Liberty (U DCL)

(formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties)


Significant sections of the Liberty archive will not be available for researchers at Hull History Centre from June to September 2014. If you are planning research over this period and would want to consult material from the Liberty archive, please contact 
J.Burg@hull.ac.uk for further information.

U DCL.183.1 Ronald KiddLiberty is one of Britain's oldest and consistently successful pressure groups. Its origins were set against the background of mass unemployment, hunger marches, the rise of fascism, and the increasing use of anti-democratic methods by sections of local and national government in the early 1930s.

A particular cause for concern was the apparent use by the police of ‘agents provocateurs’ to incite violence during meetings of hunger marchers upon their arrival in London. Ronald Kidd, sometime journalist, stage manager, failed publisher, and then owner of a radical bookshop off the Strand in London, decided to try to set up a permanent watchdog which would operate through the press, its own publications, and Parliament, in order to influence opinion and, where possible, to defend individuals and minority groups.

The inaugural meeting in February 1934 was timed to coincide with the arrival in London of a further large group of hunger marchers. Kidd agreed to become secretary and on 24 February a letter announcing the formation of The Council for Civil Liberties was published in The Times. There proved to be enough issues and events to sustain the organisation, which soon became the National Council for Civil Liberties, during the 1930s and beyond. These included anti-fascism, 'non-flam' films and censorship, and the Haworth Colliery affair.

Ronald Kidd died in 1942 shortly after being replaced as secretary by Elizabeth Allen. The War perhaps inevitably led to a large increase in the restrictions placed on the private individual, principally as a result of various defence regulations. NCCL remained active in many areas, such as protecting the rights of genuine conscientious objectors, of enemy 'aliens', and of the free press. After the War, NCCL continued to operate in defence of civil rights, for example, for members of the armed forces and, most notably, helped to produce the reform of Britain's archaic mental health laws. Martin Ennals succeeded Elizabeth Allen as Secretary in 1960. During the 1960s and 1970s the chief concerns were in the areas of race relations and immigration, and the rights of children, travellers, prisoners and other minorities. A succession of General Secretaries included Patricia Hewett (from 1974) and Andrew Puddephatt (from 1989). Concerns during the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s included: policing and the administration of justice, privacy of information, women's and lesbian and gay rights, and Northern Ireland. In 1989 NCCL changed its name to Liberty. The supporting Cobden Trust (named after Richard Cobden) which had been established as a registered charity in 1963 to undertake research and educational work in the field of civil liberties at the same time became the Civil Liberties Trust. Both organisations are based in headquarters in south London.

The Liberty archive is large and extensive, containing coverage of all aspects of social and political history from the 1930s to, practically, the present. The most recent deposits, covering the mid 1990s onwards, remain uncatalogued. Additional material is received on a regular basis. The archive is particularly valuable for the numerous files covering: the development of fascism, the role of the police, individual rights, freedom of speech, mental health, and women's rights. The focus of Liberty’s work on defending civil liberties and human rights means that a great deal of the archive relates to the law, including criminal law, and the process of upholding, monitoring and reforming the law and the justice system in this country. There are also files relating to the associated Cobden/Civil liberties Trust and the Council for Academic Freedom and Democracy.

2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Liberty as the National Council for Civil Liberties. See their website for further information.