Monday, 27 January 2020

Royden Harrison memorial meeting (2003)

Royden Harrison (memorial meeting)
Written By: Dave Renton
Date: January 2003
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 17: Lent 2003  

Around eighty people attended a memorial event held in Sheffield in November 2002, to remember the socialist historian, Royden Harrison. Harrison taught for several years, in the Departments of Continuing Education and then Politics at Sheffield University and was subsequently the chair of History at Warwick, where he established the Modern Records Centre, a most archive of industrial and contemporary history. His books include a study of British socialism in the 1860s and 1870s, The Early English Socialists, and a multi-volume biography of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. The first volume of the series appeared last year.

Harrison's politics were formed by his youthful membership of the British Communist Party, in Hampstead and Oxford. In autumn 1947-8, as Oswald Mosley's fascists began to rally again, Harrison could be found - pen-knife in hand - attacking the wheels of the fascists' speaker van. He had his suspicions, though, of the CP historians, who were not nearly as independent from King Street, as they liked to believe. Guided by this background, Harrison began his career teaching engineering workers in Willesden for the WEA. He survived the normal Cold War difficulties, and was appointed to a post at Sheffield. Formed by the experience of teaching miners and steelworkers on day release, Harrison became a superb teacher. His former students represented at the memorial included a number of retired MPs, and even the current Home Secretary.

Like many others, Harrison left the CP in 1956. His subsequent work explored the space between the left edge of Liberalism (associated in his books with the Positivists) and Marxism. This explains the quality of his account of the Webbs: they simultaneously delighted and revolted him. He campaigned for free access to state records. He played a reading role in the Society for the Study of Labour History. At Warwick, he encouraged a brilliant set of students, many of them active participants in the tumults of the 1970s, to write industrial history. Harrison also contested the Labour NEC elections, securing over 100,000 votes (a very impressive record for anyone without a seat in parliament or national, trade union support). As the warmth of the tributes given to Harrison at the memorial made clear, our historian survived better than most of his fellows the downturn of the 1980s. A collection was taken, and over £200 raised for the striking firefighters.

Letter: Royden Harrison
Written By: Keith McClelland
Date: April 2003
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 18: Summer 2003 

A small correction to the notice by Dave Renton of the Royden Harrison memorial. Harrison’s books did not include “a study of British socialism in the 1860s and 1870s, The Early English Socialists”. Firstly, the book was Before the Socialists. Studies in Labour and Politics 1861-1881 (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965; 2nd edn., Aldershot, Gregg Revivals, 1994). Secondly, there were scarce any socialists to speak of in Britain in the 1850s and 1860s.
Keith McClelland
Middlesex University

Re: Royden Harrison
Written By: The editor
Date: April 2003
Published In LSHG Newsletter Letter: Royden Harrison (Keith McClelland)
Keith McClelland is quite right. Royden Harrison’s 1965 book seems to have been confused with a 1933 book by Lance Beales. Dave Renton did supply the correct title as part of the discussions I had with him around his original draft, but this correction, unfortunately, got lost somewhere in the editing process. Apologies to all concerned.

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