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Fenner Brockway, Baron Brockway

Fenner Brockway, Baron Brockway

Archibald Fenner Brockway, Baron Brockway (1 November 1888 – 28 April 1988), was a British anti-war activist and politician.

The Lord Brockway
General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party
In office
Preceded byJohn Paton
Succeeded byJohn McNair
Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
In office
Preceded byJames Maxton
Succeeded byJames Maxton
Member of Parliament
for Eton and Slough
In office
23 February 1950 – 15 October 1964
Preceded byBenn Levy
Succeeded byAnthony Meyer
Member of Parliament
for East Leyton
In office
30 May 1929 – 27 October 1931
Preceded byErnest Edward Alexander
Succeeded byFrederick Mills
Personal details
Archibald Fenner Brockway

(1888-11-01)1 November 1888
Calcutta, British India
Died28 April 1988(1988-04-28)(aged 99)
Political partyIndependent Labour Party
Other political
Labour Party

Early life and career

Brockway was born to W. G. Brockway and Frances Elizabeth Abbey in Calcutta, British India.[1] While attending the School for the Sons of Missionaries, then in Blackheath, London (now Eltham College) from 1897 to 1905 he developed an interest in politics. In 1908 Brockway became a vegetarian.[2] Several decades later, during a debate in a House of Lords on animal cruelty, he said: 'I am a vegetarian and I have been so for 70 years. On the whole, I think, physically I am a pretty good advertisement for that practice.'[3]

After leaving school he worked as a journalist for newspapers and journals including The Quiver, the Daily News and the Christian Commonwealth. In 1907, Brockway joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and was a regular visitor to the Fabian Society. He was appointed editor of the Labour Leader (the newspaper of the ILP, later called the New Leader) and was, by 1913 a committed pacifist. He opposed British involvement in the First World War and, through his position as editor of the Labour Leader, was outspoken in his views about the conflict.

On 12 November 1914 he published an appeal for men of military age to join him in forming the No-Conscription Fellowship to campaign against the possibility of the government attempting to introduce conscription in Britain. The offices of the Labour Leader were raided in August 1915 and Brockway was charged with publishing seditious material. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted in court. In 1916 Brockway was again arrested, this time for distributing anti-conscription leaflets. He was fined, and after refusing to pay the fine, was sent to Pentonville Prison for two months.[4]

Shortly after his release Brockway was arrested for a third time for his refusal to be conscripted, after being denied recognition as a conscientious objector. He was handed over to the Army and court-martialled for disobeying orders. As if a traitor, he was held for a night in the Tower of London, in a dungeon under Chester Castle and in Walton Prison, Liverpool, where he edited an unofficial newspaper, the Walton Leader for conscientious objectors in the prison. This led to his being disciplined, which in turn led to a 10-day prison strike by conscientious objectors before he was transferred to Lincoln Jail, where he spent some time in solitary confinement until finally released in 1919. In October 1950 he revisited the jail with Éamon de Valera, the Irish statesman.[5]

Following his release he became an active member of the India League, which advocated Indian independence. He became secretary of the ILP in 1923 and later its chairman. Years later, the Government of India honoured him with the third highest civilian award of the Padma Bhushan in 1989.[6]

Political activities, 1924–35

Brockway stood for Parliament several times, including at Lancaster in 1922 and against Winston Churchill at Westminster Abbey in a 1924 by-election. In 1926, he became the first chairperson of War Resisters' International, serving in this post until 1934.[4] Brockway was a member of the League against Imperialism created in Brussels in 1927.

At the 1929 general election, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Leyton East as a Labour Party candidate. He polled 11,111 votes and, immediately after the election, the Liberal candidate announced that Brockway had converted him to socialism. His convictions brought him into difficulties with the Labour Party. He was also outspoken in Parliament, and was once "named" (suspended) by the Speaker while demanding a debate on India at Prime Minister's Question Time.[7][8]

In 1931 Brockway lost his seat and the following year he disaffiliated from the Labour Party along with the rest of the ILP. He stood unsuccessfully for the ILP in the 1934 Upton by-election (Upton was a division of West Ham), placed a remote third with only a 3.5% share of the votes cast, and in Norwich in the 1935 election. He also wrote a book on the arms trade, The Bloody Traffic, published by Gollancz Ltd in 1934. According to David Howell, after 1932 Brockway "sought to articulate a socialism distinct from the pragmatism of Labour and the Stalinism of the Communist Party".[9]

