Independent Working Class Education at the Edinburgh Book Fringe 2014


Researcher and author Colin Waugh is giving a talk at the Edinburgh Book Fringe on 13th August on the subject of the 1909 Ruskin College strike, the Plebs League and independent working class education. Find out more:

Colin has previously undertaken research at the TUC Library, which holds the Plebs League journal and an extensive collection of material relating to adult- and working class education:

The front cover of an issue of “The Plebs” journal, held at the TUC Library.


What can history teach us about the future of housing policy?


Housing policy has been much in the news over recent months. Property prices are reported to have risen by 10% on average over the last year and in London by 20%. Responses to the perceived crisis in affordability have included the Coalition government’s Help To Buy scheme, the Labour Party’s proposals to reform the private rental sector and Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s proposals to introduce a new accreditation standard for landlords. There have even been more radical suggestions, such as moving the elderly into smaller flats or building over the green belt.

What could the study of past housing policy tell us about future solutions?

The TUC Library holds a wealth of material on the subject of housing, dating from the 19th century onwards. Much of the material shows that present debates about housing policy have a long history, as can be seen by these pamphlets from the early 20th century.










Following the Second World War a major house building programme was undertaken to replace damaged housing stock, prompting yet more debate on the future direction of housing policy.

Who should build the houses?

Our collection documents the ideological debates that have always existed about who should be responsible for building new houses – the state, private enterprise, local authorities or civil society groups?









A Land Value Tax?

Debates about whether a tax on the value of land would solve the issue of housing inequality have existed since the economist Henry George first proposed the policy in the 19th century. The pamphlet below, from the United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values (1919), makes a similar plea for a land value tax.
New Towns?
We have an extensive collection of material on the “Garden City” and “New Towns” movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.









The return of rent controls?

For much of the 20th century rents were controlled in the UK, until the abolition of such controls in the 1980s. Our collection covers a range of material offering different perspectives on the policy.

The images shown here represent just a tiny fraction of the fascinating material the TUC Library holds on the subject of housing. If you are interested in finding out more, or would like to visit us, see our handy guide to the housing collections here:


Banging Out: Fleet Street Remembered


Digital: Works, an educational charity, have just launched their new documentary about the print industry and Fleet Street, available from

They have been running a project with two London primary schools exploring the working lives of people in the print industry. The children have been doing research, met former printers, spent a day with former printers learning letterpress, and then learnt filming and interview skills which they used with questions they developed to conduct a series of oral history interviews with 22 people about their working lives.

These interviews have being edited along with archive photographs and video footage to make a 40 minute film which allows the workers themselves to speak about their working history and also the Wapping dispute.

The film covers stories of life on Fleet Street, working conditions, stories of brushes with newspaper owners, and lots of eye witness stuff about Wapping. The final film will be shown on TV, on the internet, film festivals, at schools, and anywhere anyone wants to show it.

DVDs are available of the film.

These are some of the children from two local schools who were involved in making the film.




The first WEA tutorial class, Rochdale 1908


Recent visitor to the TUC Library, Dr Gary Heywood-Everett, has contributed a blog post on the subject of his research into WEA’s first tutorial classes:

Some of the original essays from students of the Rochdale tutorial class, 1908

The First WEA Tutorial Class : Rochdale 1908
Dr Gary Heywood-Everett
My interest in the history of the Workers Education Association (the WEA) and specifically the first of its tutorial classes in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1908, stemmed from me finding a photograph in the library of Lancaster University where I was doing my doctorate in the Department of Educational Research. It was a photograph of that first tutorial cohort posing rather grandly outside my old secondary school in Rochdale. This discovery was made in the mid 1980’s and at the time I tried to apply for funding to research this class but was unsuccessful even though the North West Regional Studies Group at Lancaster gave me a great deal of support.
During my subsequent years of teaching in primary schools and lecturing in Education Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, my interest in the subject of adult education though the WEA persisted although I did not have the opportunity to conduct research. However, on retirement in July of 2013, I decided that I would revive my initial curiosity and trace the genesis of this first tutorial group, find out who the 40 or so students were and what they went on to be.
My interest is from both an educational and a social inclusion point of view. These working men and women, often factory hands during the day, managed to summon up the energy and intellectual curiosity to attend classes in Economic History and Politics in their free time and (in an organised class) at the weekend. The WEA responded to this enthusiasm by appointing R H Tawney, the radical Labour theorist, to be their tutor. The tutorial class marks the first of thousands of such classes throughout the UK and worldwide.
The TUC Library at London Metropolitan University holds many of the initial letters discussing the setting up of tutorial classes as an alternative to University Extension programmes, many coming from Albert Mansbridge, the founder of the WEA in 1903 to the Rochdale Guild which acted to recruit and materially organise the first class. Tawney’s letters to the WEA and to Mansbridge are also in the TUC archive and provide an insight into the political tensions in setting up worker education in this innovative way. Furthermore, student essays from the time can be found in the archive as are (quite critical) evaluations of the teaching styles and the experience in the classes from the students themselves.
Given the breadth and depth of material in the TUC Library, I intend to use it to answer questions such as: what motivated the working people of Rochdale in 1908 to undertake study? Why did they choose Economic History as their subject? Did the students use this study to further their own professional and/or political ends? How political was the WEA as set against the Central Labour College, the Plebs League etc? I would also want to draw comparisons between educational and political motivations then, in 1908, and now.
I have visited the TUC library at London Metropolitan University on two occasions to date and feel to have only skimmed the surface of the available material. It is my intention to write a series of articles about the first tutorial group, present to interested groups in Rochdale and elsewhere, and to offer both as a contribution to the town’s – and the WEA’s – heritage.
For those with an interest in contributing to or making contact about the first tutorial class, please do so at

An exercise book from the Rochdale tutorial class, 1908 (above) and an extract from within the exercise book conveying the teaching style of R. H. Tawney as tutor (below).


