LSE-Founder Beatrice Webb's Diaries Reflect On Failing Bankers And A Troubled Labour Party... 70-Odd Years Ago

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Beatrice and Sidney Webb, co-founders of the London School of Economics
Beatrice and Sidney Webb, co-founders of the London School of Economics

Attacks on bankers, reflections on a demoralised Labour Party and preparations for the monarch's Diamond Jubilee are just some of the reflections of a social reformer whose diaries are available for the public to view online today.

Beatrice Webb, co-founder of both the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the Fabian movement, left behind an insightful account of social upheaval and history over a 70-year period.

Along with her personal struggles, they document her place in the front line of public life from the late 19th century to her death in 1943.

Many parallels can be drawn between then and now, such as her attack on bankers and politicians in reaction to the financial crisis of the early 1930s.

Writing in September 1931, she said: "We know now the depth of the delusion that the financial world have either the knowledge or goodwill to guard the safety of the country over whose pecuniary interests they preside.

"They first make an appalling mess of their own business - involving their country in loss of business and prestige - and then by the most bare-faced dissimulation and political intrigue they throw out one Cabinet and put in their own nominees in order to recover the cost of their miscalculation by hook or crook from the community as a whole."

She also described the effects of the crisis on the Labour Party conference that year as: "Dull, drab, disillusioned but not disunited."

Mrs Webb showed equal directness in more personal affairs, including her first impressions of future husband Sidney Webb, recorded in 1890.

She wrote: "His tiny tadpole body, unhealthy skin, lack of manner, cockney pronunciation, poverty are all against him.

"He has the conceit of a man who has raised himself out of the most insignificant surroundings into a position of power - how much power no-one quite knows.

"This self-complacent egotism, this disproportionate view of his own position is at once repulsive and ludicrous."

However she married him anyway and in 1895 they founded LSE.

Mrs Webb remained a busy researcher all her life, publishing studies on poverty, housing, wages, equality and co-operatives, among other subjects.

She also dwelt on lighter topics in her diaries such as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the joys of shopping.

In 1898 she wrote: "I am revelling in buying silks and satins, gloves, underclothing, furs and everything that a sober-minded woman of 40 can want to inspire Americans and Colonials with a due respect for the refinements of attractiveness!

"It is a pleasure to clothe myself charmingly!"

Two versions of the diary have been digitised - 9,000 pages of the actual manuscript as well as 8,000 pages of a transcribed version - with both able to be viewed side by side for comparison.

The project, Webbs On The Web, was funded by the Webb Memorial Trust.

Sue Donnelly, head of archives at LSE, said: "Her diaries are remarkably rich. The style is very personal and often introspective but she can be analytical and gossipy as well at times."

The diaries were chosen as the launch collection for the new LSE Digital Library, with more to be added in the future and can be viewed online.