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Discrete CollectionsPolitics, economics and social science collections
TitleWebb; Martha Beatrice (1858-1943); nee Potter, social reformer and Webb; Sidney James (1859-1947); Baron Passfield; politician
Extent126 boxes, 13 volumes and outsize material
Admin Biographical HistoryBeatrice and Sidney Webb were pioneering social economists, early members of the Fabian Society and co-founders of the London School of Economic and Political Science, and had a profound effect on English social thought and institutions.
Beatrice Potter Webb was born in 1858, the eighth daughter of Richard Potter, a wealthy businessman, and Lawrencina Heyworth. Surrounded from an early age by her parents' intellectual and worldly friends and visitors, notably the philosopher Herbert Spencer, she was largely self-educated through copious reading, and frequently a partner for her father during business trips abroad. Following a tempestuous relationship with Joseph Chamberlain, which began in 1883 and lasted several years, Beatrice took up social work in London, acting as a rent collector for the Charity Organisation Society, and becoming steadily disillusioned by the inability of charitable organisations to tackle the basic causes of poverty. During 1886, she participated in research for Charles Booth's investigations into London labour conditions, eventually contributing to Volume I of Life and Labour of the People of London (1889). During this period she continued to write articles on social subjects, most of which were printed in 'The nineteenth century' and published 'The co-operative movement in Great Britain' (1891). She met Sidney Webb in 1890 during research into economic conditions and labour unions.

Sidney Webb was born in London in 1859. Educated in the local academy, he left school at sixteen to work as a clerk in a colonial brokers. By attending evening classes, he passed the civil service exams in 1881 and was appointed a clerk in the Inland Revenue. The following year, he took the Civil Service upper division examination and was appointed to the Colonial Office in 1883. He also began lecturing on political economy at the Working Men's College. Webb was a close friend of George Bernard Shaw, who induced him to join the socialist Fabian Society in 1885, where both men became leading members: Webb was responsible for putting forward the first concise expression of Fabian convictions in Facts for Socialists (Fabian Tract 5, 1887). As a member of the Fabian executive, Webb continued to write and lecture extensively on economic and social issues, and took a leading role in Fabian policy-making. For the year following their first meeting in 1890, Sidney Webb pressed Beatrice to marry him, and she finally agreed in May 1891. They were married in 1892, after the death of Richard Potter, and set up home in London.

Sidney left his post in the Civil Service, and the couple lived on Beatrice's inheritance and income derived from books and journalism, in order to dedicate time to social research and political work, though Sidney retained his position on the London County Council (elected for Deptford in 1892, Chairman of the Technical Education Board) and both kept up their association with the Fabian Society, which Beatrice had joined in 1891. They formed a close personal and working relationship. The Webbs pooled their respective talents into writing joint works on economic and social issues. This partnership produced books such as 'The history of Trade Unionism, 1666-1920' (1894), 'Industrial democracy' (1897), 'Problems of Modern Industry' (1898), and their great nine-volume 'English Local Government from the Reformation to the Municipal Corporations Act' (Longmans and Co, 1906-1929), which was produced over 25 years. Their work spread into areas such as historical and social research, educational and political reform and journalism, and much of what they produced altered the perceptions of economists and social historians, who had previously ignored the working classes. Sidney Webb's work on the London County Council (1892-1910) was equally impressive, as he was a prime mover in the reorganisation of the University of London into a federation of teaching institutions, and was closely involved in the drafting of the Conservative Educational Acts of 1902 and 1903.

