Classics of labour history: first meeting of the SSLH

The Society for the Study of Labour History marked its fiftieth birthday in 2010 with a special supplement to Labour History Review looking back on half a century of the Society’s existence and the prospects for labour history. The whole was introduced by John McIlroy, who analysed the wider context within which the SSLH was founded in 1960, and provided a colourful account of its first meeting.

The Road From Malet Street: The Society for the Study of Labour History, From 1960 to the New Millennium

By John McIlroy

Street scene of men in typical 1950s clothing
London at the end of the 1950s.

Around ten o’clock on the morning of Friday, 6 May 1960, a punctuated procession, largely made up of men wearing the worsted sport jackets, grey flannel trousers and open-necked shirts that constituted casual dress in the 1950s, worked its way along Gower Street towards Malet Street in London’s Bloomsbury. It was already a warm sunny day, although in tribute to British scepticism the occasional raincoat and trilby remained in evidence. The pedestrians were conspicuous by their briefcases and the fact that Bloomsbury was relatively deserted that Friday. Thousands of Londoners and sightseers from the provinces had converged on the Mall and Westminster, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wedding cavalcade of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong Jones. London was a carnival city. Schoolchildren had been given the day off; all over Britain families watched the event on the still magic black-and-white television. As the royal couple pledged their troth in Westminster Abbey, in a smokefilled room in Birkbeck College, Malet Street, booked by Eric Hobsbawm, some forty or so academics, trade union officials, and supporters of the labour movement, invited by Asa Briggs and J.F.C. Harrison, decided to establish a Society for the Study of Labour History (SSLH)… Read the full text.

This is the fourth in a series highlighting labour history classics to have appeared in the SSLH Bulletin and its successor Labour History Review. See more of our Classics of Labour History series.

All articles published since May 1960 can be accessed through a subscription to Labour History Review.