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Senate House Library

Pelling Collection

The Collection 

Subject: Politics 

Some 800 British left-wing political pamphlets from the 1880s to the 1970s, chiefly from the twentieth century, which provide insight into the society, economy and momentous events of their times, and a reminder of the motivations and ideals that led to the birth of the Labour Party. Election manifestos, conference reports, lectures, party manuals, histories, and song books are all present. Over one-third of the pamphlets are post-War; British membership of the European Economic Community is one of the topics. With over 100 items, the period of the Second World War is well-covered and includes such details as the weekly rations in the Channel Islands in July 1945. 

Items range from leaflets to newsletters and to substantial booklets. Many emanate from or pertain to the Communist Party of Great Britain. Others concern the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party, or RILU (the Red International of Labor Unions), with a few anti-Communist pamphlets. Some authors, like William Morris, Sam Lesser (aka Russell) and Harry Pollitt, are famous, while others are unknown. Pure politics mix with spotlights on everyday life, as in How to End Muddle on the Railways (1944). Over ten per cent of the items are apparently unique in the British public sphere. 

The pamphlets were amassed by the British labour historian Henry Pelling (1920-1997; see ODNB) and provided raw material for his monographs about the Labour Party. Prof. Alastair Reid, British trade union and labour historian at Girton College, Cambridge and Pelling’s executor, donated them to Senate House Library in 2015.


For an overview of the collection, do a mixed classmark search on [Pelling]. The collection is held off-site and material requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched. Over 600 items are available digitally via the ‘Far left’ section (available autumn 2022) of the Gale Cengage database Political Extremism and Radicalism

Related materials 

Further reading