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 affairs of the Institute are very much in the melting pot, and your own situation appears to be very uncertain. The Institute appears to be the victim of an Oedipus situation; aggravated by the overall economic condition of the country and the world. The Sociological Society and the Institute have performed a gigantic feat of pioneering in the sociological sphere and you have played a major part in this. But the Institute has given birth to many lusty offspring, chairs of sociology in the universities; and the occupants of these appear to me now to be playing the role of Oedipus. They want to be independent of the old man. Sociology itself will, I think, lose something by this by becoming more rigidly academic. But that is the way of the world, and our consolation is the contemplation of a live of work well done and bearing fruit" (C C Fagg to A Farquharson 33.3.52:AF8)

The Final Decade

The history of the Institute of Sociology during the last decade of its life is one of gradual and seemingly inevitable decline. As Farquharson wrote in the 1945 Annual Report, "In the work of the Institute, ... little benefit was evident" (VB212). Two things were apparent however. One was that the Institute needed a base in London if it was to have any hope of building on the various initiatives in the social sciences and social research which were soon to materialise. The second was that a case could be made for retaining a country centre, if for no other reason than that both the Farquharsons were old, neither had any desire to return to London, and the Institute could not survive without them.

Proposals for a London centre were complicated somewhat by the need to vacate the Malvern house fairly soon after the end of the war, as the owner required it for his own residence. There were considerable difficulties in finding a house of suitable size in the vicinity, until fortuitously, a large country house became available at Ledbury. It was purchased fairly rapidly, and all the Institute's possessions were moved there, just prior to the worst winter for many years, which aggravated problems in what was already a house in need of repair. (Disputes with local builders over repair work continued well into the 1950s).

In October 1946, just after the move to Ledbury and the publication of the Clapham Committee's report, advocating an expansion in teaching and research in the social sciences (Clapham 1946), the Council of the Institute heard a paper by T H Marshall calling for the establishment of a London centre as an urgent priority. In the paper, Marshall outlined the history of Le Play House and its relationship to the terms of Branford's will. He noted that the pre-war income of the Institute was about £1800 which was always matched and often exceeded by expenditure (there had been a deficit for every year since 1930.) A London centre would require a salaried director, in addition to premises, and would cost in the region of £3000 per annum at post-war prices. Marshall's paper gave no indication of where this money was to be found, other than from existing sources (membership, sale of publications and services), but the implication was that a centralised Institute, making a more direct appeal to the expanding academic community in the social sciences, and able and willing to work with and build on the expansion in social research in all forms currently underway would be more likely to generate the momentum necessary to survive and prosper than an organisation appealing to amateurs and based in the countryside.

Council approved the paper, but without the powers or the resources to do anything about it. By 1947, according to the Annual Report, membership was increasing (60 new application were received, many of them from lecturers at the Emergency Teacher Training Colleges established in the wake of the 1944 Education Act), and the Farquharsons were kept busy with demands on their time as experts in field studies - as Dorothea wrote to Ethel Lindgren early in 1947, "We are terribly active here in Ledbury, in fact I hardly know how to answer the many demands made of our time." (DF - EJL 2.5.47 ). Foreign field work revived as well, with trips to Belgium and Denmark. There is every indication that the Farquharsons took a revival of the kind of work they had undertaken before the war to indicate a revival in the fortunes of the Institute. As with many other organisations, institutions and practices, the long-term effects of the war were more serious.

In January 1948, following the lack of progress in the search for a London centre, Council received a serious offer from the London School of Economics to take over the ailing Sociological Review (which was appearing in erratic supplements rather than regular journal sized issues. This was partly due to paper rationing, but it was also due to lack of material.) After long discussion, Council, on the advice of the Farquharsons and in line with the underlying suspicion of the LSE that always coloured its attitude rejected the offer, at which both Ginsberg and Carr-Saunders indicated that they would be unable to promise continued interest in the Institute, as the LSE would be taking steps to establish a new sociological journal of its own.

