Smith

Peggy created the portraits while working as a freelance artist  “I drew anybody who came to London to talk to the government or to speak”.  She caught her subjects in concert, lecturing or at press conferences, often adding their words or musical notes.  Her career began thanks to Fenner Brockway, who, impressed by a drawing she made of him, asked her to draw regularly for the New Leader, a paper he then edited.  Previously she had worked for the League of Nations,  giving up art school to work for peace.

Peggy Smith

Peggy Smith

In 1936, Peggy Smith was one of the first women to sign the Peace Pledge; she knew (and drew) many of the Peace Pledge Union’s sponsors, being particularly influenced by Gerald Heard.  She also drew for Peace News, founded that year.

After the Second World War, Peggy joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was arrested 11 times for her involvement in Committee of 100 actions, and in 1968 travelled to Cambodia as part of a non-violent action group to draw attention to the American bombing of North Vietnam.  She continued to work for Peace News, selling copies on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields.  She had little time to pursue artistic interests.

However, in 1973, she showed her drawings to friends who recognised their artistic and historical value. Thanks to their efforts, in 1975, she held her first exhibition: Music and Line showed her drawings of musicians, in the appropriate setting of the Royal Festival Hall.  During the 1990s, Margaret Glover, an artist who has made a doctoral study of images of peace, helped to arrange for the drawings to be deposited with Commonweal Library.  They are now in the care of Special Collections.

Launch of the Peggy Smith exhibition 2009

Launch of the Peggy Smith exhibition 2009. In foreground, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who opened the exhibition.

We have never been able to do justice to Peggy Smith’s drawings in reproduction. A long-cherished plan to display the originals came to fruition in 2009 with an exhibition, Peggy Smith – Drawing for Peace, curated by Alison Cullingford, in the University’s Gallery II.  We hope to show more of them in future; meanwhile they can be seen by arrangement with Special Collections.  Peggy Smith’s drawings of peace campaigners are regularly on show at the Peace Museum.

Peggy Smith Drawing for Peace 2009 biographical text  by Alison Cullingford.

Peggy Smith Drawing for Peace list of portrait subjects.

With thanks to: Paul and Ellen Connett and Commonweal Library.

25. This Nuclear Madness: The Priestleys against the H-Bomb

J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes in 1958

J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes in 1958

Many people who have heard of J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes do not realise that the couple were instrumental in the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain.

Britain and the Nuclear Bombs, by J.B. Priestley

Like many people in Britain, Priestley was deeply concerned by the country’s decision to test a hydrogen bomb at Christmas Island in 1957.   Our first Object is “Britain and the Nuclear Bombs“, an article he wrote for the New Statesman in which he called for the country to set a moral standard by abandoning nuclear weapons:

“Alone we defied Hitler; and alone we can defy this nuclear madness … There may be other chain-reactions besides those leading to destruction; and we might start one”.

Priestley’s passionate writing and the moral authority he gained from his First World War experiences in the trenches and his Second World War broadcasting struck a chord with readers, who wrote sackfuls of letters to the magazine.  A meeting of the Priestleys and existing peace campaigners was arranged at the flat of Kingsley Martin, the magazine’s editor, to discuss a national anti-nuclear campaign.  As a result, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was formed, chaired by Earl Russell, Priestley was Vice-President and Canon L. John Collins chairman.  Priestley was one of the speakers at the public launch of CND in the Central Hall Westminster, on 17 February 1958.

Women ask why, published CND 1962

The pamphlet, Women Ask Why, CND 1962

Jacquetta approached the issue from her unique perspective.  Her famous books of the 1950s, A Land and Man on Earth, explored the deep history of human ideas and civilisation: nuclear weapons threatened to destroy that wonderful millennial growth of the brain and culture in an instant.  She felt that women, as mothers and nurturers, had a key role to play in protesting the male madness that had led to the arms race.  She expressed this most powerfully in her contribution to our other Object, the 1962 pamphlet, Women ask Why:

“I do not like to think of women apart from men.  But in this one thing it is different … Men have got beyond killing one another and are preparing to kill us and our children.  Women are slow to change.  It might be that we should still all be peasants if it were not for masculine genius.  But now that genius is running mad, and we have to come to the rescue”.

She put her ideas into practice by setting up the CND women’s group, calling on her many friends and contacts to help.

Find out more about the Priestleys’ roles in CND, their writings, Jacquetta’s involvement in the Aldermaston Marches, and why the couple eventually left the movement in this video, illustrated by photographs, books, pamphlets and other items from the Priestley and Hawkes archives …

… and if you would like the story with bibliographic references, see The Priestleys and the Bomb, by Alison Cullingford, an article that appeared in Peace Studies News at Bradford University in 2005.

24. Weaving a Story: Barbara Bruce, a “wild woman” in India

This week’s Object is a rather faded and grubby green woven bag, which accompanied the Archive of Barbara Bruce.   Archives received in Special Collections often contain objects as well as documents.  Sometimes, as in this case, these survivals can shed new light on the archives that contain them.

Barbara Bruce (1906-1976) was a Quaker, sculptor and volunteer nurse and relief worker in India in the 1940s.  She immersed herself in Indian life, culture and ideas, and in particular the philosophies of Gandhi, spending time at Sevagram, the ashram and village community which he created.  Barbara returned to England permanently in 1950, but kept in touch with her many friends and colleagues in India.  Her contacts included David Hoggett, founder of Commonweal Library, which was based on Gandhi’s idea of sarvodaya: the good of all.

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz. She described herself in this photo as a “wild woman of India”.

Barbara’s Archive is a rich collection of letters and photographs which vividly illustrate her interests and friendships in India.  It also includes fascinating postcards, like this one.

Hand painted postcard featuring trees by the wayside, 1930s

Hand painted postcard featuring trees by the wayside, 1930s

So what about the bag?  It is a clue to Barbara’s interest in another Gandhian idea.   Her story was researched by our Project Archivist, Helen Roberts, as part of the PaxCat Project, which brought our collections about peace history to life.   It became clear to Helen as she worked on the archive that the bag was significant.  As she wrote on the PaxCat blog,

“It’s a reasonable assumption that Barbara wove it herself.   During early 1942 she spent time at Khadi Bhangar rural spinning centre in Narsinghpur in the Central Provinces.   The charka (spinning wheel) and khadi (handspun, handwoven cloth) were symbolic of the Gandhian idea of village development and self reliance upon which the goal of Indian independence was based.  Barbara’s friend and fellow nurse Margaret Jones wore khadi, as did Barbara.   She reports the reaction from her English colleagues at a hospital in Bombay in a letter from April 1941: ‘See! She wears khadi – she is anti-British!’”.

Thus the little bag symbolises Barbara’s engagement with India, with Gandhi’s ideas and her commitment to them in her own life.  Find out more about her extraordinary story on the PaxCat blog, the Archive web page, and the entry for the Archive on the Archives Hub.