In Brockway's science fiction novel, Purple Plague (1935), a sea liner is quarantined for a decade as a result of a plague. An egalitarian society emerges.[10]

Spanish Civil War

Despite his previous pacifist commitment, he resigned from War Resisters' International, explaining:

He assisted in the recruitment of British volunteers to fight the fascist forces of Francisco Franco in Spain through the ILP Contingent. He sailed to Calais in Feb 1937 and was believed to have been destined for Spain.[12] Among those who went to Spain was Eric Blair (better known as George Orwell) and it is known that Brockway wrote a letter of recommendation for Blair to present to the ILP representatives in Barcelona. Following the Spanish Civil War, he advocated public understanding of the conflict. He wrote a number of articles about the conflict and was influential in getting Orwell's Homage to Catalonia published.[13]

Notwithstanding his support for British participation in the Second World War, he served as Chair of the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors throughout the war, and continued to serve as Chair until his death.[14] He also sought to re-enter Parliament, unsuccessfully contesting wartime by-elections for the ILP at Lancaster in 1941 and Cardiff East in 1942.

After the Second World War

In May 1946, Brockway toured the British occupation zone in Germany as an accredited war correspondent, meeting German socialists and reporting on living conditions there; he wrote about the visit in German Diary, published by the Left Book Club.[15]

Brockway later rejoined the Labour Party. After the 1950 general election he returned to the House of Commons, following an absence of nearly 20 years, as the MP for Eton and Slough.

In 1951, he was one of the four founders of the charity War on Want, which fights global poverty. He helped establish the Congress of Peoples Against Imperialism (est. 1945), an organisation he continued to work with throughout the 1950s.[16] His activities there included protesting against the response of the colonial government to the Mau Mau Uprising events in Kenya during this period.[17] In this area, he was a part of the larger Movement for Colonial Freedom. From the late 1950s he regularly proposed legislation in Parliament to end racial discrimination, only to be defeated each time. He strongly opposed the use or possession of nuclear weapons by any nation and was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[18] On 18 July 1961, Brockway was chosen by Speaker Harry Hylton-Foster to ask the first question at the very first Prime Minister's Questions in the current format.[19]

Brockway was a prominent member of the British Humanist Association and South Place Ethical Society where he became an Appointed Lecturer during the 1960s.[20] He gave the 1986 Conway Memorial Lecture on 21 May 1986. The Lecture was titled M D Conway: His Life and Message For Today and was chaired by Michael Foot.[21] The Brockway Room at Conway Hall in London is named after him.

House of Lords

Statue of Fenner Brockway in Red Lion Square near Grays Inn Road, London

Statue of Fenner Brockway in Red Lion Square near Grays Inn Road, London

He narrowly lost his seat in the House of Commons at the 1964 election, despite the national swing to Labour at that election, as he was portrayed by his opponents as being the principal cause of immigrants from the West Indies settling in Slough.[22] He subsequently accepted a life peerage as Baron Brockway, of Eton and of Slough in the County of Buckingham, and took a seat in the House of Lords.

Last years

Brockway continued to campaign for world peace and was for several years the chairman of the Movement for Colonial Freedom. Other important posts held by him include the Presidency of the British Council for Peace in Vietnam, and membership of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association. The World Disarmament Campaign was founded by Brockway in 1979, together with Philip Noel-Baker, to work for the implementation of the policies agreed at the 1978 Special Session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly.[23]

Brockway died on 28 April 1988, aged 99. He was some six months shy of his centenary.[13] Brockway had been twice married: firstly in 1914 (divorced 1945) to Lilla, daughter of the Rev. W. Harvey-Smith; secondly in 1946 to Edith Violet King. By his first marriage, he had four daughters, and by his second, he had a son.[24][25]


While he was in prison, Brockway met the prominent peace activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse, and in 1922 they co-authored English prisons to-day: being the report of the Prison system enquiry committee, a devastating critique of the English prison system which resulted in a wave of prison reform that has continued to this day.[26] Brockway wrote over twenty other books on politics and four volumes of autobiography.[13][27][28]

  • 1915 The devil's business; a play and its justification

  • 1915 Is Britain blameless?, with letter from G. Bernard Shaw

  • 1916 Socialism for pacifists

  • 1918? All about the I.L.P.

  • 1919 The recruit: a play in one act

  • 1927 A week in India

  • 1928 A new way with crime

  • 1930 The Indian crisis

  • 1931 Hands off the railmen's wages!

