Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Arthur Kenneth Chesterton (1899-1973), critic, journalist and political activist.

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Description of the Collection

The material is presented in the order given below. It covers the period from ca 1880 to 1986.

Section A, Biographical:This section consists primarily of correspondence, notes, draft papers and photographs assembled by David L. Baker in the course of writing a biography of A. K. Chesterton. Ideology of Obsession: A. K. Chesterton and British Fascism, was published in 1996, but Baker began researching Chesterton as early as 1977 when he was a postgraduate student at the University of Sheffield. As part of his research he conducted a lengthy correspondence with Chesterton’s widow, Doris, and she provided him with extensive notes on Chesterton’s life, career and character. Baker also corresponded with several of Chesterton’s colleagues and political associates, such as Rosine De Bounevialle and Aidan Mackey, as well as journalists and commentators.The section also contains a number of testimonials and tributes retained by Chesterton during his lifetime and passed to Baker by his widow during the late 1970s and early 1980s.For Chesterton’s autobiographical writings see Section B.

Section B, Writings:This section contains a very small sample of Chesterton’s published and unpublished writings. Chesterton was known as a writer, journalist and commentator long before his political activities came to overshadow his work as a theatre critic and literary reviewer. As early as 1920, whilst working for the Johannesburg Star, he demonstrated a natural talent for journalism and by the late 1920s, at the Stratford Herald, he had already acquired a reputation as a passionate, unflinching and polished writer.For further writings see Section D.

Section C, League of Empire Loyalists:This sub-section contains scrapbooks compiled by members of the League of Empire Loyalists. They mostly comprise newspaper cuttings, publicity material and campaigning literature. They also contain ‘programmes’ or lists of instructions for members engaged in orchestrated stunts. These usually took place at political meetings or events and involved various members of the League interrupting the speakers by means of pre-arranged actions such as emerging from beneath the speaking platform. They often resulted in League members being physically removed from the venue.

Section D, Candour and other political publications:This section contains copies of political journals, newspapers and other publications to which Chesterton was a frequent contributor, mostly during the period immediately following World War II. Since Chesterton had been a writer before he became a political activist, advocating his political philosophy through the regular publication of his thoughts and ideas seemed to come naturally to him. So much so that when available publications failed to offer him the platform he desired, he established his own views-sheet entitled Candour.For further writings see Section B.

Section E, Correspondence:This section contains letters and associated papers sent and received by A. K. Chesterton during the period from 1931 up to his death in August 1973. The correspondence relates to a broad range of topics including literary criticism, Shakespeare, journalism, extreme right-wing movements in the UK, military service, the administrative management of the League of Empire Loyalists, the National Front, various legal proceedings and libel actions in which Chesterton was involved (including a dispute arising from the will of Robert K. Jeffery), the composition and circulation of Candour, the publication and sale of Chesterton’s writings, issues of racial supremacy, anti-Semitism and other matters of nationalist political theory. Chesterton’s correspondents included G. Wilson Knight and Oswald Mosley.

There is also an index of correspondents.

Administrative / Biographical History

Outline of the career of Arthur Kenneth Chesterton

Arthur Kenneth Chesterton was born at the Luipaards Vlei gold mine, where his father was mine secretary, in Krugerdorp, a few miles west of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 1 May 1899. Soon after his birth, to escape the Boer War, Chesterton was taken by his mother to live with his paternal grandfather in Herne Hill, London. His father was to join them there but contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia on the journey from Africa and died soon after his arrival in England. In 1904 Chesterton and his mother returned to Johannesburg and Luipaards Vlei where Ethel Chesterton married the mine supervisor, George Horne.

In 1911 Chesterton was sent back to England to attend school but he returned to South Africa in 1915 and signed up, at the age of 16, for Smut's East African Campaign. In appallingly unhealthy conditions, malaria, dysentery and other diseases killed huge numbers of British and South African troops. After fourteen months Chesterton became too ill to march and was left at the side of the road to die. He was discovered and cared for by a group of local Africans who eventually arranged his return to his parents. Still determined to fight, in 1916, Chesterton travelled to England where he was sent for officer training to Fermoy, Ireland, and later the same year he was posted to the Western Front. Chesterton served with distinction in France and, after showing exemplary courage and leadership during an assault on the Hindenburg line at Epéhy, was awarded the Military Cross in 1918.

Chesterton was severely disappointed by the failure of post-war peace time to live up to his idealistically patriotic expectations. This disappointment and an inability to assimilate his war time experiences with a return to ‘normal’ civilian life, led to a kind of culture shock that formed the basis of his developing social and political philosophy. Angry and disillusioned, Chesterton returned to South Africa in April 1920.

