London School of Economics

In 1894 Henry Hutchinson, a wealthy solicitor from Derby, left the Fabian Society £10,000. The five trustees of the Hutchinson bequest were Sidney Webb, Edward Pease, Constance Hutchinson, William de Mattos and William Clark. Webb suggested that the money should be used to develop a new university in London. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) was founded in 1895. As Webb pointed out, the intention of the institution was to "teach political economy on more modern and more socialist lines than those on which it had been taught hitherto, and to serve at the same time as a school of higher commercial education".

The Webbs first approached Graham Wallas, a leading member of the Fabian Society, to become the Director of the LSE. Wallas agreed to lecture at the LSE but declined the offer as director, and W. A. S. Hewins, a young economist at Pembroke College, Oxford, was appointed instead.

The Webbs rented 10 Adelphi Terrace for £360 a year, and in July 1896 they proudly announced they had 281 students (eighty-seven of them women) attending the different classes and lectures. John Passmore Edwards, a wealthy philanthropist who had been donating the money for building libraries in working class districts in London, agreed to help the LSE. In 1901 he gave the LSE £10,000 and this enabled them to move to Clare Market site. With the financial support of the London County Council (LCC) the LSE flourished as a centre of learning.

London School of Economics, Clare Market, Strand
London School of Economics, Clare Market, Strand

W. A. S. Hewins remained as director until 1903. Other important figures to teach at the LSE included Bertrand Russell (1895), William Pember Reeves (1908-1919), Kingsley Martin (1927-1931), Hugh Dalton (1931-1935), Clement Attlee (1912-1923), Graham Wallas (1914-23), Richard Tawney (1917-49) and Harold Laski (1920-1954).

Ella Winter studied at the London School of Economics during the First World War. Her tutors included Harold Laski ("always invigorating and original, his acute mind could penetrate all one's defenses and make one feel small"), R. H. Tawney ("analyzed the acquisitive society and the economic role of religion in our world"), Sidney Webb ("short, stubby... with squat brown beard and a lisp, delved into his enormous array of facts and the panorama of colonial history), L. T. Hobhouse ("huge, lionlike... examined mind and morals evolving"), Graham Wallas ("his lectures dealt with a newspaper's everyday items"), Clement Attlee ("rather unimpressive... explained the usefulness of charity and took us to the slums") and Lilian Knowles ("a stout woman lecturer who looked like a provincial housewife, revealed to me the economic underpinnings of history").

A brilliant lecturer, Harold Laski had a tremendous influence over his students. Kingsley Martin wrote: "He was still in his late twenties and looked like a schoolboy. His lectures on the history of political ideas were brilliant, eloquent, and delivered without a note; he often referred to current controversies, even when the subject was Hobbes's theory of sovereignty." Another student, Ralph Miliband, added: "His lectures taught more, much more than political science. They taught a faith that ideas mattered, that knowledge was important and its pursuit exciting.... His seminars taught tolerance, the willingness to listen although one disagreed, the values of ideas being confronted. And it was all immense fun, an exciting game that had meaning, and it was also a sieve of ideas, a gymnastics of the mind carried on with vigour and directed unobtrusively with superb craftsmanship. I think I know now why he gave himself so freely. Partly it was because he was human and warm and that he was so interested in people. But mainly it was because he loved students, and he loved students because they were young. Because he had a glowing faith that youth was generous and alive, eager and enthusiastic and fresh. That by helping young people he was helping the future and bringing nearer that brave world in which he so passionately believed."

Primary Sources

(1) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (21st September, 1894)

A few weeks ago Sidney (Webb) received a letter from a Derby solicitor informing him that he was left executor to a certain Mr Hutchinson. All he knew of the man (whom he had never seen) was the fact that he was an eccentric old gentleman, member of the Fabian Society, who alternately sent considerable cheques and wrote querulous letters about Shaw's rudeness, or some other fancied grievance he had suffered at the hands of some member of the Fabian Society. When Sidney heard he was made executor, he expected that the old man had left something to the Fabian Society. Now it turns out that he has left nearly £10,000 to five trustees and appointed Sidney chairman and administrator - all the money to be spent in ten years. The poor old man blew his brains out.