Aside from the Sociological Review, Institute of Sociology activities continued in both London and Ledbury. Courses were organised for the Emergency Teacher Training College, particularly in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, but with some contact from as far away as Harrogate, Lancaster and Liverpool. Courses for the Army also continued occasionally, and the Institute became involved with University Extra-Mural work for Birmingham, and arranging courses in survey methods for visiting Commonwealth students from the then University College, Southampton (AF61). In London, the Institute, still without any premises, was assisted by J L Peterson, from University House, Bethnal Green, a University Settlement, who provided rooms or secured them elsewhere, and organised a Committee to arrange London meetings (Institute of Sociology Annual Report 1948 : VB173). The Royal Institute of British Architects and the London University Institute of Education also provided much help and goodwill - Sir Fred Clark from the Institute of Education had become President of the Institute in 1947, C W Dixon of the Institute was Chair of Council during 1952 and 1953 for its final meetings, and Professor Basil Ward from RIBA was also on its Council during its final years.

By 1949 however, the temporary post-war boost to the Institute's fortunes appeared to have peaked. The 1949 Annual Report reported only 21 new members and 2 resignations for the year, and activities were somewhat hampered by the illness of Alexander Farquharson. It was during 1949 that the newly formed UNESCO began formulating plans for the sponsorship of national and international associations of social scientists - a conference of sociologists from 21 countries was held in Oslo in September 1949 and the International Sociological Association formed. (ISA 1950; Bottomore 1954) The Institute of Sociology was represented at the meeting by T H Marshall, at that time working as Educational Adviser to the British High Commissioner in Germany on secondment from the London School of Economics (Marshall 1974: Halsey 1984). The 1949 Annual Report records that Marshall "kept the Council informed on the discussions, and the Council expressed its willingness to do anything possible to forward the movement in this country." Nevertheless, the Institute was not among the national sociological organisations recorded as being in existence in 1949, nor among those "expected to be admitted to full membership (of the ISA) during 1950" (ISA 1950). It was not until some months later that it became clear to the Farquharsons that Marshall had apparently told the ISA that the Institute was closing down, and that a new organisation would shortly be formed. Dorothea wrote to Ethel Lindgren in June 1950, "The UNESCO HQ were told over six months ago by 'someone from the Institute of Sociology' that we were about to fold up our tents. This we heard from an American sociologist ... Marshall was then the Institute of Sociology representative on UNESCO." In the same letter, she records that Marshall "definitely declined to lift a finger to help us and said he would have nothing to do with our efforts to carry on in London or Ledbury. (DF-EJL 29.6.50: EJL)" He had refused to serve on the Council of the Institute, and yet was keen to participate in any decision to wind up the Institute.

The reason for Marshall's declining interest in the fortunes of the Institute, and even his desire for its closure was the imminent establishment of a new body, the British Sociological Association to be composed of professional sociologists and based at the London School of Economics. An inaugural meeting was held in October 1950, and the establishment of the BSA was announced in a letter to The Times in May 1951 (Banks 1967). The Farquharsons attended the meeting to report back to the Institute's Council in November. In June, Alexander wrote to John Ross, a former colleague of Branford, "those responsible for the new Association have agreed that nothing they are doing need prevent us from carrying on along the lines that Branford laid down, and that is what my wife and I are now putting our best efforts into." (4.6.81 : AF171). It was agreed that a Committee should be formed to negotiate with the BSA if necessary, and that the membership should be consulted on their attitude to the new organisation. At that meeting, it was also agreed to hold no further meetings in London. It was felt by the Farquharsons that the London meetings had been used by Peterson and Marshall for their own purposes, having more to do with the establishment of new organisations than the furtherance of the interests of Le Play House. Writing to Ethel Lindgren, Dorothea described Peterson, whose assistance had been welcomed only a few years previously : "none of us trust him - he is a slick East ender, and apt to twist anything round to suit his purpose." It was apparently because of Peterson's handling of the negotiations that the Institute lost the chance of a grant from the Nuffield Foundation, which had stipulated conditions unacceptable to the Ledbury contingent - a move to London within three months, transfer of the library to London, and the handing over of the Sociological Review to some other body. Dorothea went on, "Marshall is desperately keen to get hold of the Review - AF is determined not to let Peterson or Marshall get it. It is our best asset ... it was the beginning of the foundation of the Sociological Society and was Branford's dearest child". (DF-EJL 29.6.50: EJL)

The Committee to negotiate with the BSA was formed in December 1950 (The Farquharsons, Ms Murdo Mackenzie, Basil Ward, Geoffrey Salter-Davies and Canon Vigo Demant - Ethel Lindgren was elected, but declined the nomination.) There is no evidence of it ever having met - correspondence with the BSA continued throughout 1951, but the matter disappears from the Council Minutes thereafter, overtaken by the more serious problems concerning the Institute's survival. Carr-Saunders and Ginsberg formally resigned from the Council in January 1952 - Marshall had ceased to be a member some years earlier. Thereafter, contact between the Institute and the LSE appears to have ceased.