It was also in this period that the Webbs played a vital part in the founding of the London School of Economics. The LSE owed its existence to the will of Henry Hunt Hutchinson, a provincial member of the Fabian Society, who had left a significant sum of money in trust for 'propaganda and other purposes of the said [Fabian] Society and its Socialism and towards advancing its objects in any way they [the trustees] deem advisable'. The Chairman of the five trustees named in the will was Sidney Webb, who believed the money should be used to encourage research and study of economics. His proposal to establish a Central School of Economic and Political Science in London was accepted by the Trustees in February 1895. Sidney Webb was the driving and organising force in the establishment and early years of the School, providing funding through his connection with the LCC, acting as Chairman of the Hutchinson Trust, the School Trustees and Governors, the Administrative Committee and the Library Committee, as well as being Treasurer and Acting Librarian, and making most of the decisions concerning the choice of Director of the LSE. He was also appointed as Lecturer in Public Administration at LSE, 1895-1912, and Professor of Public Administration in the University of London, 1912-1927. Beatrice undertook the unpaid job of Honorary Visitor from 1895.

Beatrice Webb was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law from 1905 to 1909, and, failing to turn the Commission to her way of thinking, produced a comprehensive policy on pauperism in the form of a minority report, which advocated universal social insurance and outlined a fledgling welfare state. This report was published in 1909 and the Webbs launched a national campaign for the break up of the Poor Law, publishing The prevention of destitution in 1911. In 1912, Beatrice joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and was elected to the Fabian executive, where she set up the Fabian Research Department and promoted joint campaigns of the Fabians and the ILP. In 1917, Beatrice was appointed to the government Reconstruction Committee, to consider post-war social problems, and sat on the Committee on Women in Industry, producing a minority report in favour of equal pay. In 1913, the Webbs planned and launched the New Statesman, a political and weekly magazine, funded by themselves and subscribers from the Fabian Society. The journal quickly became a politically independent socialist forum for serious intellectual discussion, political commentary, and criticism, and was soon influential, especially within parliamentary circles. Sidney Webb acted as Director of the Statesman Publishing Company until 1922, and resigned from the Board altogether in 1924,

By 1914, both Webbs were involved with the Labour Party: Sidney became a member of the executive in 1916, and drafted Labour's first policy statement, Labour and the new social order (1918), and stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for London University. He was also nominated by the Miner's Federation to serve on the Sankey Commission on the Coal Mines (1919), which led to his nomination and election as parliamentary candidate for Seaham Harbour, County Durham, in 1922. Sidney Webb held office in both Labour governments, as President of the Board of Trade in 1924 and as Colonial Secretary in 1929, when he was created Lord Passfield. Beatrice published My apprenticeship in 1926. After a visit to the USSR in 1932, where they were impressed with the Communist system, the Webbs devoted three years to the writing of Soviet Communism: a new civilisation (Longmans and Co, London, 1935). By this time they had retired to Passfield Corner in Hampshire: though Beatrice continued to write, Sidney was incapacitated by a stroke in 1938. Beatrice Webb died in 1943, Sidney Webb in 1947. Both are buried in Westminster Abbey.
DescriptionPapers of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, 1835-[1985], comprising the following:

Diaries of Beatrice Webb, 1873-1943, including the original manuscript volumes and various typed transcripts, comprising a detailed account of her life and work, notably relating to the history of socialism in Great Britain. The volumes include entries concerning Charles Booth, the Fabian Society, the Labour Party, trade unionism, the suffrage movement, the LSE, local government, and communism, as well as descriptions of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The diaries also include entries by Sidney Webb, mainly during their 'world tours' in 1898 and 1911 and a visit to the USSR in 1932.

Correspondence, 1853-1947, including correspondence of the Potter family before Beatrice's marriage, 1862-1892, including letters of her parents, Richard and Lawrencina Potter, and her sisters, as well as correspondence between Beatrice and Herbert Spencer, Joseph Chamberlain, Charles and Mary Booth, Professor Alfred Marshall, and Auberon (Edward William Molyneux) Herbert; early correspondence of Sidney Webb, 1885-1892, notably with Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw; letters between Beatrice and Sidney Webb, 1890-1940, including material relating to their courtship, marriage, work and life together; general correspondence of the Webbs following their marriage, 1892-1947, with a wide range of correspondents including politicians, Fabians, historians, social scientists, and staff of the London School of Economics and Political Science; additional letters and photocopies of letters given to the Library after the deposit of the Passfield papers in 1949, 1888-1944, including correspondence with Edward Reynolds Pease, Charlotte Payne-Townshend (later Shaw), Professor William Alexander Robson, Mrs Lucia Turin, Herbert George Wells, Richard Burdon Haldane, Viscount Haldane, and Hubert Hall; later correspondence relating to the Webbs, [1970-1985], collated by Norman MacKenzie.

