A curiosity: did this planned conference on “The Christian Attitude in Politics” ever happen, I wonder?
The writing is Elizabeth’s – and, despite the messy scrawl, the plans look fairly well developed. I would imagine that this dates from Elizabeth’s time at Oxford (so c. 1933-1936; there is a reference to the Oxford University Fascist Association), and is perhaps linked to her activities with the Labour Club there.
The conference, and mix of speakers, sounds fascinating – but I can’t help but think of it all in terms of family psycho-drama as well: before his death in 1920, Elizabeth’s father, Robert Aytoun, had been a Presbyterian minister (and Professor of Old Testament Literature and Religion) and this attempt to examine religion through a political lens seems in some way to be a product of the stark difference between her family’s religious background and her relatively recent (although ultimately permanent) loss of faith. While Elizabeth had declared herself an atheist when still at school, her mother and sisters remained firmly (although perhaps not particularly devotedly) believers. Many a letter from the late 20s and early 30s attests to Elizabeth’s mother’s “disappointment” at this atheist stance, and Edward Cadbury even wrote to her on the subject, lamenting the contrast between her life and her parents’ “lives of service”.
See below for a transcript, and links to more information on those involved.
I had been planning to be slightly systematic about this all – to go through the contents of the first box I opened before moving on to the next – but this morning I had to look for something else in one of the dusty tea chests that house a lot of Frank’s papers, and came across this little packet of letters between Elizabeth, her sisters and Edward Cadbury. They are about Elizabeth’s plans to sell the Scottish estate she had inherited (Ashintully) and to give the money to Spain (specifically Spanish Medical Aid, as I learn from these letters). Obviously various kinds of family and official pressure was exerted on Elizabeth not to sell – for reasons of family, responsibility, etc. – including from Edward Cadbury, who had acted as guardian and adopted uncle to Elizabeth and her sisters after the death of their father. Ultimately, the case went to court and the will was changed so that Elizabeth inherited jointly with her two sisters (and therefore couldn’t sell – as she couldn’t give money to Spain, she went there instead). I do wonder if the same would have been done to a male heir?
Elizabeth always spoke very highly of Edward, his wife Dorothy, and all of the Cadburys: they were socially principled, and deeply committed Quakers (and pacifists), and were a great support to Elizabeth and the rest of the Aytouns over many decades – but in this case respect for him, and for her family, was secondary to her socialism, and her explanation and moral justification for selling Ashintully is an eloquent articulation of her socialist principles (and the rights and wrongs of property ownership) that I find incredibly stirring – and still very relevant.
Here it is (with image, and letters from Edward Cadbury below):
To Edward Cadbury, 17.8.37
You may be right about my motives. I’m not the one to judge. I am quite sure though that to sell now is not the “easy” way. The easiest way would be to keep Ashintully for a year at least, and then decide. I don’t find riding rough-shod over my family easy. It is so difficult as to be almost impossible.
As to the praise – most of the people who need to know about it would think me irresponsible or melodramatic. I don’t want the kind of praise I might get for giving large sums of unearned money away – just as I hate it if anyone ever thanks me for doing political work – it only makes me feel an outsider.
Anyway, surely we should be discussing results and not motives? The responsibility argument might be valid, except that it might be used by any and every capitalist as a reason for hanging on to property. Also in this case I think the first responsibility is to the tenants, and in the circumstances I don’t think sufficient good would be done to them by my keeping it to justify myself on those grounds alone.
If the two clash I do definitely put my responsibility to the world at large before that to my family, short of doing them harm. Actually, of course, they count far more than that, but I don’t think they should. I was writing to the lawyer today, and asked him as a point of information for definite facts about the ownership, though he did explain it all to me when I was there. Also I won’t do anything without at least Joanna’s complete and willing agreement.
I am not just throwing my money into the waste-paper basket for the sake of getting rid of it – and the real question to be answered is, I think, whether the need for medical aid supplies, doctors, nurses etc. in Spain is great enough and urgent enough to require all or some of the money now or whether the sale and decision of amounts could justifiably be left till next year. And on the other hand whether an equal amount of good might be done in other ways in this country. As far as I can tell now, partly for political but mostly for humanitarian reasons, I don’t think so. I have written to a member of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, who is a great friend of mine and did not ask me to sell for information. Joanna raised some questions which certainly need answering. I will also wait to hear your proposals for the use of the estate, and, of course, what the lawyer has to say. I know the question is complicated – I’ve been thinking about it for two months.
I am very grateful for all the help you are giving me – you do understand better than almost anyone, but we must remember that there is a fundamental difference between us. You are, when all is said and done, a man of property – very probably as things are now even from my point of view, rightly so, and I am a socialist.
There are just two other points – first that I am interested in my own integrity, and second that I am as fond of Ashintully as anyone.
Don’t bother to answer this till Saturday.
P.S. No-one has called me inconsistent – no socialist tries to be consistent in this system, we only try to judge by results.
