Le Play House and the Regional Survey Movement in British Sociology 1920 - 1955 | CONTENTS | Introduction | Theory | Origins | Early C 20th | Le Play House | IoS | WW2 | Postwar

The Early 20th Century

"(We must) help people to understand us and not think of the regional survey as simply technical or one of those innumerable special subjects clamouring for recognition; but rather an attitude of mind towards our whole surroundings. They will at least leave us with a smile instead of a frown." (Geddes 1922)

The Sociological Society

The establishment of the Sociological Society of London in 1903 has been described in some detail by, among others Halliday (1968), Fletcher (1972), Collini (1979) and Kent (1981), and papers from its early years (the three volumes of Sociological Papers 1905-7) are fairly widely quoted. It was never a professional association, in the sense in which its American equivalent was and always has been, most of its members being amateurs or academics from other disciplines - indeed, the number of professional sociologists in Britain probably did not reach double figures until after the Second World War (Mess 1942).

James Bryce, in his address as first president of the Sociological Society (quoted in Rumney 1945) suggested three reasons for its foundation

  1. 'the ever expanding ramifications of social investigation' needed a society to 'survey with the eye of science the whole field of human activity and to father the many incipient branches of social study beginning to emerge;'
  2. there was a need for a single society to connect various branches of 'scientific social investigation' into 'systematic cooperation' , to bring together specialists in different group;
  3. there was, according to Bryce a 'backwardness in Britain' on the theoretical side, except in the field of political economy. It should, Bryce concluded, 'be of enormous benefit to practical philanthropists to have the aid of men of theory.'

Halliday refers to the Sociological Society as a 'movement', albeit a disparate one, loosely committed to various versions of positivism, or a hierarchy of the sciences, resting uneasily with an evolutionism reflected in an almost universal interest in the historical development of human society. There was also a widespread interest in social problems, and the role of sociology in providing a formula for social policy or social action, leading to the familiar denigration of the discipline as being solely concerned with 'drink, drainage and divorce' (Abrams 1967). Halliday however suggests that the fundamental division in the movement was over the relationship between biological and sociological method, although he identifies three strands in the Sociological Society in its early years

  1. 'a school of ethical or social work sociologists', concerned primarily with sociology as the study of and solution to social problems, and whose interests were in establishing institutions for the professional training of social workers. This approach owed a lot to Oxford ethical philosophy, and served to unite in one slightly heterogeneous group Hobhouse, Charles Booth and Charles Loch (Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society).
  2. 'a school of racial sociologists', whose approach owed much to Francis Galton, the founder of the intelligence testing movement, and to the science of eugenics as espoused by Karl Pearson, Caleb Saleeby and Edward Brabrook. Although active in the early years of the Society, the eugenicists drifted away after 1907 with the foundation of the Eugenics Education Society, and became more involved with the medical aspects of heredity.
  3. 'a school of civic sociologists or town planners', most prominent among whom was of course Patrick Geddes, but the ideas Geddes promulgated came from Le Play and an earlier generation of French sociologists and geographers; and Geddes numbered among his disciples in the Society Victor Branford, J A Thompson and J G Bartholemew. Because Branford provided much of the money and Geddes much of the enthusiasm for the establishment of sociology on a firm footing in Britain it was almost inevitable that their interests should have been uppermost in the image of the Sociological Society from the start.

There were of course other strands to the social sciences, and even others who saw themselves (or who were seen by others) as sociologists. Paramount among these were the statisticians and the anthropologists, and Halliday suggests that 'the Sociological Society ... was an institution to emancipate sociological science from the oversight of academic economists and British anthropologists.' Branford and Geddes saw the economists as sterile, and the claims of statisticians to be interested in social problems as 'fallacious' - their economics came from Ruskin. Similarly, the eugenicists were scathing in their criticisms of anthropology, still in its pre-Malinowski and pre-participative stage, and still identified very much as a form of unscientific and rather disreputable voyeurism.

However, the consensus achieved in 1903 began to break up almost as soon as it had been formed. The eugenicists left in 1907, their particular brand of 'social Darwinism' proving unacceptable to the stronger forces in the Society led by Branford and Geddes. Indeed, Geddes and the planners argued that Le Play's doctrine of 'Lieu - Travail - Famille' rendered irrelevant many of the concerns of the eugenicists with heredity. Halliday suggests that biology, far from providing a link between the eugenicists and the town planners actually split them apart.

