Liberty (formerly National Council for Civil Liberties)

Background to the Collection

Founding members of the organisation included Ronald Kidd, Silvia Scaffardi, Dr Edith Summerskill and Claude Cockburn. The inaugural meeting was held at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London on 22 February 1934. The organisation was founded on opposition to unemployment benefit cuts and anti-fascism. During the Second World War the organisation supported conscientious objectors and the freedom of the press and BBC.

During the 1940s and 1950s the organisation’s activities became more heavily focused on helping those unable to defend themselves, such as children and those with mental illnesses. The 1970s and 1980s saw issues move towards the defence of women’s rights and campaigns supporting gay rights.

In the 1960s the organisation established the Cobden Trust to undertake research and educational work in the field of civil liberties. This trust would later become the Civil Liberties Trust when NCCL changed its name to Liberty in the early 1990s.

What is in the collection?

Material in the collection (ref U DCL) covers the period 1908-1990s. Records consist largely of subject files on a wide variety of issues such as police, conscription, conscientious objection, censorship, peace movement, equal pay, capital punishment, anti-Semitism, discrimination in employment, mental health, fascism and anti-fascism. Files contain correspondence, press cuttings, notes, reports, circulars etc.

What areas of research would the collection support?

This collection would support research into a wide range of issues. The overarching theme of the collection is civil liberties and defence of rights. The collection could also be used to demonstrate the operation of voluntary organisations during the 20th century.

Are there any access issues?

Material deposited after 1990 is currently uncatalogued. Please contact the History Centre if you have any questions about the uncatalogued material.

Please also note that some sensitive information may be closed under data protection legislation. Where this is the case, indication is given in individual item descriptions on the online catalogue.

Is there any related material?

Related material can be found in the following collections:

  • Records of Sylvia Scaffardi (ref U DSF)
  • File relating to Ronald Kidd in the Dictionary of Labour Biography papers (ref U DLB/13/158) 

Please see our politics and campaigning page for further guidance on our political collections.