Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain Archive

Scope and Content

Founding documents, pre-foundation, and publishing company committee minutes, and early member correspondence 1949-2003; Intergroup, Region, General Service Conference, and General Service Board minutes, reports, and administrative papers 1952-2020; administrative records from the Central Service Office, General Service Office, Northern Service Office, and Southern Service Office 1959-2003; reports and digests from European and World Service Conferences 1969-2016; material from national, regional, anniversary, special, and mini conventions 1958-2019; AA GB newsletters, magazine and journals, including early newsletters, AA Newsletters, SHARE Magazines, Box 514, Roundabout, and related editorial material 1949-2019; AA GB directories including Where to Find, and Intergroup, Regional Officer Group and General Service Board Trustees 1946-2019.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first known meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Great Britain was held in Room 202 of the Dorchester Hotel in London on 31 March 1947. The organisation was founded 12 years earlier in Akron, Ohio, by two chronic alcoholics; stock speculator William Griffith Wilson, otherwise known as Bill Wilson or Bill W. (1895-1971), and medical physician Robert Holbrook Smith or Dr Bob (1879-1950). Both men were members of the Oxford Group, a non-denominational Christian organisation founded by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman (1878-1961), and they developed a partnership motivated by a mutual need to achieve and maintain sobriety. Drawing upon aspects of the Oxford Group’s belief system and governance structure, Wilson and Smith focused on developing a programme which focused exclusively on treating individuals addicted to alcohol.
From 1935, Wilson and Smith held meetings for alcoholics admitted to Akron’s City Hospital from which Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) emerged. The early successes of their method encouraged the pair to seek investment for a programme of national expansion. In 1938 the group secured a $5,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960). From this investment, Wilson and Smith formed a non-profit group called the Alcoholic Foundation and focused on writing a book which instilled their programme of recovery from alcohol addiction. Published in 1939 the Big Book, formally titled Alcoholics Anonymous, encompasses the core principles of the organisation known as the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions. A central tenet of the programme remains preserving the anonymity of its members, both alive and deceased.
The first meeting of AA in England was held by American member named Grace O, who had been asked by the Alcoholic Foundation to contact several people in Britain who had expressed an interest in the organisation. Eight people attended the first meeting at the Dorchester Hotel, including an American serviceman known as ‘Canadian Bob’ who would be appointed the Group Secretary. Initially sporadic and held at various locations across London, the group evolved into the First London Group which became established in January 1949 and met regularly at the Medical Society of London in Marylebone. The original London members were also active in establishing AA groups outside the capital through outreach events, disseminating literature, and placing notices in national and local publications.
In November 1948, Canadian Bob worked with AA members Alan and Winnie to set-up England’s first regional meeting, known as the Bolton Group, in Manchester city centre. While members of the First London Group influenced the development of AA in Scotland, Philip D (1899-1952) is widely credited as its founding member. With the assistance of an anonymous Dundee businessman, Dundas established Scotland’s first regular AA meeting in Perth in August 1948. Similar meetings were soon being held in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The first meeting in Wales took place in Cardiff in April 1951.