Attendance at Council meetings during the early 1950's was rarely more than half a dozen, and often as few as three. However, in December 1951 there were twelve present to receive the resignation of Alexander Farquharson as Secretary and Dorothea Farquharson as Organiser of Field Studies, on the grounds of age and illness. The resignations (which had been threatened on and off since the move to Ledbury) were accepted with regret; although Alexander was elected Treasurer, following the resignation of Salter-Davies, and also appointed to a new position of Honorary Director. It was unanimously agreed that, as specified in the terms of Branford's will, both should continue to receive lodgement free of charge at Le Play House. (Farquharson had turned down an annual stipend of £200 for the Branford estate in return for accommodation rights. (DF-EJL 9.3.52: EJL). Dr George Gibson, a Church of England clergyman, Rector of Nuthurst in Sussex and Secretary of the Central Christian Social Council was appointed to undertake the Secretaryship on a voluntary basis initially. It was hoped that a salaried appointment would be possible after about six months.

The resignation of the Farquharsons as officials of the Institute in effect meant the end of what little activity had been maintained over the previous few years. Dorothea wrote to Ethel Lindgren in March 1952, "all field study organisation ... has been stopped dead since I resigned in December, and nobody else is able to take it on." (DF-EJL 9.3.52 : EJL). She noted that Gibson, together with Demant and one or two other London-based members of the Council seemed determined to sell Le Play House to attempt to place the Institute on a secure financial footing, prior to absorption by one or other of the several bodies beginning to show an interest in it. More pressing however was the Institute's overdraft of over £1000. In April, Alexander Farquharson put to Council a scheme, suggested by Sheffield Corporation, which at that time housed the Ruskin collection, but was unable to exhibit them. Sheffield was willing to pay the Guild of St George (of which Farquharson was still Master, and which had Le Play House as its Headquarters) #1500 a year to arrange exhibition of the materials, money which would in turn be transferred to the Institute. The final condition was the transfer of substantial parts of the Branford Trust interests from the Institute to the Guild of St George. The arrangements and their implications were complicated and cumbersome, and it is probable that Farquharson did not fully understand them, any more than did the Council. Nevertheless, the offer was accepted on 24 April, and Farquharson given permission to continue the negotiations, much to the chagrin of Gibson, who had proposed that the Institute's library be transferred at once to Moor Park, a Church of England Adult College of which he had hopes of becoming Principal. (Alfred Waldegrave, long-time Chair of the Institute's Council wrote to Farquharson in connection with Moor Park and its staff, "(none) of them has the beginning of an understanding of an approach to social problems and to social organisation by modern scientific method. To commit the care of the Institute's library to their hands would be ludicrous. No doubt they would keep the books dusted, but they are incapable of using them or guiding enquirers in the use of them."(EJL))

During May of that year, Gibson and Demant (who had proposed the motion that the Guild's offer be accepted and that Le Play House remain at Ledbury - referred to thereafter as the 'Demant Resolution') attempted to call an emergency meeting of Council to reconsider the issue, on the grounds that the Guild's offer had been misleadingly presented. (Dorothea wrote scathingly to Ethel Lindgren of 'the dog-collar faction'). A bitter series of public letters followed - Farquharson questioning Demant's position (a co-opted member of the Council since 1946, and not actually an individual member of the Institute; furthermore, holding the position of 'Vice-Chair' which was not provided for in the Memorandum and Articles of Association), and Gibson and Demant eventually resigned. Demant wrote to Council members on 13 June, "I cannot resign positions (Vice-Chairman and member of Council) which I do not hold. But I now desire ... to sever my connection, such as it is, with the Institute altogether." (EJL). Gibson wrote more bitterly to Farquharson, "I propose tendering my resignation as Honorary Secretary of the Institute as soon as I can discover a body competent to receive it."

