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  • III. The Fabian Society Archive
  • T. F. Evans (bio)

[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

The papers of the Fabian Society, originally held at its headquarters, 11 Dartmouth Street, London, were transferred in 1966 to Nuffield College Library in the University of Oxford. This was largely the result of the efforts of Margaret Cole, whose work, The Story of Fabian Socialism (1961), “did more than anything else to prove to the public that the Fabian Society was still very much alive.” These words are taken from a book by Patricia Pugh, Educate, Agitate, Organize: 100 Years of Fabian Socialism (1984). Patricia Pugh in turn put students and scholars in her debt by her work in sorting, indexing, collating, and compiling a catalogue of the Fabian papers subsequently removed from Nuffield College in November 1995 and transferred to their present home, the British Library of Political and Economic Science (BLPES) in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), a constituent college of the University of London. The archives of the Fabian Society are now held there in a total of 975 boxes. Accessions to the archive since 1995 have not been catalogued in the same way; but hand-lists exist at the LSE.

In the introduction to the catalogue[nh, Patricia Pugh explains that the nature of the Society was such that a proliferation of paper records was inevitable. The main purpose of the Society was to bring about a change in the structure and, indeed, the fundamental nature of British society itself. The Fabian Society was not conceived as a political party or organization. Edward Pease, its first secretary, wrote in The History of the Fabian Society (second edition, 1963), that when he and others had founded the Society in 1884: “We had with considerable courage set out to reconstruct society and we frankly confessed that we did not know how to do this.” It was therefore inescapable that a body, concerned principally with questions of theory and principles rather than immediate action, and engaged in the task of discovering how to bring about fundamental changes in the purposes and structure of British society itself, should find most of its work, certainly in early stages, consisting of discussion between members and the committing of thoughts and conclusions to paper. Meetings for discussing and reading papers, reports on those discussions and the collection of facts and opinions generated much paper. Publications resulted from the conclusions reached, often with proposals for practical and effective [End Page 145] action. It was inevitable therefore that, whatever practical results might arise from these activities, an immense amount of paper would accumulate.

During cataloguing, the papers of the Fabian Society were divided into twelve major sections: this is how they are now arranged in their present home. The categories are: A. Correspondence; B. Early Papers and Memorials; C. Executive Committee and lectures; D. Finance and General Purposes Committee; E. Publications; F. Local Societies; G. Schools and Conferences; H. Groups; J. Bureaux; K. Home Research; L. Labour Party Relations; M. Other Material.

Section A, despite apparent winnowings of routine correspondence and mandatory disposal of much “paper” in the government’s great wartime salvage drive of 1942, is one of the largest in the archive. It also generates the greatest interest among researchers, dating back to the days of the Society’s founding, and containing letters by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and a horde of eminent Victorians and Edwardians active in the labor movement, government, and politics.* Also incorporated in Section A are a vast number of administrative papers including material related to the gathering of information: committee business, publishing activities, organization of lectures and conferences, and documents concerning Fabian relations with other bodies and with its own local societies.

Among the most important documents in section B are two notable manifestos of the Society, “To Your Tents, O Israel” and “The Liberal Cabinet: An Intercepted Letter” (a satirical jest [1906] penned by Sidney Webb), and material growing out of a 1906 lecture by Wells, “Faults of the Fabian.” There is also material connected with Beatrice Webb’s work on the Poor Law and papers recording work for the Society by such...

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