Today we hear from our Public Engagement Officer, Sammy Sturgess about our recent event in Westminster to launch our activities to commemorate the life of the founder of the History of Parliament project and lifelong crusader for democracy, Col. Josiah C. Wedgwood MP…
On 12 June in Parliament, amid the Commons voting on the Lords’ amendments to the Brexit bill, the History of Parliament Trust (supported by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, the UK Parliament Curator’s Office and the Remembering Eleanor Rathbone Group) hosted an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of former Newcastle-under-Lyme MP, Josiah Clement Wedgwood of the famous pottery family. The current MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly MP managed to find time between votes to join the group gathered to listen to a lecture given by Dr Paul Mulvey, entitled: ‘Forever Freedom: ‘Jos’ Wedgwood and the Fight against Tyranny, 1933 -1943’. Mr Farrelly commented, ‘The events organised by the History of Parliament Trust have been wonderful in highlighting the contributions Josiah Wedgwood made towards the fight for freedom and against the murderous tyranny of fascism in Europe.’ To accompany our day-long academic workshop at Keele University on 22 November, Dr Mulvey will give a similar public lecture.
Jos, as he was affectionately known to friends such as long-standing supporter, Winston Churchill, served the Newcastle constituency from 1906 to 1942. During his extensive career his most notable campaigns were his vehement opposition to Nazism and the spread of fascism in the 1930s, and the British government’s appeasement of Hitler, following Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement in 1938. He was also a staunch campaigner for refugee rights and was heavily involved in the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees and initiatives such as Kindertransport, which allowed Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe to enter Britain. Wedgwood personally sponsored over 200 refugees.
As the founder of the History of Parliament project in the mid-1930s, Wedgwood also holds particular significance for the History. He was a keen amateur historian, publishing several books including, Staffordshire Parliamentary History from the Earliest Time to the Present Day (1917). Wedgwood believed that writing the history of Parliament through compiling biographies of parliamentarians would bring Parliament closer to the public it served and promote democracy and freedom in the face of the growing fascist threat. You can see all the History’s research to date on our website: www.historyofparliamentonline.org.
Wedgwood was fiercely individualistic in his political views and romantic with his vision for the History of Parliament project. Many of his fellow Labour party members felt he was something of a wildcard and he was often at odds with the party. Professional historians such as Lewis Namier (who would later go on to lead the History of Parliament Trust in the 1950s) accused him of having an outdated and romantic view of history, and felt he was sometimes careless with his research! Despite his forthrightness and argumentative nature, Wedgwood was very charismatic and a popular MP both in his constituency and personally among his parliamentary peers.
After a colourful life Wedgwood died on 26 July 1943 following years of declining health.
- Paul Mulvey, The Political Life of Josiah C. Wedgwood: Land, Liberty and Empire, 1872-1943 (Eastbourne, 2010)
- Josiah C. Wedgwood, Memoirs of a Fighting Life (Plymouth, 1941)