By the July meeting of Council, it was becoming clear that a number of options were open to the Institute, described by Dorothea in a letter to Ethel Lindgren. Offers to take over all or part of the Institute's library, the Sociological Review and/or the Ruskin Collection were received from

Reading University, whose Professor of Philosophy, H A Hodges was a Ruskin scholar and friend of the Institute

University College Leicester, in particular the adult education division at Vaughan College through its Director, A J Allaway

Edinburgh University, whose Principal, Talbot Rice was interested primarily in the Ruskin collections

Keele Hall, shortly to become the University College of North Staffordshire and then Keele University, whose founder, A J Lindsay had been a long time member of the Council of the Institute.

At the same time, Farquharson was in detailed correspondence with Lewis Mumford over the possibility of some Ruskin material going to Yale (VB1).

From the start, the Farquharsons favoured Keele, which was the only body to make specific suggestions (Council Minutes 3.7.52: EJL), and Council urged that a firm offer be invited. Council also appointed A C McClintock-Currie, the office manager at Ledbury and a "keen Ruskinian" (DF-EJL 20.4.52 : EJL) as Secretary. The following month, Council agreed formally to offer the Sociological Review to the University College of North Staffordshire from the beginning of 1953, and to begin to transfer its library. This was accepted by the University's Council in September (Institute of Sociology Council Minutes 29.10.85 : EJL) It was decided to hold an open meeting of members in December to ascertain opinion on the transfer of the rest of the library and the Institute's extensive survey materials collection. This appears to have been agreed, although the minutes of the meeting do not record a specific decision.

Through the latter part of 1952 and into 1953, discussions at Council meetings also centred on the desirability of selling part or the whole of Le Play House, Ledbury and the timing of any sale to maximise revenue. Central to such considerations, and impressed upon Council most forcibly by Waldegrave and others was the need to ensure continuity of accommodation for the Farquharsons, particularly in view of Alexander's failing health. From early 1953, pressure to sell at least part of Le Play House became stronger, and in April the decision was taken to sell the South Wing and surrounding building land. Council also appointed a new Executive Committee to oversee business at Ledbury, consisting mainly of local members - J L Brewin, Ms C V Butler, W W Lee, Rev J Pearce-Higgins and W A Campbell-Stewart.

Campbell-Stewart, Professor of Education at Keele played a major part in the following two years in assisting the Farquharsons to untangle to complicated interwoven finances of the Institute and the Guild of St George, and in his own words, helping "these two elderly people to arrange the orchestration of running the Institute down" (Campbell-Stewart 1981), without going into bankruptcy. (It has to be remembered that the Institute was still registered and operated as a limited company, not a voluntary organisation or charity.) During the first few months of 1953, a Fund was established to provide for the Farquharsons, amassing a total of over £400 (AF8). Barker and Gooch, who as Past Presidents were the prime movers wrote to them in March, "your work has been a labour of love and you have not toiled in vain. No one has striven more patiently or more successfully to establish the importance of sociology, not merely as an academic discipline but as an aid to good citizenship." (4.3.53 : AF8). Barker added, "Take it easy: shed any and every responsibility in respect of the Institute"

The latter part of 1953 was largely uneventful. Dorothea was preoccupied with the ailing Alexander, and no further Council meetings were held after April. On February 16 1954, Alexander Farquharson died, at the age of 72

A meeting of the Executive was held in March, but no meeting of Council during the whole year. Dorothea was in continued correspondence and contact with Keele University, and spent much of the year sorting papers, and agonising in particular about the fate of Branford's papers, still unedited. By the end of the year, it was clear that the time had come to wind up the affairs of the Institute. A General Meeting of members in January 1955 decided in principle on this course of action, and an Extraordinary General Meeting on 7 July 1955 took the final decision that the Institute be voluntarily wound up under the provisions of the 1948 Companies Act.

