Colonel Wedgwood and the historians


  • D. W. Hayton

    1. Queen's University, Belfast
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    • Earlier versions of this article were given at seminars held at the History of Parliament Trust, the Institute of Historical Research, Queen's University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Reading. The author is grateful to each audience for helpful criticism. For permission to inspect and to quote from manuscripts in their possession or custody, he is grateful to the marquess of Salisbury; the Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge; the board of trustees, University of London; the clerk of the records of parliament; the comptroller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office; the deputy keeper of the records of Northern Ireland; the keeper of the records of Scotland; the keeper of manuscripts, Cambridge University Library; the keeper of western manuscripts, Bodleian Library; Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library; the trustees of the History of Parliament Trust; the trustees of the National Library of Scotland; the university archivist, University of Reading. He also owes debts of gratitude in respect of this article to David Brown, Catherine Clinton, Paul Corthorn, Clyve Jones, Mark Knights, Robert Lyons, Sir Robin Mackworth-Young, John Milner and Paul Seaward.


The first attempt, in the nineteen-thirties, to organize and produce a collaborative, multi-volume History of Parliament, researched and written from public funds, was the brainchild of the maverick Labour backbencher Josiah Wedgwood, who invested his scheme with an ideological as well as a scholarly purpose. Described from Wedgwood's viewpoint, the history of his History appears as a crusade in defence of democracy in the age of the dictators, and his bitter disagreements with the ‘trades union’ of academic historians a conflict between breadth and narrowness of vision. However, the records of the project, and the correspondence of the leading figures, demonstrate the role played by historians like A. F. Pollard, J. E. Neale and L. B. Namier in the framing of the scope and method of the History, and the vital importance of personality in determining the course of its development.