At the same time, the accession of Hobhouse rather than Geddes to the newly founded Chair of Sociology at the London School of Economics further deepened a rift between the town planners and what Halliday calls the ethical or social work sociologists. For Hobhouse, Geddes' and Branford's writings ignored the development of human rationality, and overemphasised the environmental factor in the growth of social institutions. Hobhouse's school of Oxford based ethical philosophy owed more to T H Green than Frederic Le Play, and indeed Hobhouse had little time for any geographical or biological concerns. The sole meeting point between Geddes and the Hobhouse school was in the field of voluntary social work, but even here there were clear differences of emphasis, with Hobhouse and his followers emphasising education for citizenship, and the value of social work of the kind promulgated by the Charity Organisation Society, while Geddes saw improvement of the social and especially urban environment as of paramount importance. Indeed, for Geddes the city was paramount, and the building of cities the most effective form of social development. (Even here however, the contrast is not as clear as Hobhouse suggests, for Alexander Farquharson came from a Charity Organisation Society/ethical social work background, and yet was firmly committed to the Branford and Geddes school of sociology.)

The end result of these discrepancies was that the town planners, essentially the followers of Branford and Geddes remained the only active force within the society after 1910. During the next 20 years of its existence, the Sociological Society did little more than hold meetings in London, perhaps half a dozen a year, the most successful of which had audiences of up to a hundred. It was not however an 'active' body in any real sense of the word - and did not itself engage in any survey work, although a Cities Committee, founded in 1908 engaged in small scale activity and educational work in this area. After the war, the Society effectively collapsed, remaining in existence in name alone until 1930.

The Regional Association

The Regional Association, formed in 1918 out of the Provisional Committee for the Development of the Regional Survey represented a different strand in the movement which was later to lead to the formation of the Institute of Sociology; one which owed a lot to the influence of Geddes, through Edinburgh, and in biology, geography and geology rather than sociology. The Regional Association brought together people whose interests were primarily in these other disciplines, some of which have been discussed in Section 3.5 above, but who found in the survey idea a means of pursuing active, practical investigations. In fact, the formation of the Association in some ways marked the peak of its achievement, and there is no evidence that it ever amounted to anything very spectacular, but it is a convenient heading under which to discuss a number of related developments.

The early work of Patrick Geddes, and his role in the development of the idea of the Regional Survey has been discussed briefly in Chapter 3.2 above. From 1887 to 1899, Geddes organised a series of Summer Schools in Edinburgh, based on similar schools held in the United States (Boardman 1978). Starting with a few dozen students and a couple of subjects (botany and zoology), the schools expanded year by year to encompass a wider range of physical and human sciences, architecture and town planning, and involve the services of several dozen teachers, among them people such as Edmond Demolins, the Reclus brothers, Charles Zueblin and Victor Branford. Partly to accommodate the summer schools, and partly through his general philanthropic interests in education and Edinburgh, Geddes established University Hall in 1887, and in 1892 purchased an old observatory on Castlehill, which he renamed Outlook Tower, described by Zueblin as 'the world's first sociological laboratory.' (Zueblin 1899). Outlook Tower contained a camera obscura as well as affording a view over the city better than that to be had from the Castle - Geddes added exhibitions, displays and materials of all kinds from a variety of disciplines, and used it as a practical, physical demonstration of the relationship between the large and the small, the city and the Region, and his adoption of Comte's 'lieu-travail-famille' into 'place - work - folk'.

Through Outlook Tower and the Edinburgh Summer meetings, as well as in his other varied academic and extra-academic activities (he had been appointed to the chair of biology at Dundee University in 1888 with a flexible contract which allowed him freedom to travel and write elsewhere for half the year), Geddes developed the idea and practice of the Regional Survey method. In particular, he was concerned to integrate his interests in plant ecology and human society, and he used the Edinburgh summer schools to experiment in cross-disciplinary dialogue, involving particularly debate between biologists, social scientists and town planners (Fagg 1928). Fagg goes on to suggest that 'the modern Regional survey movement was born of the long intellectual alliance between Scotland and France', the French input coming from Le Play, Demolins and Reclus among others, and the Scottish from the growing band of disciples from a variety of disciplines that Geddes was beginning to form around him.

Geddes' interests and activities tended to move in waves. During the 1890s, most of his energy was devoted to Outlook Tower and the Edinburgh schools. From 1900 onwards, he became increasingly involved, with Victor Branford and others in the formation and early work of the Sociological Society, an interest which dissipated somewhat in 1907 when he failed to secure the first Professorship of Sociology at the newly established London School of Economics, despite being instrumental, along with Branford, in persuading J Martin White to put up the money for the Chair.