I can’t quite get over how young and dreamy a c. twenty-year-old Frank looks in this photograph. It is the main image of him from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). I was sitting in the library a few days ago when an e-mail arrived (from Fraser Raeburn – an Edinburgh PhD student working on Scottish involvement in the Spanish Civil War) with copies of the various documents held in this file. I hadn’t seen this photo – or any of the other material – before and my heart actually skipped a beat.
The file isn’t huge – but all of the information it contains is new to me (including an intriguing document that looks like a security report on Frank, in German, simply signed “Kurt” – more on this once translated). Most exciting is this, an account of how Frank ended up in Spain, including his involvement in politics before going there. It contains so much interesting (to me) new information that I don’t know where to begin… Here he is in his own words, with my thoughts below:
Excitingly, this document means that I can pinpoint where my grandparents were for at least part of their time in Spain – Puigcerdà in the Catalonian province of Girona – and now know that they were there roughly between 1937 and 1938. I previously knew that my grandmother had been looking after evacuated children somewhere in the Pyrenees, fairly close to Barcelona, and that my grandfather had come there at some point. My grandmother met Frank and others off a train; he commented on her “funny hat” – love at first jibe apparently.
I had had trouble working out exactly where they were before finding this document, partly due to my grandmother’s handwriting/spelling of the town’s name (as on the back of this 1937 photo of Frank, with what must be some of the evacuated children).
There is a family story (myth?) that Christopher Hill proposed to my grandmother, and that she turned him down because he was too short (she was quite tall). I am not sure if this is true, but certainly they were great friends at Oxford – and I do remember her telling me that she went back to visit him in Oxford after she had been in Spain (and after she had met Frank). She took Frank’s brother, Harry, who was then an undergraduate at Oxford, to visit Christopher and arrived with wet feet, having been caught in the rain. Christopher mortified her by suggesting that she change her stockings in front of he and Harry; she was worried that this would give the impression that she and Christopher were romantically involved, and this would get back to Frank. I don’t think that they remained such good friends after the Second World War (I would imagine that life – spouses, children, geography, careers – got in the way), but she always took a great interest in his work: I used to be given his books for Christmas, and one of my uncles recently reminded me that she wrote to the Guardian after his death to protest against the suggestion that he had been a Soviet agent. Like my grandfather, Christopher suffered from dementia at the end of his life and I remember Elizabeth telling me that they had both had such brilliant minds that they must have burned out in some way.
The first box has quite a number of letters and postcards from him to Elizabeth (such as these Catalan postcards, sent in March and February 1939 – and including some from the mid-thirties, at which point they do seem to have been more than just friends). A lot of these are about bringing refugees from Czechoslovakia to Britain. I wasn’t really going to include much of this at the moment (a whole other story – complete with really wretched letters: brief biographies of potential Jewish refugees, photographs, lots and lots of paperwork. I assume that some ended up in Britain, perhaps even living in Perthshire c/o Elizabeth, but some presumably didn’t – all kinds of formalities had to be gone through to bring people here). This series of letters is interesting though, and I find it intriguing that Elizabeth declares herself a Socialist (rather than a Communist, presumably), and therefore asks that any Communist refugees “keep their politics strictly to themselves” (image below). At roughly the same time Frank was also writing to her asking her opinion on Communist Party plans and statements…
Elizabeth had, out of the blue, inherited a Perthshire estate and castle in the late thirties; she tried to sell it in order to give money to Spain (possibly the Republicans somehow? possibly the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief?), but this was blocked by her family and by the family lawyers (the case ended up in court – another story that I hope to find more information about in these boxes). Instead, as a second best, she ended up housing refugees there before and during the war. These letters between Christopher and Elizabeth are largely about the bringing of Communist refugees from Czechoslovakia to Britain. I will look out for more correspondence between the two of them about this, as it appears that Elizabeth was at first slightly reluctant (possibly due to the Moscow show trials, and the beginnings of Stalin’s purges?), and I wonder how she squared this with the pressing humanitarian side of things.
The first box that I decided to look in for items relating to my grandparents’ time in Spain made me realise how much possible material I have – and also the extent to which this is probably going to be as much about their 1930s activities and politics as about the Spanish Civil War itself. The box contains stacks of letters, postcards, leaflets, magazines, etc. Some of these I have put aside for another time: Frank’s wartime letters to Elizabeth, for instance – there are probably hundreds of these, mostly from India, and a glance at a few first lines reveals that they are fairly steamy, something I am not really ready for – and stacks of alternately heart-breaking and business-like correspondence about bringing various Communist and Jewish refugees to Britain. Perhaps I will come back to these, but at the moment I have decided to try to focus on Spain, and what took my grandparents there, so from this box I will probably take some of the items about Elizabeth’s political activities at Oxford in the mid-thirties, as well as various letters that refer directly to Spain. There are also some wonderful propaganda posters from Spain, various political pamphlets, some literary magazines and a few photographs.