Labour Party Archives: Labour Representation CommitteeCorrespondence

Scope and Content

This series forms part of The Labour Party Archive

The following is a detailed list of the general correspondence and related papers of the Labour Representation Committee, which has been compiled by R.A. Storey and T.W.M. Jaine. Except for the minutes of the Executive Committee and any parliamentary correspondence that may have survived in the papers of the Parliamentary Labour Party, this list represents the bulk of the remaining archive of this period in the Party's history. The L.R.C. was formed in February 1900 and changed its name at the Annual Conference in February 1906 following upon the L.R.C.'s success in the general election of that year. The archive which has survived consists of a series of 31 box files of general secretarial and administrative correspondence, each box containing approximately 400 letters and papers; three volumes of copy out-letters, with a time-span from September 1902 to January 1904; two volumes of agendas for the Executive and other committees and conferences and drafts of minutes, 1900-1906; a box of signed copies of the L.R.C. and L.P. Constitutions, returned by intending parliamentary candidates, 1902-1911; and a large file of press-cuttings referring to events in May-July 1904.

Reflecting the comparative lack of parliamentary influence, and the small number of Labour M.P.'s, the general correspondence of the L.R.C. is concerned with the forging of a viable national organisation for the winning of elections. This was initially done through close combination with the trades councils and the trades unions, rather than by setting up a parallel organisation of local Labour groups, although many local L.R.C.'s were started. A National Agent was not appointed until after the 1906 election and it was only at this point that the affairs of the local parties become the predominant feature of the correspondence. The main participants therefore are the national secretaries and local representatives of the trades unions which supported the Labour cause.

Another element in the correspondence is that concerned with the central organisation of the Party, office administration, committee meetings and the like. This is sometimes of great value in illuminating Party policy, for example in the dispute between the Assistant Secretary, J.S. McNeill, and the Secretary of the Fabian Society, E.R. Pease, during MacDonald's absence abroad in 1903, but normally the correspondence is fairly routine or reticent. There is very little in these files relating to either parliamentary tactics or the formation of Party policy, except when these had to be explained to local organisations. The papers on these matters are presumably to be found either in the archive of the P.L.P. or in the surviving papers of the major participants, such as MacDonald. However, the local correspondence, with which we are mainly dealing, is of considerable importance to the historian of Labour politics. Charted in detail in these files is the progress of the L.R.C. on a local level; information on which persons and organisations were in support of L.R.C. aims; details of conflicts between local bodies over terms of reference, electoral strategy and policy matters; reflections of the conditions of labour and trade unionism within a given locality or even, as with South Africa, within a whole country; reports on bye-elections and municipal politics; and a vast number of miscellaneous items of information sent to the central office in the hope that it would be useful.

These papers have still to be used by historians before their true value becomes apparent and, as yet, few people have been able to take from the collection the information that would be of use to them. Notable exceptions to this are the works of Pelling on the national history of the L.P. and Thompson on the London organisation; this latter work, Socialists, Liberals & Labour, the Struggle for London 1885-1914 (1967), is the truest reflection of the type of material available in the Labour Party archives for local studies or discussions of particular trade union involvement. One inhibiting factor to date has been the difficulty of access to the papers, the other has been the lack of any organisation or finding aid. It is the object of this list to remedy the latter problem, especially by means of its complete index of names and organisations.

The files of general correspondence were arranged in chronological rather than subject order. Each box was used until full when another was begun. Once the L.R.C. was properly established, the life-span of one of these boxes was little more than a single month. Within each box there are alphabetical divisions and letters were filed in these sections according to the name of the organisation or writer of the letter. There was no further ordering beyond the initial letter of the alphabet; filing was therefore somewhat muddled. A single series of correspondence with an individual will be spread over a number of boxes, although there are examples of cumulation of past letters and their placement in the 'terminal' file; and there are many letters misfiled either because the secretary chose varying initials to represent the organisation or because the letter was filed on one occasion under the name of the trade union and on another under the name of the secretary. In this list, little extensive re-organisation has been undertaken. Occasionally errant letters have been placed in their proper compartment; frequently the correspondents have been ordered alphabetically within each section; correspondence with one person or organisation has been put in date order. Beyond that, it is intended that the index will supply the necessary continuity and grouping.

Each item in the archive has been given an individual number, preceded, where requisite, by a box number and a group code. Thus LRC/8/247 indicates that the document is in the L.R.C. correspondence, box 8. Where necessary, too, each item has been individually described in the list. This practice is inevitable, given the organisation of the archive on a chronological rather than topical basis. Where subject groupings could be made they have been, the description then referring to a number of letters. In all such cases, each correspondent has been named, no matter how extensive the group described. Notice has also been taken of various categories of documents that are incorporated in the archive. Thus printed matter, often extremely scarce in libraries which began their special collections of this sort of ephemeral publication in later years, is fully described and some items which reflect on postal history and similar specialised disciplines which would not be expected to be represented in such a collection are noticed. A particularly useful aspect of the L.P. papers is the high number of specialist and fringe bodies who sent their manifestos, wrote for support, argued points of policy, etc., with the Party.

Unless otherwise stated in this list, the item described is a letter, either MS. or TS., addressed to the L.R.C. or to one of its officers. Copy letters from the L.R.C. are noticed as such; printed or duplicated matter is normally stated to be printed or duplicated. No distinction, for the purposes of this list, is made between MS. and TS. documents, unless this affects their form or content. When a letter to or from an organisation or trade union is described, the name of the person writing is normally given; however, no effort has been made to notice where those signatures are rubber-stamped or written on behalf of the author by his secretary or substitute, unless this has affected the content of the letter.

The index which follows the list is a full one so far as names are concerned. All trade unions, persons, places and other proper names have been included. Subjects have only occasionally been indexed, their use being in part governed by the presence or absence of a suitable organisational name covering that subject field. The inclusion of place names is similarly influenced: where a letter from the Sheffield L.R.C. describes local conditions it will only be indexed under the organisation; but where the Miners' Federation writes of a dispute at Leeds, index entries will be made both under Miners and Leeds.

R.A. Storey & T.W.M. Jaine, February 1971.

N.B. Abbreviations, such as affil. (affiliated), dupl. (duplicated) or op. (operative), are used extensively throughout this list. No key to them has been provided, as it is felt that they will be readily recognised by those using the list.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

The archives are the property of the Labour Party and were originally held in the party's headquarters in London. They were deposited in the National Museum of Labour History in 1990. The archives are now held at the Labour History Archives and Study Centre at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.


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