Creating the Story

In the second of his two blog posts regarding the IPUP internship, Alex Jubb tells us more about Clement Attlee's Indian Books.


There is certainly an air of mystery surrounding Clement Attlee's relationship with the University of York. The presence of books donated by Attlee reflects two major questions; why did he have these books in the first place? And secondly, how have they ended up in the University's collection? The internship, brought about by the seventieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, has contributed to bringing both Attlee's involvement in the early history of the University to the surface, in addition to the wider knowledge of the accessions book; a source rarely known about outside of the Rare Books Department within the University.

Attlee's interest in Indian and Pakistani affairs was recognised by a great number of Indian authors. He had been a member of a number of influential commissions, including the Indian Statutory Commission between 1928 and 1934, and later became the expert on India within the Labour Party. During the Second World War Attlee was placed in charge of Indian Affairs, setting up the Cripps Mission in 1942 in an attempt to bring all the various factions within India together. As a result of this wealth of experience, Attlee played a crucial role in ultimately bringing about the independence of both states. It soon became obvious through many of the inscriptions in works personally donated by Attlee to the University that the ex-Prime Minister was a greatly admired, clearly knowledgeable individual who was seen as a man who could provide patronage to works on the subject of India and Pakistan. Authors such as Bhagavan Das,  MM Aslan Khan, and S Rawachaudra Rau, in addition to organisations such as the Anglo-Indian Association based in London, made hand-written notes to Attlee himself within many of the works. Das, in his 1934 work Ancient versus Modern “Scientific Socialism”, wrote to Attlee to ask for a review of the aforementioned work. This can be seen in the image below;

The inscription in Ancient Versus Modern "Scientific Socialism'"by Bhagavan Das.
In Rawachaudra Rau's case he forwarded on to Attlee his late father's 1912 work, K Srinivasu-Rau's The Crisis in India, stating that; 'For favour of noble acceptance by Major C. R. Attlee MP this work is presented in fulsome loyalty and devotion' (see the image below). This could be evidence for the respect for Attlee from authors of Indian affairs. Moreover, whilst the Anglo-Indian Association donated a work to Attlee from their offices in London, Attlee received many works from the Indian sub-continent itself. For example, Aslan Khan's analytical work 'Safeguards in the New Indian Bill' arrived on Attlee's desk all the way from Lahore.

The inscription in The Crisis in India by K Srinivasa Rau
The second question is clearly; how have these works ended up in the University's collections? The University had sent out a call to institutions and individuals across the country and as a result there were a series of generous donations of books between 1961 and 1963. During these years, the University had been announced but was not officially open until 1963. The founding of the University of York and other universities of the same period,  was a definite factor in receiving these donations. Socialist and Labour politicians such as Attlee appreciated and valued new universities as they provided education for a greatly increased number of potential students; 'education for all' being a key feature in the vocabulary of the majority of left-leaning politicians.

However, it is unclear what were the other driving forces behind the donation of these works. John Bew, the author of the most recent biography of Attlee, assumes that one possibility is that Violet Attlee, Clement’s wife, donated these books as the family was moving to a smaller home with less space for a vast library. The dates in which these works were logged in the accessions book all fell in August of 1962; Violet Attlee passed away in 1964, and Clement Attlee died in 1967. He was increasingly frail as the 1960s wore on, but in 1962 he did give two speeches in the House of Lords; he was very much still capable of enacting his political beliefs both in and out of Westminster, but was certainly in less good health than he had ever previously been. The latest possible date for these documents to have been donated would clearly be in 1962 with the logged date evidenced in the accessions book. The Attlee of the early 1960s would possibly have still been capable of donating these works, as well as also deciding which works to donate and which ones to keep within his collection. Documents that would support this theory have yet to be uncovered, and it is the accessions book that is the main piece of evidence for Attlee's contributions.

After correspondence with the British Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Attlee's biographers, the mystery has only grown exponentially. In the correspondence with the Bodleian, the Superintendent for the Library’s Special Collections stated that; 'in keeping, perhaps, with his [Attlee's] seemingly quiet and methodical nature, he did not routinely keep personal correspondence … the collection we [the Bodleian] have is very much a collection of governmental and official documents'. The Bodleian holds the mainstay of manuscripts relating to Attlee, so the mystery would continue.

Clement Attlee's bookplate, found in
many of the works.
What is also interesting is that the collection of mid-twentieth century Indian works have been greatly
supplemented by major gifts from the Riddy family in 2008. Felicity Riddy was an academic at the University of York between 1988 and 2007, becoming the Vice-Chancellor in 2000. She is a specialist in late-medieval English and Scottish Literature, whereas her husband John had 'made his mark as a book collector, and built up a much-admired private library on the history of British India… once the largest of its kind in private hands'. He was known to give lectures and wrote articles illuminating various aspects of Indian history. The Riddys can also be found in the very same accessions book within the Borthwick Library, having gifted even more works than Attlee did himself. This project highlighting twentieth century Indian works within the University has accompanied the continued employment and recruitment of specialists in all departments within the University; specialists in fields such as Indian and Pakistani affairs, global and transnational history, in addition to scholars of worldwide independence movements following examples of de-colonisation in the twentieth century.

There is undoubtedly a great amount of scope for more research to be done in the particular field. The accessions book holds many hidden secrets; Attlee personally donated hundreds of works, to the University of York and this placement has only served to highlight those works relating to the independence movements of both India and Pakistan. A full programme of research into the accessions book will certainly be useful to create a greater level of understanding of the history of the Morrell Library.

There are plenty of sources still to find, and plenty of manuscripts still to uncover within the University’s archives to unearth the mysteries that have arisen as a result of this internship.

The information gathered during this internship will be used to enhance catalogue records making it easier for researchers to identify Attlee donations. For more information please contact the Rare Books Librarian sarah.griffin@york.ac.uk.


All photos by Alex Jubb.

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