From 1908 onwards, Geddes became increasingly involved in town planning, following the success of his survey work in Dunfermline and Edinburgh. He helped organise a town planning conference and exhibition in London in 1910, the first of its kind in the country, which brought together a large number of both academics and practitioners in the wake of the 1901 Town and Country planning act, which in its turn was due in no small part to Geddes' influence (Boardman 1978). He was a tireless traveller, arranging and hosting exhibitions all over Britain, Europe and occasionally the United States, and it was at one such exhibition in Ghent in 1913 that the idea of the Regional Association was born. Previously Geddes had persuaded the Sociological Society to establish a Cities Committee to pursue survey work, a body which in its turn became a virtually autonomous organisation. The Regional Association was the idea of George Morris and Mabel Barker, both school teachers involved in a survey of Saffron Walden, and disciples of Geddes, who suggested the need for an organisation for those interested in the survey method and particularly its application in education (Fagg 1928). A conference was arranged at Outlook Tower at Easter 1914, and letters sent to all schools listed in Whitaker's Almanac, along with Outlook Tower members. About fifty people attended, of whom the vast majority were teachers (Fagg 1928) - the meeting lasted a fortnight, and involved practical social and ecological survey work in Edinburgh and its surrounds together with accounts of surveys currently underway or completed in Saffron Walden (G Morris), North Lambeth (V Bell), Teesdale (C B Fawcett) and Croydon (C C Fagg). An organisation, originally titled The British Association for Regional Survey, later changed to the Provisional Committee for the Development of Regional Survey at the instigation of Geddes was formed, with Geddes as Chair and Morris as Secretary. The committee and active members of the Association were largely school teachers (Bell, Morris) or professional geographers (Fleure, Fawcett), joined by Victor Branford, Alexander Farquharson, Christopher Fagg and a number of other people who were also on various committees of other related organisations, primarily the Sociological Society.

The first four years of its existence coincided with the war and a reduction in survey activity. Committee meetings were held only every six months or so (VB 208), and it was not until January 1918 that the Provisional Committee reconstituted itself as the Regional Association. Almost immediately, the Association became involved in discussions, initiated by Victor Branford and dealt with in greater detail in Section 5 below which led to greater cooperation and eventually formal amalgamation of the several organisations involved with the amateur social and regional survey into partnership at Le Play House. The Regional Association Committee minutes first refer to cooperation in March 1919, when Branford suggests joint secretarial support, although an Inter-Association Committee, involving the Geographical and Historical Associations, the School Nature Study Union, the Selbourne Society, the Civic and Moral Education League and the Schools Personal Service Association had been established two years earlier. Talk of co-operation between the Geographical Association and the Regional Association continued intermittently over the next few years, (the Geographical Teacher published a number of Regional Association survey reports), reaching a climax in 1921 when the Association decided effectively to commit itself to sociology (represented by Le Play House). However, the Association performed a useful role in maintaining a dialogue between sociology and geography at an amateur level, which kept a number of the most prominent British geographers closely involved with Le Play House until the early 1930s.

The Civic Education League

The Civic Education League, although not initially an organisation which had anything particular in common with regional survey work became, largely through the work of Alexander Farquharson and Margaret Tatton the organisation most enthusiastically committed to the idea of the regional survey in education. It was the Civic Education League which instigated the foreign field trip, of which Le Play House and the Institute of Sociology organised over seventy between the 1920s and the 1950s (see Sections 5.5 and 6.7 below).

The Civic Education League began life as the Moral Instruction League in 1897 (Hilliard 1961), later becoming the Moral Education League in 1909, the Civic and Moral Education League in 1916 and finally the Civic Education League in 1919. The changes of name reflected a move away from its initial aim, "to substitute systematic non-theological moral instruction for the present religious teaching in all State schools, and to make character the chief aim of school life", to a broader policy of persuading Training Colleges to make better provision for courses in moral instruction for teachers. In any case, the initial aim was partially achieved in the Board of Education's revised Education Code, published in 1906, which, according to USThe Times UE "implied, if not expressed" most of the League's intentions (Hilliard 1961). A longer list of suggestions for "What the Schools could do" in a pamphlet entitled "The need for civic education", covers history, geography, social and industrial studies and the importance of the local survey, together with more moral aspects of citizenship (truthfulness, unselfish service, interest in the Empire and the League of Nations.)

It was through work with the Civic and Moral Education League that Alexander Farquharson first came into contact with the Regional Survey movement, and it was later through Farquharson's influence that the League became part of Le Play House, initiating many of the activities that were to become the mainstays of that organisation's existence for over a quarter of a century.