Reasons For Decline

All this being so, the reasons for the fairly rapid demise of the Institute of Sociology in the 1950s, and of its subsequent exclusion from almost all accounts of the development of sociology are all the more puzzling. The two aspects are in some ways separate and yet in other ways linked, although there are no demonstrably obvious explanations for either. Rather it was probably the convergence of a number of factors in the immediate post war period, and the development of other factors in the early 1950s that both brought about the extinction of a number of institutions regarded as symptomatic of a bygone age; and at the same time effected their expulsion from a position in the immediate past in a search for more glamorous ancestors from longer ago or further away. In other words, the same trends which can be discerned in fashion, architecture, music and various other art forms also affected sociology - the Regional Survey tradition, which had existed in this country for close on half a century was discarded in exchange for a new, ready made version of the discipline imported wholesale from the United States which had comfortably (at that time) forgotten where it had come from, but which thought itself to be eminently right for the present.

Breaking this rather abstract explanation down into constituent parts, one can identify a number of specific, concrete factors which weakened the Institute after the war

1 The financial difficulties which had plagued the Institute for most of its life, with the exception of a few years in the mid 1930s now became acute. The war had wiped out the value of many of the Branford investments overseas, and a loss of membership subscriptions during the war led to deficits of well over £1000 in 1947 and 1948. (Paradoxically, membership figures appear to have recovered fairly well during this period with the expansion of sociological activity, especially in teacher training). Finance also played a significant part in the decline of the foreign field trips, which had usually been a source of income in the 1930s. Foreign travel was difficult until about 1950, although trips were organised in the late 1940s to Denmark, Belgium and France; but more important was the general increase in tourism, and the rise of the package tour, offering foreign holidays at prices with which the Institute could not hope to compete. (The same difficulties also affected the Le Play Society (Freeman 1983), although because of its base in academic geography, where the idea of the regional survey itself was not also under attack it was able to continue for a few more years).

2 Both the Farquharsons and other prominent figures within the Institute were growing old, and although there were a number of active younger members, they tended on the whole to be either academics who were ultimately more drawn towards the professional (as opposed to the amateur) side of the discipline, or people from other spheres (the Church, University settlements, social work) who would have wished the Institute to move more directly towards their particular field of interest. To put it more simply, there was no one else who shared the ideals of Ruskin, the sociology of Branford and the Geddesian belief in the survey, and who was willing to take on the arduous administrative work involved. To the younger generation of social scientists, the Institute and the Farquharsons appeared already peculiarly dated, "a rather special kind of Edwardian couple" (Campbell-Stewart 1981). Along with steam trains and Victorian city centres, there was no place for them.

3 Part of the reason for the age profile of the Institute's active membership was the wholesale loss of the younger geographers in the split with the Le Play Society in 1932. Although the Le Play Society did not remain in existence much longer than the Institute, and suffered from many of the same weaknesses, it was able to continue foreign fieldwork until well into the 1950s, largely through the support of a loyal core of academic geographers and their students. No such body of academic or students existed in sociology during the 1930s, and when they did begin to appear during the 1950s, participation in the activities of the Institute of Sociology was not uppermost in their minds. Had Le Play House been able to retain more geographers, during a period when human and regional geography were at their strongest (1930 to 1960), it is possible that a new generation of Le Playians might have emerged.

4 By choosing to remain in rural Herefordshire rather than returning to London after the war, the Institute effectively cut itself off from any real position of influence at a time when a great deal was happening in the social science world in which it could have played a more significant part. The location of Le Play House was the subject of major debate at the Institute's Council in 1946 (most major meetings were still held in London); when it was agreed that a London centre should be established, in response to Marshall's paper (Marshall 1946). As Farquharson had written in the 1945 Annual Report, "there was practically universal agreement that the Institute should re-open a headquarters in London at the earliest possible moment" (VB176). However, the purchase of the Ledbury premises in 1946 imposed a considerable strain on the Institute's already weak finances, and a decision on a London centre was postponed until the financial situation should become clearer. The rejection of the London School of Economics's offer to take over the Sociological Review in 1948, which led to the withdrawal of London School of Economics participation in the Institute and active steps being taken to establish both a rival journal and a new organisation effectively condemned Le Play House to permanent rural isolation.