Highlighting the education collections in the TUC Library


As London Met University held its Learning and Teaching Conference yesterday, we thought we would reflect on the material that the TUC Library holds on the subject of adult and working-class education.

The TUC Library holds the archive papers of the Workers Educational Association, founded in 1903 with the object of providing working class people with access to university-quality education classes from academics who volunteered their time to provide lectures and lead discussion groups. The impetus for creating the WEA came from its founder, Albert Mansbridge, who in 1903 had written the pamphlet Co-operation, Trade Unionism and University Extension. Today the idea of universities undertaking “outreach” activities in the local community is uncontroversial, but at the start of the 20th century the demand that Oxford and Cambridge undertake such activities, particularly among the working classes, was radical.

Following the foundation of the WEA by a number of people connected to Oxford University, the issue of democratising the university’s entry became more widely debated. In 1907 a conference was held on the theme ‘Oxford and Working People’ and it resolved to set up a committee to investigate mechanisms by which more working people could be exposed to higher education. In 1908 the committee published its report Oxford and Working Class Education which has become a classic of adult education. The report recommended the formation of a Standing Committee of Oxford’s University Extension Delegacy, to be comprised of equal numbers of university and working class representatives. The Standing Committee should be responsible for the provision of a system of tutorial classes to groups of working class students outside the university, and also responsible for the provision of funds for scholarships so that upon completion of the tutorial classes those students suitably qualified “should be enabled regularly and easily to pass into residence at Oxford, and to continue their studies there.”

A selection of early documents from the WEA archive. Note the two influential pamphlets “Co-operation, Trade Unionism and University Extension” (bottom centre) and “Oxford and Working Class Education” (bottom right).

The WEA archive documents the gradual development of the organisation as it spread around the country and began to provide such tutorial classes. One of the first tutorial classes took place in Rochdale and was taught by the respected academic and social critic R. H. Tawney. The archive contains many files dedicated to Tawney’s involvement with the WEA.

You can see a catalogue of the WEA archive here.

In addition to the WEA archive, the TUC Library also contains a wealth of material documenting the development of education policy more generally. The collection dates from the 19th century onwards and includes educational developments such as the Mechanics’ Institutes, the Working Men’s Colleges, Ruskin College, and the contributions to education made by the Co-operative Movement and the Trade Union Movement.

A miscellaneous selection of items from the Library’s education collections


To learn more about the TUC Library and its education collections see our resource guide Sources for the Study of Education in the TUC Library

Or contact us at or 020 7133 3726


Introducing Jenni Rockliff and the TUC Library Poster Collection



My name is Jenni Rockliff, my normal day job is in the Information Service at the TUC, Congress House.

I have been volunteering one day a week at the TUC Library Collections, for over a year now, working on a project to list all the posters held in the Collections.

For the last few months, I have been working my way through the substantial number of posters from World War II. These include a series of posters which appear to be from the Ministry of Information and were produced for French speakers.

The following two posters really caught my eye. Partly because it they hint at the contribution made by people from the Commonwealth countries, to the war effort and for the wonderful expressions on the faces of the men.

Barrage Balloon CrewThese men appear to be from a team working with barrage balloons. The man telling the story is from Nigeria.

Prisoner of War Guard

This soldier from an Indian Regiment is watching over Italian prisoners of war who are filling water containers.


Matchwomen’s Festival – Saturday 5th July 2014


The Matchwomen’s Festival takes place this weekend – a celebration of the 1888 matchwomen’s strike at the Bryant & May match factory in Bow and what we can learn from it today. Get more info about the Festival at

At the TUC Library we hold the original strike fund register compiled during the dispute in 1888, and you can see it digitised on our website here:

The Match Workers Strike Fund Register

A page from the digitised strike register

We also hold a great deal of other material on the history of the matchwomen’s strike and its significance for the trade union and labour movement. Along with such strikes as the London Docks Strike of 1889, it was one of a number of industrial disputes of the period that lead to a resurgence of workers’ organisation that became known as “New Unionism”.

To learn more about the 1888 matchwomen’s strike, New Unionism, or any other aspect of trade union and labour history, contact us at or 020 7133 3726

Bryant and May matchworkers, 1888


Students from Florida State University Visit


We had a visit from some students from Florida State University last week who are here in London for a month studying. They were interested in the history of trade unions in the UK and we created a small exhibition for them of pamphlets and books. Anne Barrett, Professor of Sociology at Florida emailed us

All the material you pulled for us was excellent and really fit[ted] well with lots of themes we’ve talked about over the duration of the course.  I was so glad to learn about all the great resources that are available online.

Here they are…

Students smile for camera