Material concerning personal and private affairs, 1865-1948, including financial and legal papers of the Webbs and their families, 1873-1945, such as wills, probates, birth and marriage certificates and insurance policies; material relating to educational awards of Sidney and Beatrice, 1876-1945, as well as papers concerning his Barony; correspondence, legal and business papers concerning property, 1893-1948, including Passfield Corner; financial material, 1902-1947, notably banking correspondence and dividend vouchers; photographs, 1865-1947, mainly of the Potter family and Beatrice and Sidney Webb, and including several of George Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte.

Material relating to political and public work, 1892-1948, including material relating to the London County Council, 1892-1907; papers concerning the Poor Law, 1909-1948, including the foundation of the National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution, and papers of the National Poor Law Reform Association; memoranda by Beatrice Webb on the administration of the Prince of Wales's Fund, 1914; documents from the International Socialist Congress of Vienna, 1914; material concerning Beatrice Webb's work on the Reconstruction Committee, 1917-1918, including letters from William Henry Beveridge, David Lloyd George and Christopher Addison, and committee papers; memoranda on war aims for the Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference, 1918; political papers regarding Sidney Webb's candidature for the University of London in the general election of 1918, and his role as Labour MP for Seaham Harbour, 1920-1931; prospectus and notices of the Half-Circle Club, 1921; notes by Sidney Webb on the Labour Government of 1924; material concerning the living wage policy of the Independent Labour Party, 1926; political papers of Sidney Webb, 1929-1931, mainly concerning his role as Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Labour Government of 1929, and including a report on the legislative programme of the Parliamentary Labour Party, correspondence with Sir Edward William Macleay Grigg, Governor of Kenya, and notes on the political crises of 1931 and Webb's resignation; notes and drafts of an article by Beatrice Webb on the 1929 Labour Government, 1929-1931; memoranda by Beatrice Webb on Employment Insurance, 1931.

Business papers concerning publications, 1890-1947, notably general correspondence between the Webbs and their actual and prospective publishers, 1890-1947; printed prospectuses, advertisements, book jackets, 1898-1941, for Industrial democracy, A constitution for the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain, The History of Trade Unionism, various volumes of English local government, The decay of capitalist civilisation, Methods of social study, and Soviet communism; manuscript notebooks, 1920-1947, mainly in Sidney Webb's hand, containing details of subscribers to English local government, and accounts connected with Webb publications.

Printed, typescript and manuscript copies of lectures, interviews, speeches and talks by the Webbs, [1870]-1942, notably texts of lectures given by Sidney Webb at venues including the Working Men's College, the Argosy Society, the Sunday Lecture Society, the Fabian Society, the City of London College, and South Place Institute, 1883-1891, mainly relating to political economy and economic history; printed reports of interviews with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and speeches and lectures by them, 1889-1942, on subjects including political economy, socialism, the London County Council, education, the USSR and trade unions; reprints and texts of lectures and talks by Beatrice Webb, 1906-1932, and Sidney Webb, 1900-1936, on the poor law, Herbert Spencer, social research, politics, and soviet communism; an album of press cuttings relating to Sidney Webb, 1887-1891.

