Edward Pease

Edward Pease (Fabian Society)

Edward Pease, the sixth of fifteen children, was born at Henbury Hill, near Bristol on 23rd December, 1857. Edward was related to Edward Pease the famous railway entrepreneur. His parents, Thomas Pease and Susanna Fry, were both devout Quakers. Edward was educated at home by a private tutor until he reached the age of sixteen.

Pease moved to London in 1874 where he found work as a clerk in his brother-in-law's textile firm. Later he became a partner in a brokerage company. The business was very successful, but Pease, who was gradually developing socialists ideas, became increasingly uncomfortable about his speculative dealings on the Stock Exchange.

In 1881 Pease met Frank Podmore. They discovered a mutual interest in socialism, and joined the Progressive Association, founded in November 1882. They took a keen interest in the utopian philosophy of Thomas Davidson, and with a few others formed a society, the Fellowship of the New Life. Other members included Edward Carpenter, Edith Lees, Edith Nesbit, Isabella Ford, Henry Hyde Champion, Hubert Bland, Edward Pease and Henry Stephens Salt. According to another member, Ramsay MacDonald, the group were influenced by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In October 1883 Edith Nesbit and Hubert Bland decided to form a socialist debating group with Edward Pease. They were also joined by Frank Podmore and Havelock Ellis and in January 1884 they decided to call themselves the Fabian Society. Podmore suggested that the group should be named after the Roman General, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who advocated the weakening the opposition by harassing operations rather than becoming involved in pitched battles. Podmore's home, 14 Dean's Yard, Westminster, became the official headquarters of the organisation.

Hubert Bland chaired the first meeting and was elected treasurer. By March 1884 the group had twenty members. In April 1884 Edith Nesbit wrote to her friend, Ada Breakell: "I should like to try and tell you a little about the Fabian Society - it's aim is to improve the social system - or rather to spread its news as to the possible improvements of the social system. There are about thirty members - some of whom are working men. We meet once a fortnight - and then someone reads a paper and we all talk about it. We are now going to issue a pamphlet. I am on the Pamphlet Committee. Now can you fancy me on a committee? I really surprise myself sometimes."

Over the next couple of years the group increased in size and included socialists such as George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Olivier, William Clarke, Eleanor Marx, Edith Lees, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, J. A. Hobson, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Charles Trevelyan, J. R. Clynes, Harry Snell, Clementina Black, Edward Carpenter, Clement Attlee, Ramsay MacDonald, Emmeline Pankhurst,Walter Crane, Arnold Bennett, Sylvester Williams, H. G. Wells, Hugh Dalton, C. E. M. Joad, Rupert Brooke, Clifford Allen and Amber Reeves.

In 1884, Thomas Pease died leaving Edward a legacy of £3,000. This gave Pease the opportunity to give up working on the Stock Exchange and to devote his energies to the socialist cause. Pease also had a desire the become a working man and in 1886 he moved to Newcastle where he found work as a cabinet-maker in a co-operative furniture company. Pease formed a branch of the National Labour Federation and hoped to convert the working class in the area to socialism. However, disillusioned by the workers lack of interest in this new philosophy, Pease returned to London.

Pease travelled to America with Sidney Webb in 1888. Pease considered settling in the country but realising that workers were no more interested in socialism than those at home, returned to England. Soon afterwards he married Marjory Davidson, a young Scottish schoolteacher.

The success of Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) convinced the Fabian Society that they needed a full-time employee. In 1890 Pease was appointed as Secretary of the Society. His duties included keeping the minutes at meetings, dealing with the correspondence, arranging lecture schedules, managing the Fabian Information Bureau, circulating book-boxes and editing and contributing to the Fabian News. Pease was the author of ten pamphlets published by the Fabian Society. This included The History of the Fabian Society (1916).