Alexander Farquharson was born Alexander Farquharson Jack on 22 January 1882 in the village of Towie, some thirty miles west of Aberdeen. He went to Edinburgh University at 15, graduating with a 1st Class MA, after which he moved to England in 1902 to teach in schools in London, Littlehampton and Worcestershire. Religion was, and remained an important part of Alexander Farquharson's life; although not a religious person in the sense of being a practicing member of a particular faith, he was a great student of religious ideas. Marie Jahoda, who knew Farquharson intimately during the 1930s said of him, "I never observed any act of religious observation; I don't think it could have played a role (in his life) ... just like he found virtually everything interesting, so he also found this very interesting" (1982). He wrote to Kate Bradley (later his first wife) in 1906 - "Religion is, and always has been one of the deepest and most real interests of my life. I mean by that I have always thought a great deal about religion ... often in past years and now too I have spent days together with little else in my thoughts ... it is not unlikely that I shall spend my life over it" (AF59 4.12.06).

In the summer of 1909, Farquharson left teaching in Littlehampton to move to London, where in January 1910 he became a District Secretary to the Charity Organisation Society in Holloway, North London. The early twentieth century saw an expansion of voluntary social work in a number of areas, and a corresponding growth of organisations to co-ordinate and expand such work. The Charity Organisation Society, established in the mid 19th Century dominated the field, and had under the secretaryship of Charles Loch from 1875 onwards fiercely resisted any state intervention in social work of any kind; "Authoritative Charity Organisation Society doctrine continued to dismiss as superficial and self-defeating any approach to social reform other than through the rehabilitation of individuals". (Owen 1965). All social reform, and in particular the Liberal reforms from 1906 onwards were opposed on the grounds that they removed responsibility from the individual for his/her own predicament; the Charity Organisation Society never used the word unemployment other than in heavy inverted commas. Not until the late 1930s under the secretaryship of B E Astbury, a member of the Institute of Sociology did the official attitude of the Charity Organisation Society become more enlightened - however, the attitude of field workers prior to this was often more in tune with the realities of the 20th Century.

It was at about this time that Farquharson first became active in what was then the Moral Education League, first mentioning it in a letter to Kate in May 1910. However, in an obituary to Farquharson published in 1954, Alfred Waldegrave, a Post Office manager who was also a member of the League before the Institute of Sociology indicates that he first met him in 1908, while he was still an elementary school teacher. In any event, it seems clear that both Waldegrave and Farquharson were on the Council of the League in 1910, and that it was beginning to take up a considerable amount of his time and interest. Nevertheless, he also mentions joining the Fabian Society (his only recorded political involvement) in 1908 and the Theosophical Society at about the same time. In his letters to Kate during 1910 and 1911, Farquharson also mentions his friendship with Margaret Tatton, whom he met through the Moral Education League. She was later to become secretary of the Civic Education League, and there is some evidence in Farquharson's correspondence to suggest that their involvement was more than professional - both S H Beaver and T W Freeman suggested that the later dispute between the Institute of Sociology and the Le Play Society was to a certain extent a personal matter between Farquharson and Margaret Tatton, and correspondence between Alexander Farquharson and Dorothea Price during the late 1920s and early 1930s lends credence to this argument.

Hilliard (1961) suggests that the League's influence declined markedly after 1909, although the period was one of considerable success for the League's leading protagonist, F J Gould. From 1901 to 1915 his post was described as 'Lecturer and Demonstrator', and involved a great deal of travel and propagation of the League's now much broader policy on civic and moral education both in Britain and abroad. Gould was also the author of a number of books and pamphlets on the League's work. However, the war interrupted many of the League's activities, and Gould's involvement ceased in 1915, at about the time that Farquharson became its unpaid Secretary; he is described by Hilliard as 'a lecturer at the London School of Economics'. In fact he had lectured part-time for a couple of years before the war, but was employed by the Ministry of Food from 1914 - 1919, being awarded an MBE for his work). It was probably under Farquharson's influence that the League moved further away from the promotion of moral instruction in schools and more towards courses for teachers and others on 'Training for Citizenship', which formed the greater part of its considerable activity after the war. Hilliard implies that the League ceased to exist in 1919. In fact it continued and grew in strength for the next four years, running training schools and foreign field trips under the auspices of Le Play House, where it was based, along with the Sociological Society and the Regional Association from May 1920. (Farquharson himself moved from the Ministry of Food to a very well paid managerial post at Jurgens, a Danish food manufacturing firm, only to give it up a year later to work at a much lower salary for Le Play House.)

Le Play House and the Regional Survey Movement in British Sociology 1920 - 1955 | CONTENTS | Introduction | Theory | Origins | Early C 20th | Le Play House | IoS | WW2 | Postwar