Articles, essays, published letters and reviews by the Webbs, 1877-1945, notably manuscript and typescript essays, 1877-1887, on marxism, economic theory, and social research; typescript copies of articles, 1912-1933, mainly relating to the Labour Party, politics and Soviet Russia; printed copies of articles by Beatrice and Sidney Webb, 1887-1942; published letters, 1897-1910, on trade unions, and destitution; notes and diary entries made by the Webbs during and after a visit to the Soviet Union, 1932; drafts and proofs of books by the Webbs, 1913-[1940].

Bibliographical material and research notes gathered by Beatrice and Sidney Webb during the production of some of their books, 1881-1948, including printed material, scrap books, biographical notes and index cards on subjects such as political economy, social conditions and local government in London, poor law, socialism, trade unionism, and the co-operative movement.

Material relating to the Webbs' involvement with the Fabian Society, 1886-1947, including general material and lectures, 1888-1947; papers of the Fabian Research Department and the Labour Research Department, 1912-1929; papers of the New Fabian Research Bureau, 1936-1938; material regarding the Fabian Summer School, 1913-1926; papers concerning the Fabian Women's Group, 1914-1915; and material relating to the Fabian Colonial Bureau, 1946.

Papers relating to the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1893-1924, comprising early material concerning the Hutchinson Bequest and Trust, 1893-1924, namely legal documents, correspondence and financial papers; correspondence, legal documents, accounts and maps regarding the foundation, early history and administration of LSE, 1895-1945, including letters from Sir William Henry Beveridge, Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, William Albert Samuel Hewins and others; correspondence regarding library acquisitions, 1934-1935; material concerning LSE buildings, 1898-1903, including correspondence with architects and builders, accounts, maps and plans.

Material concerning the New Statesman and the Statesman Publishing Company, 1912-1943, comprising papers relating to the foundation, financing and planned format of the journal, 1912-1913; correspondence with William Pember Reeves, Professor Charles Mostyn Lloyd, (Basil) Kingsley Martin, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Whitley and Ernest Darwin Simon, 1912-1943; financial material, 1913-1943, including banking correspondence, share statements, loan certificates, and circulation figures; material concerning the takeover of the Nation by the New Statesman, 1923; correspondence with Clifford Dyce Sharp relating to his resignation as Editor, 1924; transcripts of Beatrice Webb's diary relating to the journal, 1912-1928.

Material published about Beatrice and Sidney Webb and the Potter family, 1869-1960, including press cuttings and short published reviews of published works by the Webbs, 1889-1960; photographs and notes relating to the Potter family, 1869-1947, including Richard Potter, Lady Kate Courtney, Sir Richard Durning Holt and Sir (Richard) Stafford Cripps.

Papers of the Beatrice Webb relating to the government Reconstruction Committee, 1916-1918, mainly comprising memoranda, reports and letters concerning the work of the Machinery of Government Committee, with proposals concerning the reorganisation of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Board of Trade, the Department of Justice, the Board of Education, the Home Office and the civil service, as well as methods of controlling national expenditure; memoranda and reports of the Sub-Committee on Functions of Government Departments; and material created by the Control of Industry and Commerce Panel.

Miscellaneous material, 1835-[1950], including items found loose in Beatrice Webb's diary, including the passport of Richard Potter, reports on trade unionism, conscientious objectors, wage regulation in World War One; a letter from Sir Oswald Ernald Mosely to Sidney Webb, enclosing a paper on unemployment and reconstruction, [1930]; cabinet papers on national expenditure and national insurance and pensions, [1930-1931]; material concerning agriculture in the Soviet Union; photographs, [1850]-1932, comprising a photograph album of Sidney Webb's parents, and pictures removed from Beatrice Webb's diary.
Publication Note'The Diaries of Beatrice Webb', 4 volumes, ed Jeanne and Norman Mackenzie, Virago, London 1982-85.
'The Letters of Sidney and Beatrice Webb', ed Jeanne and Norman Mackenzie, Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsMicrofilm also available for most of collection.
Copyright TypeCopyright is held by the Library
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