Tag Archives: Patrick Geddes

Funding the Revolution: Money and the New Britain Movement

In 1932 Dimitrije Mitrinović decided that the moment had arrived to “build a New Britain”, and launched the New Britain Movement. The Movement was centred around support for Guild Socialism, monetary reform, and a political system combining principles of devolution and world federation. It adopted the idea of the Threefold State, developed by Rudolf Steiner, in which parliament would be divided into separate houses for culture, economics and politics. A successful publicity campaign kicked off the Movement, which evidently struck a chord with a swathe of the British public. Over 60 local branches were established across the country, and the Movement’s weekly magazine was at times selling up to 32 000 copies. Contributors included Bertrand Russell, Harold Macmillan, Frederick Soddy, Prof. J. Macmurray, Patrick Geddes and S.G. Hobson.

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, p.1, excerpt

Some in Mitrinović’s network realised that to achieve its aims, the New Britain Movement would need a sound financial footing. Bill Duff was one such friend, although his money making schemes may strike some as walking an interesting line between the inspired and the ridiculous. Duff wrote to Mitrinović with a list of suggestions ranging from the prosaic, such as charging subscription fees and for admission to lectures, to the creation of a New Britain Theatrical Review! Duff also suggested creating New Britain ties – leading to possibly my favourite comment in the Collection, “…even Communists love uniforms at heart”!

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, Excerpt re Uniforms

In the end it seems that the Movement was financed by sales of their magazines, The New Britain Quarterly and New Britain Weekly, perhaps subscriptions and membership fees, and donations from sympathetic friends and acquaintances. The situation was always rather precarious. Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby paints a vivid picture of D.R. Davies and others dashing across the country to solicit donations to keep the presses running and get the magazine produced.

The New Britain Movement collapsed amidst intense disagreement over its direction, and power struggles, in 1934. A remarkable letter from A.R. Hearn records his response to the financial difficulties he suffered when New Britain finally collapsed.  A loan he had given the organisation was left unpaid, causing an “avalanche” in his words that left him in debt. Despite what he termed his “gamble” spectacularly failing to pay off, Hearn remained committed to the cause.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.1, excerpt 'disaster'The New Britain Movement may not have lasted long, but those responsible for its brief existence certainly organised a flurry of activities in that time. The Archive has records relating to lectures, conferences, luncheons, and other events. There are manifestos, constitutions and statements of belief. New Britain produced various journals: New Albion, New Atlantic, The Eleventh Hour Bulletin, New Britain Quarterly  and New Britain Weekly magazines were published between 1933 – 1935. All of this is a testament to the determination, generosity and belief in the cause show by Mitrinović and those he inspired.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.2, excerpt New Britain's future

P.S. If anyone does ever find a New Britain tie (if they ever were produced), we’d love to know! After all, everyone loves a uniform…



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Waste Not, Want Not: Scrap Paper in the Archive

Many documents within the Mitrinović collection were written on scrap paper, which enriches the archive in sometimes surprising ways. I’m reminded of a medieval palimpsest, where a piece of parchment has been scraped and reused in such a way as the original text remains legible, or an early modern book binding where the spine has been padded with pieces of an earlier manuscript. Scrap paper can almost feel like a two-for-the-price-of-one deal!

I’ve chosen a few bits that show some of what can be gleaned from the scraps used by Dimitrije Mitrinović and his circle, usually to record lecture notes. The scraps include pieces of letterhead, as in this example from the shadowy and apparently short-lived Balkan-British Corporation.NAF1-6-2-12-8 Balkan-British Corporation Logo

Letterheads make a useful resource for historians and archivists generally, as they show changes of an organisation’s official name, addresses, often logos, sometimes (as here) names of significant people involved or dates of establishment.

NAF1-6-2-12-15 New Europe Group Membership Form

This New Europe Group membership form again shows the value of scrap as historical record, hinting at the financial constraints of the organisation. The form states that the N.E.G. would welcome donations, in addition to the membership fee. The position of President had changed hands, from Sir Patrick Geddes to Arthur Kitson, and rather than run up a bill printing more forms, the Group has frugally annotated each form by hand. The reuse of the forms themselves as scrap paper also shows this ‘waste not, want not’ approach.

My final scrap is even more informative. This is a programme for three lectures given on behalf of the New Europe Group and the Le Play Society by Sir Patrick Geddes on the topic of “The World Crisis. What Factors? What Treatments?”

NAF1-6-2-12-15 New Europe Group and Le Play Society, Patrick Geddes Lectures

The New Europe Group was established by Dimitrije Mitrinović in 1931 to create a Europe reformed under the guiding, mirrored, principles of devolution and federation. It was to be one of his longest lasting projects, even outlasting him. The N.E.G. held its last meeting in 1957, several years after Mitrinović’s death.

Many of Mitrinović’s groups (including the Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs for which this blog is named), were short-lived affairs leaving little trace in the archives. These scraps, then, become key historical records, helping us to establish which of the many groups mentioned in his notes came to fruition and sometimes what activities they engaged in.


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