The question is how to spend the money. It might be placed to the credit of the Fabian Society and spent in the ordinary work of propaganda. Or a big political splash might be made with it - all the Fabian Executive might stand for Parliament. Sidney has been planning to persuade the other trustees to devote the greater part of the money to encouraging research and economic study. His vision is to to found, slowly and quietly, a 'London School of Economics and Political Science' - a centre not only of lectures on special subjects, but an association of students who would be directed and supported in doing original work.

(2) Edward Pease, The History of the Fabian Society (1918)

In 1894, Henry Hutchinson, who provided the funds for much of our country lecturing, died, and to our complete surprise it was found that he had appointed Sidney Webb, whom he hardly knew personally, his executor, and had left the residue of his estate, between £9,000 and £10,000, to five trustees - Sidney Webb, his daughter, myself, William Clarke, and W. S. De Mattos. Miss Hutchinson died only fifteen months later, also leaving to her colleagues the residue of her estate, something under £1000, for similar purposes.

The trustees decided to devote part of the funds to initiating the London School of Economics and Political Science, because they considered that a thorough knowledge of these sciences was a necessity for people concerned in social reconstruction, if that reconstruction was to be carried out with prudence and wisdom; and in particular it was essential that all classes of public officials should have the opportunity of learning whatever can be known of economics and politics taught on modern lines.

(3) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (8th November, 1896)

Hewins, who expected great things, has been depressed and irritable and it has taken all Sidney's good temper and tact to keep things going smooth. Hewins is a sanguine enthusiast, pulls hard and strong when he feels the stream with him, but I doubt whether he has the staying power for bad times. And he has a small-minded little wife always whispering discontent into his ear, suggesting that he is being put upon and that the enterprise will not succeed.

(4) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (4th January, 1901)

Every Tuesday Hewins lunches with us to discuss the affairs of the LSE. He is original minded and full of energy and faith. Shaw always declares he is a fanatic. So he is. But he is also a born manipulator. He is a churchman and an ardent believer in the scientific method in economics and politics.

(5) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (10th November, 1902)

There are now five hundred students. Hewins of course is a little bit over-confident and elated, but that is his temperament. He and Sidney, and to a lesser extent, I myself, make a good working trio. The whole internal organization of the LSE is left to him with suggestions from Sidney. The whole financial side is in Sidney's hands, whilst my domain has been roping in influential supporters from among old friends and connections. Every Tuesday Hewins lunches here and we discuss the affairs of the LSE in all its aspects. He consults Sidney about the curriculum, Sidney tells him the requirements for securing LCC Technical Education Board and University support.

(6) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (December, 1902)

Hewins wanted to jump Sidney into increasing his salary from £600 (it was raised from £400 only six months ago) to £800. Sidney agreed to an extra £100 to cover unusual expenses, but refused to make even this permanent. So long as nearly the whole income comes from the LCC (either through the University, £2,400, or through the TEB £1,200) he feels that it would risk all to double the salary of the Director, a personal friend, in twelve months. It is, of course, a delicate position. The LSE has had an extraordinary amount of support from the LCC owing to Sidney's influence. But most councillors regard it as his 'fad' and have acquiesced not on the ground of their own faith in the institution but on account of their confidence in him. Hewins, who has a swelled head over the increase of students and visions of the whole City coming to be educated under his direction, was quite improperly insistent and had to be gently but firmly reminded of the actual dependence of the LSE on Sidney's influence in the LCC.

(7) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (18th November, 1903)

Hewins sends in his resignation of the Directorship of the School of Economics. So ends our close relationship with this remarkable man, remarkable for audacity, enterprise, zeal and skill in presenting facts and manipulating persons, most remarkable for confidence in his own powers, more than confidence - an overestimation of them. These qualities have served us well in building up, from nothing, the reputation of the LSE, in steering its fortunes through the indifference and hostility of the London academic and business world, in obtaining and keeping the co-operation of men of diverse views and conflicting interests.

(8) Clement Attlee, As It Happened (1954)

In 1912, largely through the influence of Sidney Webb, I was appointed a lecturer and tutor in the London School of Economics in the Department of Social Science and Public Administration. I was not appointed on the score of academic qualifications but because I was considered to have a practical knowledge of social conditions. The salary was small but sufficient for my wants, while the hours of my work left me plenty of time for social work and also for socialist propaganda, for it was a fundamental rule of the School that no one could be restricted in venting his political opinions.

© John Simkin, April 2013