Penn State University Press

[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 leading members as Shaw, the Webbs, Pease, and G. D. H. Cole.

Section C includes a printed copy of Shaw’s 1912 lecture on “Modern Religion” and a syllabus of speeches that Sidney Webb, Shaw, and Graham Wallas intended to make at a meeting with the German social democratic leader, Wilhelm Liebknecht.

Section D, the records of the Finance and General Purposes committee, consists of material concerning the financing and administration of the Society’s activities and offices. There are bound volumes of minutes up to the end of the second World War, but the unbound agenda, minutes, and related documents of later years are voluminous and confusing in content, [End Page 146] although chronologically arranged. Accounts and related papers have survived in a very random fashion only, and it is thought that many may have been kept only by chance. The papers in Section D have not been fully indexed for personal names, but a card index at the BLPES covers the whole collection.

For the Publications section, category E, there is an index of persons and institutions, but minute-books and administrative papers have not been indexed. The publications policy of the Society can be followed both in the papers of the Executive Committee and in those of the Finance and General Purposes Committee. More specific information about publications can be found in the records of the work of committees that later combined as the Publications Committee. There are minute-books of the Committee covering the period 1893 to 1938, during which, for almost two decades, Shaw was chairman of the Committee. The minutes are very brief; but, apart from the interest in the signatures of various members who took the chair, including Shaw, Charlotte Shaw, and J. Ramsay MacDonald, they have enabled researchers to discover the extent and nature of the activities of Shaw (and others) in drafting and revising Fabian tracts and other publications, as well as in assessing the size of the printings. There are papers concerning the original edition of Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) and the pamphlet Facts for Socialists (1887). What are deduced to be typed transcripts of the sold manuscripts of Shaw can be found in boxes of Publications papers.

Section F includes some records of activities of local groups of the Fabian Society, which were set up outside central London and throughout the provinces. Shaw addressed most of these groups in their early years.

A committee responsible for organizing schools, conferences, and other similar functions of the Fabian Society was set up by the General Committee in 1907; its earliest minutes survive (Section G). For long periods, records exist of those attending schools, with an almost unbroken series of reports by directors of the schools. Other rather patchy information includes reports describing the work of various organizers, notably Mary Hankinson, who was responsible for many of the summer school domestic arrangements and social activities, including walking, country dancing, and Swedish drill before breakfast, as well as musical and theatrical evenings. She is now best known as one of the women on whom Shaw is thought to have based his character of Saint Joan.

In addition, the Society set up groups for members with special interests, including a group for young members (the Fabian Nursery) and Women’s Groups. There are minute-books and other papers in connection with the work of several of these groups. Some of the papers in this section (H) have been indexed.

There were, at different times, too, institutions independent of the main [End Page 147] body of the Fabian Society, but having, in various ways, a close connection with that body. These included the Local Government Bureau and the New Fabian Research Bureau. The papers of these bodies are to be found in the boxes under heading J.

Further sections of the archive contain later material from research groups and working parties, including papers concerning relations between the Society and the Labour Party. As Shaw withdrew from active involvement with the Society in 1911, few of the later documents will be of significance to Shaw scholars.

The last box in the archive (Section M) includes material physically different from the rest of the collection: a number of engraved copper plates mounted on wooden blocks, bearing likenesses of leading Fabians in the early days of the Society, and photographs of notable Fabians and of groups at summer schools and other gatherings. There are also special press-cutting boxes containing cuttings arranged in files or mounted. In addition, there are boxes of membership cards, showing the types of subscription paid by members, the publications to which they were entitled, and the type of membership: local, national, or both. Membership records are by no means complete and “individual cards were occasionally mislaid after use in the office” (Pugh, op. cit.).

Related Articles:

Some Principal Shaw Research Sources

T. F. Evans

T. F. Evans has been editor of The Shavian: The Journal of the Shaw Society (London) since 1964. He has also edited Shaw: The Critical Heritage and SHAW 11: Shaw and Politics. In addition he has contributed to several other volumes of SHAW.

For information: The Fabian Society Archive

The British Library of Political and Economic Science, Archives Division (Archivist, Dr. Angela Raspin), London School of Economics, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD, England; phone: (0171) 955-7223; fax: (0171) 955-7454; e-mail:; url:


* Regrettably, owing to severe financial difficulties shortly after the war, the Society disposed of a considerable number of Shaw’s letters and some manuscripts. Although many of these have surfaced through the years in major Shaw collections, no record of the Society’s transaction has come to light.

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