  • 1932 Hungry England

  • 1934 Will Roosevelt succeed? A study of Fascist tendencies in America

  • 1934 The bloody traffic

  • 1935 Purple Plague: A Tale of Love and Revolution (fiction)

  • 1937 The truth about Barcelona

  • 1938 Pacifism and the left wing

  • 1938 Workers' Front

  • 1940 Socialism can defeat Nazism: together with Who were the friends of fascism, with John McNair

  • 1942 The way out

  • 1942 Inside the left; thirty years of platform, press, prison and Parliament

  • 1942? The C.O. and the community

  • 1944 Death pays a dividend, with Frederic Mullally

  • 1946 German diary

  • 1946 Socialism over sixty years: the life of Jowett of Bradford (1864–1944)

  • 1949 Bermondsey story; the life of Alfred Salter

  • 1953? Why Mau Mau?: an analysis and a remedy

  • 1963 Outside the right; a sequel to 'Inside the left.', with George Bernard Shaw

  • 1963 African socialism

  • 1967 This shrinking explosive world: a study of race relations

  • 1973 The colonial revolution

  • 1977 Towards tomorrow: the autobiography of Fenner Brockway

  • 1980 Britain's first socialists: the Levellers, Agitators, and Diggers of the English Revolution

  • 1984 Bombs in Hyde Park?

  • 1986 98 not out


His life and legacy are celebrated in his old constituency of Slough with the now annual FennerFest, a community arts and culture festival.

A statue of Brockway stands at the entrance to Red Lion Square Park in Holborn, London; it was funded by many involved in the Commonwealth independence movements he supported and was expected to be unveiled after his death. However, he achieved such longevity that it was likely that the original Planning Permission to erect it would run out, causing problems to renew the process. It was decided to ask him to unveil it, he being one of the few private individuals, as opposed to Heads of State to do so. It was damaged (an arm was broken off) by a falling tree in the Great Storm of 1987. The refurbished and insured statue was installed shortly after his death.

A close in the town of Newport in southern Wales is named after him.


Citation Linkjanus.lib.cam.ac.uk"The Papers of Fenner Brockway". Janus. Cambridge University.
Sep 26, 2019, 6:05 AM
Citation Linkhansard.millbanksystems.com"House of Lords Debate: Live Food Amimals for Slaughter". Hansard. 5. 397. cc387. 7 December 1978. Retrieved 25 August 2014. Lord BROCKWAY: My Lords, perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest. I am a vegetarian and I have been so for 70 years...
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Citation Linkwww.bbc.co.uk"Jeremy Corbyn and other famous vegetarian politicians". BBC News. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
Sep 26, 2019, 6:05 AM
Citation Linkwww.firstworldwar.com"First World War.com - Who's Who - Fenner Brockway". Firstworldwar.com. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgLincolnshire Echo, 9 October 1950.
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Citation Linkmha.nic.in"Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe Manchester Guardian 18 July 1930, page 11
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Citation Linkhansard.millbanksystems.com"Questions to the Prime Minister". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 241. United Kingdom: House of Commons. 17 July 1930. col. 1462–1469.
Sep 26, 2019, 6:05 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgDavid Howell, "Brockway, (Archibald) Fenner, Baron Brockway" in H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the earliest times to the year 2000. ISBN 019861411X (Volume Seven, pp. 765-6)
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Citation Linkfantastic-writers-and-the-great-war.com"Fenner Brockway". Fantastic-writers-and-the-great-war.com. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPrasad, Devi, War is a Crime against Humanity: the story of War Resisters' International, London: War Resisters' International, 2005
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgNational Archive; Spanish Civil War files
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Citation Linkweb.archive.orgSpartacus Educational: Fenner Brockway profile Archived 17 April 2004 at the Wayback Machine
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgKramer, Ann, Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War, Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books, 2013
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBrockway, Fenner (1946). German diary. London: Gollancz.
Sep 26, 2019, 6:05 AM
Citation Linkwww.oxforddnb.comHowell, David. "'Brockway, (Archibald) Fenner, Baron Brockway (1888–1988)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBrockway, Fenner (1955). African Journeys. London: The Bodley Head.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgWhite, Aidan (3 October 1986). "The graduate from the old school". The Guardian. p. 19.
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Citation Linkhansard.millbanksystems.com"Ambassador to South Africa". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. 18 July 1961. col. 1052–1053.
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Citation Linkbooks.google.comMackillop, I. D. (1986). The British Ethical Societies. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521266726. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
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