The Common Wealth Papers

Scope and Content

The Archive at Sussex records the Party's ideology and activities not only through contemporaneous publications, but in later recollections of leading figures in interviews conducted two decades after Common Wealth's rise and fall. The collection includes the party's official archive and personal papers of Sir Richard Acland and Hugh Lawson (1912-1997), MP for Skipton, 1944-45, together with a collection of taped interviews conducted by Angus Calder in 1964-65 with surviving members of the Party, including Acland, Peggy Duff and Betty Allsop. The Archive is particularly strong on the years of the Party's most vigorous campaigning.

The Common Wealth Papers also hold minutes of meetings, conference papers, a Mass-Observation-authored report on their activities from April 1943, printed leaflets, and local and branch records. A further collection of party material contains pamphlets and series with titles including Austerity is Not Enough; Christians Awake; The Lesser Evil or the Greater Good?; Palestine: The Way Out; and Workers' Control in the Modern World. Periodicals available include the Common Wealth Bulletin, Common Wealth Forum and Common Wealth Quarterly.

Sir Richard Acland's papers include correspondence with, among others, J. B. Priestley, Victor Gollancz, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, Naomi Mitchison, and the Bishops of Birmingham, Bristol, Chelmsford, Chichester, Ely and Liverpool. There is also a collection of press cuttings. The papers of Hugh Lawson include correspondence with party headquarters, conference papers, the papers of the Skipton by-election Lawson contested (1943-44), papers from his time as an MP (1944-45) and from the General Election campaign of 1945. There is correspondence with, and questionnaire responses from, organisations interested in the party's work. These include the British Medical Association, the National Council of Women of Great Britain, and the National Union of Protestants.

Administrative / Biographical History

Formed in July 1942 by the merger of the 1941 Committee with the Forward March movement, the Common Wealth Party adopted a manifesto which was socialist, calling for public ownership and morality in politics. In defiance of the Labour-Conservative truce during the Second World War, it fielded candidates against the Government and succeeded in returning three Members of Parliament in by-elections. Chaired by the author J. B. Priestley for the first two months of its life, it was his successor, Sir Richard Acland MP (1906-1990) who led the party to its by-election victories. However, after widespread defeat in the post-war General Election of 1945, when only one Common Wealth Party member was returned, Acland resigned. As a party fighting parliamentary elections, it was dissolved, with many of its members joining Labour. But Common Wealth continued as a pressure group into the 1990s.

Access Information

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

Largely through the efforts of Dr Angus Calder, the groups comprising the collection were deposited in 1974, with two further deposits by the officers of the National Committee, in 1990 and February 1995. The depositors were:

the National Committee of Common Wealth: committee and conference papers, accounts, correspondence, publications; 1942-1993

Mr. D. F. L. Stuckey: records of the Harrow and Pinner branch; 1945-1954

Sir Richard Acland: personal papers; 1938-1945

Mr Hugh Lawson: personal papers; 1940-1945

Mrs Betty Allsop, as Regional Agent; 1945

Miss Freda Clegg, as Branch Secretary in Bristol; 1945-1963

Mr C. S. McRonald, as Regional Secretary on Merseyside; 1943-1946

Mr J. Rodney Waite of the Lincoln branch; 1942-1943

Dr Angus Lindsay Calder: research notes, correspondence and records of interviews; 1963-1967


Prepared by John Farrant, September 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website.

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, The Keep can supply, at a charge, photocopies, photographs or digital copies.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.


The archive has been used extensively by Angus L. Calder, in 'The Common Wealth Party, 1942-45', unpublished D. Phil. thesis, University of Sussex, 1968.