5 The distinction between 'amateur' and 'professional' sociology referred to earlier (Stebbins 1978), although not a distinction which was articulated at the time, can nonetheless in retrospect be seen to have been an underlying factor affecting the future of the Institute. Those in the 'sociological' wing of the Regional Survey movement had, ever since Geddes' rejection for the LSE Chair in 1908, treated the formal academic world with a certain measure of healthy scepticism. Notwithstanding Farquharson's somewhat more pragmatic approach to the LSE in the 1930s following the deaths of Geddes and Branford, Le Play House always avoided becoming too closely involved with the Universities. This policy caused no particular problems in the pre-war period, when not only sociology but also most of the other fields with which the Institute had connections were dominated by amateurs - but after 1945, academic sociology, social work, town planning, market research and even the organisation of study tours abroad all became gradually, or in some cases rapidly 'professionalised', leaving no role for an organisation of dedicated impecunious amateurs. Quite why the amateur tradition in some disciplines (local history, archaeology, botany, ornithology and geology) remains relatively strong is not clear (Stebbins 1978). The rise of town planning, and the inability of the ailing Institute of Sociology to exert any real influence on its development, despite being the heritors of Patrick Geddes who all but invented the idea is perhaps an even more serious failing than its lack of influence in academic sociology.

However, there is a sense in which sociology has suffered by rejecting its amateur heritage. Voluntary investigative educational activities, of the kind initiated by Le Play House do still continue, under many different guises - through the Workers Educational Association, University Extra-Mural Departments, Women's Institutes, Local History associations and many other small, local bodies. The participants do not see themselves as sociologists, nor do they look to Le Play, Geddes or Farquharson for inspiration. But neither do they see themselves as having much in common with the discipline of sociology as it is currently taught and practiced, and they do not concern themselves unduly about the rather vulnerable and marginal position in which it now finds itself. If the new generation of post-war sociologists, whom Halsey categorises as both provincial and professional (Halsey 1982) had been less eager to bury their amateur past, the discipline in general might command more widespread support and understanding today.

The fate of the Institute of Sociology is not dissimilar to that which befell that other manifestation of what Shils calls "thirties naive empiricism", Mass Observation. In explaining not so much its decline, but rather its exclusion from contemporary texts on sociological methodology, Stanley writes

"... sociology continually moves on abandoning old sites for new, tearing down old edifices when age renders them either unsafe or unfashionable, and always replacing the methodological edifices with new structures. The old ruins become unintelligible as the memory of their use becomes obscured by time. At most they remain a mute record of an earlier and arrested development; they represent what might have been as well as an example of a failure to develop. Sociologists seldom visit such sites, and generally find them uninteresting when they do. Like most builders, they look on the ruins as a source of raw materials, blocks to be carried away and used in the new building. Such is the predatory nature of most archival and historical work in sociology" (Stanley 1981)

Writing in 1952, at the time when it first began to be clear that the Institute could not survive C C Fagg, who had himself been involved with the Regional Survey movement since the end of the 19th century wrote to the Farquharsons,

"The Institute appears to be the victim of an Oedipus situation; aggravated by the overall economic condition of the country and the world. The Soc Soc and the Institute have performed a gigantic feat of pioneering in the sociological sphere and you have played a major part in this. But the Institute has given birth to many lusty offspring, chairs of sociology in the universities; and the occupants of these appear to me now to be playing the role of Oedipus. They want to be independent of the old man. Sociology itself will, I think, lose something by this by becoming more rigidly academic. But that is the way of the world, and our consolation is the contemplation of a live of work well done and bearing fruit" (AF8)

By general agreement, the Institute went down in a dignified manner - as Canon Demant wrote at the time of the final meeting, held in January 1957 two years after the dissolution, "It is in one sense a sad funeral: but in another it is a magnificent example of dying properly" (4.1.57 : AF35). Far more sanctimonious tears were shed by other academics and institutions, none of which had done anything to assist the Institute at times when it could possibly have been saved. As John Ross wrote to Farquharson in May 1951, on the news of the establishment of the BSA, "I am surprised that the founders of the British Sociological Association have not only markedly avoided making any mention of the Sociological Society or the Institute, but have conveyed the impression that no such organisation has previously existed. In view of the names appearing on the letter (to The Times (DE)), it suggests a not very creditable lack of candour." The real tragedy however is that the work of two generations and hundreds of individuals in keeping alive the idea of sociology in this country for a quarter of a century is now all but forgotten.

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