After failed attempts to earn his living as a diamond prospector and a mine supervisor, Chesterton took employment as a journalist with the Johannesburg Star. During this time Chesterton discovered his natural talent for journalistic writing but his alcoholism worsened and this may have been a contributory factor in a dispute with his employers. He left the paper to help in the management of his mother’s chicken farm, before finally returning to England in 1924, where he successfully applied for the job of general journalist and festival critic on the Stratford Herald.

During the following years Chesterton was largely occupied with life, and particularly drama and the theatre, in Stratford upon Avon. He quickly established a reputation as an accomplished writer and excellent critic of contemporary and Shakespearean drama and, in March 1929, he moved to Torquay, Devon to become the editor-in-chief of the Torquay Times group of newspapers. He was soon a well-known member of the community and became involved in local theatre both as a critic and as an actor. It was at a meeting of a newly-formed amateur dramatic society that he first met, Doris Terry, who would later become his wife. It was at this time, also, that Chesterton began to become more actively involved in politics, with the formation of the Torquay Citizens’ Defence League.

By early 1933, when he resigned his editorship and moved to London to pursue a career as a freelance journalist and writer, Chesterton was fully committed to extreme right-wing politics and in November of the same year he joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF). After proving himself a dedicated and capable activist for the movement whilst on assignment in the Midlands, Chesterton returned to London and became a member of the Policy Directorate. By the end of 1934 he was a leading spokesman for the Union and had established himself as one of its most vehemently outspoken anti-Semites. During 1936 Chesterton suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, exhaustion and a return to alcoholism. On Oswald Mosley’s recommendation, he travelled to Germany where he spent six months mixing convalescence with observation of life under the Nazis. On his return, Chesterton was promoted to the position of Director of Publicity Propaganda and shortly afterwards he was also made editor of the BUF publication Blackshirt.

In 1938, frustrated by the increasing influence of the movement’s bureaucrats and critical of the methods employed to attain its ideals, and of what he saw as weak leadership by Mosley, Chesterton resigned from the BUF setting out his grievances and justifying his decision in a pamphlet entitled ‘Why I Left Mosley’. In March 1939, following Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Chesterton began to disassociate himself with German National Socialism and at the outbreak of war with Germany he once again joined the British armed forces. Despite being commissioned, Chesterton was kept under surveillance by MI5 for several months on suspicion of being a potential ‘fifth-columnist’. After finally receiving security clearance, Chesterton volunteered for foreign active service and was sent to northern Kenya. He was invalided out of the army in 1943 with colitis and malaria.

On his return to civilian life Chesterton took up writing again contributing articles to anti-Semitic publications such as London Tidings, the People’s Post and the Patriot and in 1944 he was offered a position as deputy-editor and lead writer of Truth, the long-established journal of ultra-right Toryism. Chesterton’s association with Truth ended in 1953. He subsequently served briefly as ‘literary adviser’ to Lord Beaverbrook, ghost writing his autobiography, Don’t Trust to Luck, before setting up his own views sheet, Candour, through which he was able to develop and advocate ideas of racial nationalism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In 1954 Chesterton established the League of Empire Loyalists, a political pressure group whose direct action stunts and ‘interventions’ received widespread publicity and attracted the attention of a new generation of fascists, nationalists and right-wing extremists.

In 1967 when the League of Empire Loyalists merged with the British National Party, the Greater Britain Movement and the Radical Preservation Society to form the National Front, Chesterton became its first chairman. His active involvement was, however, always limited by periods of ill-health and in 1971, in opposition to the street violence and pro-Nazism endorsed by other National Front leaders, he resigned. He spent the remaining years of his life working on his autobiography.

Conditions Governing Access

Not all the material in this collection may yet be available for consultation. Enquiries should be addressed in the first instance to: The Archivist The Library University of Bath Claverton Down Bath BA2 7AY

Email: E.Richmond@bath.ac.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)1225 383464

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the University of Bath Library by David L. Baker via Professor Roger Eatwell in January 2009.

We are very grateful to David L. Baker and Professor Roger Eatwell for their assistance in making this material available.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection is available online in PDF format at the following url: http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/services/archives/chesterton-complete-catalogue.pdf

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Paper and a small amount of colour and black and white photographic material

Archivist's Note

Transcripts of two taped interviews are to be found at A.11 and A.16. The tape recordings no longer exist however they were converted to digital versions prior to disposal. Access to the digital recordings is available via application to the University Archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications should be sent to the University Archivist.

Bibliography

Law, Mark The Pyjama Game A Journey into Judo Aurum Press Ltd 2007