As membership increased, so did the need for more robust organisation. An Advisory Committee, later to be named Central Committee, was formed in 1948 to liaise between members and groups as well as offer guidance on literature and publicity. In 1950, further governance was required following Bill Wilson’s donation of 1,500 copies of the Big Book to AA Great Britain in order to help fund expansion of the British Fellowship. This resulted in the establishment of the Pre-Foundation Committee to manage the distribution and income from their sale. The committee became incorporated as the Publishing Company in 1953.
The Group Representative Committee was formed in 1951 to manage all business relating to the growth, welfare and activities of AA Great Britain, and in 1952 it opened the first London Service Office at 11 Redcliffe Gardens. The Central Committee was responsible for running the London office, and liaising between British Groups and the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. On 16 July 1957 the General Service Board of Alcoholic Anonymous (Great Britain and Ireland Ltd) was incorporated in accordance with the Companies Act (1948).
By the end of the 1950s there were over 100 AA Groups meeting in England and Wales, and around 30 in Scotland. During this time, the Group Representative Committee was expanded to become the Area and Group Representative Committee, and started meeting three times a year from 1958 onwards. A sub-committee of the Area and Group Representatives Committee called the General Purposes Committee was given responsibility for the Central Service Office in London. The increasing number of groups also convinced the General Service Office to convene a General Service Conference to be held annually for all regional delegates. The first Conference was held in Manchester in October 1966, and remains a crucial component of AA Great Britain’s service structure.
Early on in AA Great Britain’s development it was evident that Scotland would require an adapted service structure due to differences from England and Wales in terms of law and government systems. By 1972 the Scottish Intergroup had evolved into the Scottish Service Committee. This move was a precursor to the adoption of regional format for the whole AA Great Britain, and in 1981 the organisation was divided into sixteen regions.
The service structure of AA Great Britain has remained relatively the same since regionalisation in the 1980s. As of 2018, AA Great Britain’s service structure is divided into five tiers organised in a reverse pyramid structure. At the top of the pyramid are the largest tier ‘Groups’, of which there are currently 4400 in the GB. Groups constitute the frontline of the AA service and are there for the primary reason of running meetings to help suffering alcoholics. Each Group appoints a Group Service Representative (GSR) who then attends meetings 4-6 times a year at the level of Intergroup. There are 120 Intergroups currently within the GB service structure and their duty is to coordinate local activities, such as communications, various outreach services, and archives. Each Intergroup nominates a maximum of three delegates to serve as Regional Officer on the Regional groups, which provide a forum for exchange of information and implementation of AA’s objectives over a wider geographical area. Every year the General Service Conference convenes in York where various committees form to debate issues raised by other tiers, and draft future policies based on their conclusions. At the top of the pyramid is the General Service Board which executes the decisions of the G.S.C. and carries out duties related to the Board’s charitable status. The GSB consists of 21 Board Trustees composed of members from each of the 16 regional as well as non-alcoholics with education or professional experience relevant to AA’s mission.
With regards to finance AA Great Britain follows the organisation's founding tradition of being fully self-supporting, and not seeking or accepting donations from non-members. As a consequence of AA refusing substantial charitable legacies, Parliament had to enact the Alcoholics Anonymous (Dispositions) Act 1986 to permit the organisation to refuse donations. Currently the GSB has set an upper limit of £10,000 per year direct personal, and a 'one-off' contribution by way of a legacy to the amount of £10,000.
As of 2015 there are 3585 AA Meetings in England and Wales. 902 AA Meetings in Scotland. Membership is estimated between 33,000 and 40,000 in Great Britain. There are over 3 million attendances at AA Meetings per annum. The current headquarters of AA Great Britain is based in York, having relocated from London in 1986.

