About this Archive
(1910-2003) activist and historian
Noreen Branson was born Noreen Browne, a granddaughter of the 8th Marquess of Sligo. Her mother died of tuberculosis in August 1918. Her father, Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Alfred Browne, was killed in action just 11 days later, so she was left an orphan at the age of eight. Thereafter she and her siblings were brought up by her maternal grandmother at her house in Berkeley Square, London. At 18 she was presented at court. She was passionate about music and insisted on being allowed to study in London. She joined the Bach Choir, through which in 1931 she met her husband, Clive Branson. The son of an Indian Army officer, he was in a similar revolt against privilege. They met at a charity concert in the East End of London and were married in June 1931.
The young couple left the West End and set up home in Battersea. There they were able to use their private incomes to throw themselves into alleviating the wants of the poor of that area. Noreen Branson joining the Independent Labour Party and making herself acquainted with the inequities in the regulations that governed the granting of benefits under the Poor Law of those times.
Meeting the veteran socialist leader Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, she spent a number of years in the 1930s taking messages between the British party and other communist parties overseas. During her husband's absence overseas with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War she also began working for the Labour Research Department. Soon she was publishing articles on social issues in its magazine Labour Research, to which she continued to contribute for the next 60 years.
When the Second World War came, her husband joined the Army and was posted to the Far East. She continued writing for Labour Research, concentrating especially on the problems of the children of workers. Clive Branson was killed in action in Arakan in 1944, and she later published his letters under the title Letters of a British Soldier in India. In 1945 she became editor of Labour Research, continuing to write prolifically for almost every issue, covering the wide range of problems thrown up by the working of the welfare state in those early years of its existence. Her first book, Room at the Bottom, published in 1960 under the nom de plume Katherine Hood, was an analysis of its shortcomings as she perceived them. Britain in the Nineteen Thirties, written with Margot Heinemann and published in 1971 as part of E.J.Hobsbawm's History of British Society series, was a bleak analysis of, as the authors saw it, the failure of the Left to halt the slide to war in that decade.
Branson retired from the editorship of Labour Research in 1972, but continued writing for it and published further works on social history. Britain in the Nineteen Twenties (1976) was another volume in the History of British Society series. Poplarism, 1919-1925 (1979) was an account of the rates rebellion in the poverty-stricken East London borough of Poplar, led by its Labour Mayor, George Lansbury. Branson also contributed to the History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, writing volume three, which covered 1927-41, the fraught period from the aftermath of the General Strike to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This appeared in 1985. Volume four, covering the ten years 1941-51, was published in 1997, by which time she was herself 87. She continued to be busy as a reviewer almost to the end and died in 2003
Scope and Content
Papers of activist and historian Noreen Branson (1910-2003), including:
- Wartime correspondence between Noreen and husband Clive Branson regarding miscellaneous and personal topics, 1941-1943.
- Photographs of artwork and paintings by Clive Branson, n.d.
- Miscellaneous papers, press cuttings and correspondence regarding Clive Branson's death in 1944 and papers concerning Branson's art career, 1941-1944,
- Typescript Communist Party of Great Britain papers of various classes and publications, possibly compiled by Noreen Branson, c1945.
- Handwritten notes on books, pamphlets and conferences, possibly by Branson or Emile Burns, c1945-1950.
- Press cuttings regarding the stock exchange and the economy, 1967.
- Three oil paintings, possibly by Clive Branson, n.d.