Sir Ernest Benn Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Diaries, 1918-54; cuttings-books, 1914-53; files re: his biography, 1956-1960; set of his published works, 1916-1964; individualist publications, 1927-1952; cuttings-books and some papers re his wife, 1919-1967; play scripts by his father.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in 1875, Ernest Benn first found success as a publisher of technical and trade journals. However, one of his early ventures, running the "House" journal proved a failure, but nevertheless provided him with some important lessons for the future. Marrying Gwendoline Dorothy Andrews in 1903, together they had three sons and two daughters. By 1925, Benn had owned or controlled 25 papers, largely trade journals, of which 16 had lost money, leaving 9 successful ones. Succeeding to the baronetcy in 1923, he started a book publishing company, Ernest Benn Ltd., which moved into an area of wider readership than the trade journals could achieve. In 1926, he founded the Individualist Bookshop, and found increasing fame as a public speaker, talking on the need to increase the worker's sense of participation in an industry (a view he later regretted), and on personal liberty, and how this was reduced through government intervention. Benn continued to publish throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and was prosecuted in 1950 for failing to fill in the Census form. He retired around this time in favour of his eldest son, John. He died in 1954.

Reference: Christine Shaw, article in Dictionary of Business Biography, Vol.1(London, 1984)

Conditions Governing Access

Access : Open

Archivist's Note

Authority files exist for Sir Ernest Benn (GB 152 AAR0735) and Gwendoline Dorothy Benn (GBR 0152 AAR0736).

Custodial History

The collection was deposited with the Centre by the Benn family in 1985.