What a galaxy of left-wing talent! And all on the same page. Though not for much longer.
These signatures date, it seems, from 1926 or perhaps the following year. Within a few years, these fellow signatories - all determinedly on the political left at the time - were at each other's throats. As the Communists turned to ultra-left sectarianism, prominent CP-er Harry Pollitt would have had nothing to do with Labour's George Lansbury.
By the mid-1930s, Oswald Mosley had given up on Labour, tried and failed to galvanise the left with his New Party, and donned the black shirt as leader of the British Union of Fascists.
But here at least, the signatures suggests that all these disparate figures are allied in a cause.
But what's the story behind this curious collection of autographs?
Well, they are in a copy of a hugely successful title, The Week-End Book, which described itself as a 'social anthology'.
It proved to be something of a publishing sensation. A mix of poems, brain teasers, songs, excerpts, bon mots, even medical remedies ... Determinedly middle-brow, the title had sold 100,000 copies within its first seven years and remained in print for decades.
The book was first published in June 1924. This copy was part of the sixteenth impression which appeared in October 1926.
Francis Meynell (1891-1975) was a socialist poet and publisher who in 1922 was a founder of the Nonesuch Press. He was one of the editors of The Week-End Book - so this was his book. In 1913, Meynell had been brought in by George Lansbury to be business manager of the left-leaning Daily Herald. In 1921, he was the editor of a weekly, the Communist, which involved him in large debts after he lost a libel action.
Arthur J. Cook (1883-1931) was a left-wing miners' leader and a key figure in the May 1926 General Strike. He was general secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain from 1924 until his death. Cook was a member of the ILP and regarded as close to the Communist Party. In the the latter part of the 1920s, he was seen as an ally of Mosley and others on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) is rightly notorious as a racist and the leader of British Fascism. He was elected to Parliament in 1918 as a Conservative but later joined the Labour Party. In December 1926, he won a Parliamentary by-election in Smethwick. In 1929, he was appointed to a post in the Labour government and the memorandum he drew up advocating high tariffs and public works was seen as a key left-wing initiative. But Labour's leadership weren't interested and Mosley resigned, going on to establish the New Party before advocating fascism.
George Lansbury (1859-1940) was a socialist and pacifist and one of the very few MPs to resign from Parliament (in 1912) in support of demands for women's suffrage. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1922 and ten years later was elected leader of the Labour Party, at a time when disgraced Labourite Ramsay MacDonald was heading a 'national' coalition government. Lansbury was leader of the Labour Party for three years - relinquishing the post without having led the party in a general election campaign.
Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) is the commanding figure in the history of the British Communist Party. In 1925, he was one of twelve communists convicted and jailed on charges of seditious libel and incitement to mutiny. Pollitt became party leader in 1929, a post he retained - apart from a short break in the early part of the Second World War because of his reservations about the Nazi-Soviet pact - until 1956. He is the subject of the noted political ditty 'Harry was a Bolshie'.
Marjorie Pollitt (1902-1991) was born Marjorie Brewer and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. She was a teacher. She married Harry Pollitt in 1925. This photograph was taken during the Pollitts' honeymoon the following year.
William Arthur Lansbury (1885-1957) was the son of George Lansbury - as a teenager he was arrested while supporting the campaign for women's suffrage. The illustration is from the register of those detained for suffragette-linked action. I haven't been able to find out much more about him.
So how come they all came to sign this book? Was it a memento of a meeting or event - did they for instance all come together during Mosley's by-election campaign at the close of 1926? Or was this a raffle prize? Or did Francis Meynell 'collect' autographs here of his more illustrious comrades?
If I find out more, I'll post the update here.
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