Access Information

Access to some of this material is restricted by the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain. All enquiries regarding access should be directed toward the Borthwick Institute, who will direct your enquiry to the General Service Office.

Acquisition Information

The archive was deposited with the Borthwick Institute by the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain in 2009. Further additions to the archive were made in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Note

The first known meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Great Britain was held in Room 202 of the Dorchester Hotel in London on 31 March 1947. The organisation was founded 12 years earlier in Akron, Ohio, by two chronic alcoholics; stock speculator William Griffith Wilson, otherwise known as Bill Wilson or Bill W. (1895-1971), and medical physician Robert Holbrook Smith or Dr Bob (1879-1950). Both men were members of the Oxford Group, a non-denominational Christian organisation founded by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman (1878-1961), and they developed a partnership motivated by a mutual need to achieve and maintain sobriety. Drawing upon aspects of the Oxford Group’s belief system and governance structure, Wilson and Smith focused on developing a programme which focused exclusively on treating individuals addicted to alcohol.
From 1935, Wilson and Smith held meetings for alcoholics admitted to Akron’s City Hospital from which Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) emerged. The early successes of their method encouraged the pair to seek investment for a programme of national expansion. In 1938 the group secured a $5,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960). From this investment, Wilson and Smith formed a non-profit group called the Alcoholic Foundation and focused on writing a book which instilled their programme of recovery from alcohol addiction. Published in 1939 the Big Book, formally titled Alcoholics Anonymous, encompasses the core principles of the organisation known as the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions. A central tenet of the programme remains preserving the anonymity of its members, both alive and deceased.
The first meeting of AA in England was held by American member named Grace O, who had been asked by the Alcoholic Foundation to contact several people in Britain who had expressed an interest in the organisation. Eight people attended the first meeting at the Dorchester Hotel, including an American serviceman known as ‘Canadian Bob’ who would be appointed the Group Secretary. Initially sporadic and held at various locations across London, the group evolved into the First London Group which became established in January 1949 and met regularly at the Medical Society of London in Marylebone. The original London members were also active in establishing AA groups outside the capital through outreach events, disseminating literature, and placing notices in national and local publications.
In November 1948, Canadian Bob worked with AA members Alan and Winnie to set-up England’s first regional meeting, known as the Bolton Group, in Manchester city centre. While members of the First London Group influenced the development of AA in Scotland, Philip D (1899-1952) is widely credited as its founding member. With the assistance of an anonymous Dundee businessman, Dundas established Scotland’s first regular AA meeting in Perth in August 1948. Similar meetings were soon being held in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The first meeting in Wales took place in Cardiff in April 1951.
As membership increased, so did the need for more robust organisation. An Advisory Committee, later to be named Central Committee, was formed in 1948 to liaise between members and groups as well as offer guidance on literature and publicity. In 1950, further governance was required following Bill Wilson’s donation of 1,500 copies of the Big Book to AA Great Britain in order to help fund expansion of the British Fellowship. This resulted in the establishment of the Pre-Foundation Committee to manage the distribution and income from their sale. The committee became incorporated as the Publishing Company in 1953.
The Group Representative Committee was formed in 1951 to manage all business relating to the growth, welfare and activities of AA Great Britain, and in 1952 it opened the first London Service Office at 11 Redcliffe Gardens. The Central Committee was responsible for running the London office, and liaising between British Groups and the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. On 16 July 1957 the General Service Board of Alcoholic Anonymous (Great Britain and Ireland Ltd) was incorporated in accordance with the Companies Act (1948).
By the end of the 1950s there were over 100 AA Groups meeting in England and Wales, and around 30 in Scotland. During this time, the Group Representative Committee was expanded to become the Area and Group Representative Committee, and started meeting three times a year from 1958 onwards. A sub-committee of the Area and Group Representatives Committee called the General Purposes Committee was given responsibility for the Central Service Office in London. The increasing number of groups also convinced the General Service Office to convene a General Service Conference to be held annually for all regional delegates. The first Conference was held in Manchester in October 1966, and remains a crucial component of AA Great Britain’s service structure.
Early on in AA Great Britain’s development it was evident that Scotland would require an adapted service structure due to differences from England and Wales in terms of law and government systems. By 1972 the Scottish Intergroup had evolved into the Scottish Service Committee. This move was a precursor to the adoption of regional format for the whole AA Great Britain, and in 1981 the organisation was divided into sixteen regions.
The service structure of AA Great Britain has remained relatively the same since regionalisation in the 1980s. As of 2018, AA Great Britain’s service structure is divided into five tiers organised in a reverse pyramid structure. At the top of the pyramid are the largest tier ‘Groups’, of which there are currently 4400 in the GB. Groups constitute the frontline of the AA service and are there for the primary reason of running meetings to help suffering alcoholics. Each Group appoints a Group Service Representative (GSR) who then attends meetings 4-6 times a year at the level of Intergroup. There are 120 Intergroups currently within the GB service structure and their duty is to coordinate local activities, such as communications, various outreach services, and archives. Each Intergroup nominates a maximum of three delegates to serve as Regional Officer on the Regional groups, which provide a forum for exchange of information and implementation of AA’s objectives over a wider geographical area. Every year the General Service Conference convenes in York where various committees form to debate issues raised by other tiers, and draft future policies based on their conclusions. At the top of the pyramid is the General Service Board which executes the decisions of the G.S.C. and carries out duties related to the Board’s charitable status. The GSB consists of 21 Board Trustees composed of members from each of the 16 regional as well as non-alcoholics with education or professional experience relevant to AA’s mission.
With regards to finance AA Great Britain follows the organisation's founding tradition of being fully self-supporting, and not seeking or accepting donations from non-members. As a consequence of AA refusing substantial charitable legacies, Parliament had to enact the Alcoholics Anonymous (Dispositions) Act 1986 to permit the organisation to refuse donations. Currently the GSB has set an upper limit of £10,000 per year direct personal, and a 'one-off' contribution by way of a legacy to the amount of £10,000.
As of 2015 there are 3585 AA Meetings in England and Wales. 902 AA Meetings in Scotland. Membership is estimated between 33,000 and 40,000 in Great Britain. There are over 3 million attendances at AA Meetings per annum. The current headquarters of AA Great Britain is based in York, having relocated from London in 1986.

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

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Additional Information

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