In 1894 Henry Hutchinson, a wealthy solicitor from Derby, left the Fabian Society £10,000. Hutchinson left instructions that the money should be used for "propaganda and socialism". Hutchinson selected Pease, Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb as trustees of the fund, and together they decided the money should be used to develop a new university in London. The London School of Economics (LSE) was founded in 1895. As Sidney 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".

Edward Pease was also a member of the Independent Labour Party and had close links with people such as Keir Hardie, Robert Smillie, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Mann, George Barnes, John Glasier, H. H. Champion, Ben Tillett, Philip Snowden, Edward Carpenter and Ramsay Macdonald.

On 27th February 1900, Pease represented the Fabian Society at the meeting of socialist and trade union groups at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. After a debate the 129 delegates decided to pass Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." To make this possible the Conference established a Labour Representation Committee (LRC). This committee included two members from the Independent Labour Party, two from the Social Democratic Federation, one member of the Fabian Society, and seven trade unionists.

Some members of the Fabian Society had doubts about this and Pease personally paid the affiliation dues. Pease was elected to the executive of the Labour Representation Committee (named the Labour Party after 1906) and held the post for the next fourteen years.

With his wife Marjory, Edward Pease established the East Surrey Labour Party and both of them served on the local council. Their home at Limpsfield became known as Dostoevsky Corner, because he housed so many Russian refugees who had been forced to leave their country because of their socialist beliefs.

Pease was very close to Sidney Webb and fully supported his policy of permeation as opposed to political action. Pease later claimed he allowed Webb to dominate the Fabian Society because he knew "Webb was always right". He also joined forces with Webb to prevent H. G. Wells from changing the Fabian Society into a mass political organisation.

After being left a considerable amount of money by his uncle Joseph Fry in 1913, Pease decided to retire from his duties as Secretary of the Fabian Society. He remained on the executive of the Society until deafness made his participation in discussions impossible.

Edward Pease died on 5th January, 1955, at the age of ninety-seven.

Primary Sources

(1) Edward Pease, History of the Fabian Society (1918)

At the second meeting of the Fabian Society on 25th January, 1884, reports were presented on a lecture by Henry George and a Conference of the Democratic Federation (later the Social Democratic Federation); the rules were adopted, and Mr. J. G. Stapleton read a paper on "Social conditions in England with a view to social reconstruction or development." This was the first of a long series of Fabian fortnightly lectures which have been continued ever since.

(2) In later life, Beatrice Webb wrote about meeting Edward Pease in the early days of the Fabian Society.

When we met him (Edward Pease) first, at the little meeting in the autumn of 1883 at his rooms in Osnaburgh Street, out of which the Fabian Society grew, he was twenty-six years old, an eager disciple of William Morris. Though he worked in the City and was a member of the London Stock Exchange, he had come to the conclusion that this was an immoral life, and gave it up to become a "worker with his own hands", i.e. a cabinet maker, an occupation which he pursued, largely in Newcastle, until he was called back (by Sydney Webb) to become the Fabian Society's first paid secretary at a salary of a pound a week.

(3) Edward Pease, 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.

4) Clement Attlee, As It Happened (1954)

My elder brother, Tom, was an architect and a great reader of Ruskin and Morris. I too admired these great men and began to understand their social gospel. My brother was helping at the Maurice Hostel in the nearby Hoxton district of London. Our reading became more extensive. After looking into many social reform ideas - such as co-partnership - we both came to the conclusion that the economic and ethical basis of society was wrong. We became socialists.

I recall how in October, 1907, we went to Clements Inn to try and join the Fabian Society. Edward Pease, the Secretary, regarded us as if we were two beetles who had crept under the door, and when we said we wanted to join the Society he asked coldly, "Why?" We said, humbly, that we were socialists and persuaded him we were genuine.

I remember very well the first Fabian Society meeting we attended at Essex Hall. The platform seemed to be full of bearded men: Aylmer Maude, William Sanders, Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw. I said to my brother, "Have we got to grow a beard to join this show. H. G. Wells was on the platform, speaking with a little piping voice; he was very unimpressive.