[ The South Kensington Debating Society. ] Manuscript minute book, signed by chairmen Sir Charles Petrie, John Terry and Dorothy Saward and others. Topics include National Socialism (Unity Mitford speaking), Palestine Question and Spanish Civil War.

The South Kensington Debating Society [of the Conservative Party], London [ Sir Charles Petrie, John Terry, Dorothy Saward, successive chairman ] [ Unity Mitford; Sir Charles Petrie; Ludovic Kennedy ]
Publication details: 
The South Kensington Debating Society, 23 Stratford Rd, W8 [London]. 7 June 1938 to 1 February 1949.
SKU: 16697

H. G. Wells had been a member of an organisation of the same name at the end of the nineteenth century, but the two appear unrelated. The background to the present SKDS is explained in a loosely-inserted cutting from the Observer, 6 February 1938, which states that the Conservative at Kensington 'have a very vigorous Debating Society, of which the chairman is Miss Dorothy Saward. It meets once a month, and Miss Saward has been singularly successful in her choice both of motions and speakers'. (Saward is said to be 'on various committees at the Conservative Central Office' and 'one of the hardest political workers in London'.) The present item is an interesting artefact, casting an evocative light on a turbulent period in British politics. 205pp., 4to. In ruled notebook by W. Straker Ltd, Ludgate Hill, paginated 1-210. In fair condition, aged and worn, with minor damp damage at rear; in heavily-worn binding. In a variety of hands, and with a few entries typed out on leaves which have been laid down. Pp.110-210 carry the minutes of the meetings themselves, from 12 October 1932 to the 64th meeting on 1 March 1949, signed by Saward and others. Subjects debated are recorded, as are speakers and the result of voting, and often the number attending. Prominent members include: Lord Danesfort, Lady Limerick, Sir William Davison, Vice-Admiral Cecil Vivian Usborne. Speakers included Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Sir Charles Blennerhassett, Air Commodore John Adrian Chamier, the Conservative MP Victor Raikes, and editor of the English Review and fascist sympathiser Douglas Jerrold. The subjects for the first three debates were: 'That the League of Nations does not justify its existence', 'That the English Press to-day is more of a curse than a blessing' and 'That Lotteries should be made Legal in this Country'. Later entries give brief reports of debates. For example, on 10 February 1937, 'a free discussion' on 'The Situation in Spain' between the Conservative MP E. H. Keeling and the Labour MP D. R. Grenfell is described over two pages. Keeling, 'who had visited the army of General Franco', asserted that 'the most effective weapons on either side were the tanks and aeroplanes supplied to the Madrid Government by Russia', and 'counselled a policy of strict neutrality'; and Grenfell, 'who had visited General Miaja in Madrid, stressed in reply the horrors of aerial bombardment and the bitterness of feeling existing between the opposing sides'. ('A very large audience attended, which filled the hall, some even failing to get seats.') Another meeting, on 9 March 1938, discussing 'The Palestine Situation', carries four pages of typed 'Notes on the discussion', reporting the opinions of Colonel Stewart Newcombe, Leonard Stein, Musa Huslini, 'Mr. Hyamson', 'Captain Hampton', Miss Nesti Sanders, 'Mr. Middleton' and 'Mrs. Lewis-Barned'. Of particular interest is the 39th meeting, held on 17 November 1938, at which Vice-Admiral C. V. Usborne proposed the motion 'That whilst National Socialism has been advantageous to Germany it represents a Danger to world peace', seconded by Ian Campbell, and opposed by 'The Hon. Unity Freeman-Mitford', seconded by Wing-Commander John Wynn. According to the minutes 'Twelve members took part in the Debate. The Motion was carried by an overwhelming majority, only 9 votes being recorded against it. | About 185 present.' Laid down over two pages is a newspaper cutting of a long report of the debate from the Kensington News and West London Times, 25 November 1938, titled 'Miss Unity Mitford and National Socialism | South Kensington Debating Society'. Also present is a newspaper cutting of a Kensington News report of the 51st meeting, 7 January 1947, on the question of whether 'the English are losing their sense of humour', with the seconder of the motion Ludovic Kennedy. Pp.1-109 contain the minutes of the executive committee, 7 June 1932 to 5 December 1946, signed by successive chairmen Sir Charles Petrie, John Terry and Dorothy Saward. (The usual topics are covered by the committee: correspondence; finance; election of officers; together with 'Arrangements for further debates and speakers'. The first set of minutes, 7 June 1932, contain the 'Proposed Rules' and 'Proposed Standing Orders', and duplicated typescripts of these are present on two pages, on leaves laid down with the second set of minutes.) Among inserted items are: 'Proposed Rules' and Proposed Standing Orders'; 'Alterations to Rules'; 'Balance Sheet Debating Society 1938/39'. Loosely inserted at the end is a duplicated typescript (3pp., folio) regarding the '1948/49 Session', dated 12 October 1948, and including a two-page 'Draft of Proposed New Rules for the South Kensington Debating Society'.