Papers of William Wess (1861-1946), trade unionist, socialist and Jewish activist

Scope and Content

The archive was collected by Aaron Rollin and contains the correspondence of William Wess from the period 1871-1946 and a variety of printed material (newspaper cuttings, pamphlets, and notices) relating to Russian Jews and Russian interest groups (1890-1905); various socialist organisations (1871-1912); the Federation of East London Labour Unions (1889); the Socialist League (1885-1890); the Socialist Co-operative Federation Ltd. (1889-1890); the London Tailors' Strike of 1889; and the tailoring unions and trade (1888-1898).

Administrative / Biographical History

William (Wolf) Wess was born to a Jewish family in Vilkomar, Lithuania in 1861. Early in his career, he worked as a machinist in Dvinsk and emigrated to England at the age of twenty. Wess was much influenced by Morris Winchevsky, a Socialist and poet. In 1885 the International Workingmen's Educational Club was founded in Berner Street in the East End of London. Wess was the Club's secretary and he was the first witness called at the inquest of Elizabeth Stride, an alleged victim of Jack the Ripper, in October 1888: Elizabeth Stride's body was found in the early hours of the morning in the yard next to buildings used by the International Working Men's Education Society. Wess was heavily involved in the labour movement and assisted in the foundation of many Jewish trade unions. He acted as secretary of the strike committee during the strike of East London tailors in 1889. During the 1890s Wess founded and was secretary of the Federation of East London Workers' Unions: he was also secretary successively of the International Tailors', Machinists' and Pressers' Trade Union, and the United Ladies and Mantle Makers' Association. Wess withdrew from his activities in the Jewish trade union movement at the beginning of the twentieth century and took up a job as a book-keeper in a tobacco factory. William Wess died in 1946.

Reference: John Quail, 'The Slow Burning Fuse' (London, 1978).

Access Information

This collection is available to researchers by appointment at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick. See

Acquisition Information

The Wess papers were deposited in the Centre by Dr. Henry Rollin in September 1982 as part of the collection of papers produced and collected by his father, Aaron Rollin.

Other Finding Aids

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this archive, apart from the requirements of copyright law.

Appraisal Information

This collection has been weeded for duplicates.


Further deposits are not expected.

Related Material

The papers of Aaron Rollin have also been deposited at the Modern Records Centre (MSS.240R). These include material relating to William Wess.