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 rich grime of Waterloo Station and a high, sensible old taxi taking me deviously through Westminster to Pimlico, with glimpses of the green Embankment, the playing fields of Westminster School, the helmeted policemen with chin-straps, the black uniformed bemedaled messengers, the towers of the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, till, after turning through Churton Street with its dreary little shops, we finally halted at the headquarters of the Sociological Society, Le Play House.
In effect, Le Play House was a New York brownstone with an English basement, newly done over with a coat of muddy stucco. The reek of coal fires, still omnipresent then, hung in the air: an odour I used to find as pleasantly haunting as the dim aroma of a skunk - when inhaled from a sufficient distance. There were two rooms to a floor, except at the top, where my narrow room allowed three; but however austere the furnishings of my cell were, it was bright and cheerful, for it faced west, and there was a glass of flowers - five narcissus and a tulip ! - with a note on the mantelshelf. The young woman who had left them, Branford's part-time secretary, Dorothy Celia Loch, began with that gesture our lifelong friendship." (Mumford 1982:255)
At the end of the War therefore, there existed a number of nominally separate bodies, albeit with overlapping personnel, which shared a common interest in the Regional Survey, and its application to education, town planning, social work and general 'civic betterment'. In the light of this, Victor Branford, who was himself only directly involved with the Sociological Society (and peripherally with the Regional Association) decided in 1920 to obtain premises which could serve as a base for the Sociological Society and provide rooms for other like-minded organisations. Consequently, in April 1920 Le Play House was officially opened at 65 Belgrave Road, Westminster, the first of four houses to bear the name. Initially it served the Sociological Society alone, which had been at the London School of Economics during the war; but during 1920 the Civic Education League, the Regional Association and one or two minor organisations moved in. Two new bodies were established at once - Sociological Publications (later Le Play House Press) to handle books, pamphlets and the Sociological Review, and the Sociological Trust to administer the finances of the House.
The establishment of Le Play House marks the beginning of the organised Regional Survey Movement in this country - for as long as Le Play House existed, funded initially by Victor Branford in person and later (and more tenuously) by his legacies, a base and a centre existed to further both the idea and practice of the survey, and also (and this was a condition of Victor Branford's will) the particular approach to sociology and 'social betterment' with which Branford was associated.
The aims were therefore on the one hand fairly obvious and practical - the carrying out of Regional and Civic surveys, both with a view to the expansion of scientific knowledge and the education of those involved. But at another level they are somewhat more nebulous - the notion of 'social betterment' stems from Branford and Geddes' political philosophy, which was in many ways the underlying rationale behind the whole movement. The Regional Survey, or 'Regionalism', which "lays stress upon family life, contacts with nature, the significance of labour, the interests of locality" was one of three interrelated schools of thought prevalent in the world at the time which they commend. The second was 'Humanism', which "sees the progress of mankind as an unfolding of ideas and ideals ... a view of life and the world inimical to the Prussian cult of force"; and the third 'Civism' or "constructive betterment ... child welfare ... repair and renewal of historic cities ... tidying up of confused industrial towns ... guidance and gardening of their suburban growth". Regionalism and Humanism are, according to Branford and Geddes "two poles of man's world ... and the art of civics is his mariner's compass". (Branford and Geddes|1917)
The general parameters of Branford and Geddes' political programme is most clearly enunciated in the series of books and pamphlets published in the aftermath of the War under the general title of 'The Making of the Future', and especially in "The Coming Polity" quoted above which was published in 1917. It involves the search for a 'third way' as an alternative to 'the Party of Order' or 'the Party of Revolution' (neither term being used to refer to any specific existing political party) - and at a more general level, an alternative to the twin evils of "Prussianism - the cult of force in statecraft" and "Profiteering - the striving for monopoly by the ruthless elimination of rivals". (Branford consistently cites the polarisation between what he calls 'Prussian' and 'Gallic' values; the one representing all that is worst in the modern world, and the other all that is best; although of course the allusion is somewhat romanticised). Branford and Geddes wanted a movement for social reconstruction along the kind of lines suggested by John Ruskin, William Morris and others who would probably be defined as 'romantic socialists', but among whom they numbered, somewhat incongruously Frederic Le Play. They felt that the Great War marked the possibility of a turning point in civilisation, "a grand conversion which would alter all the dominant values of Imperialist Society, even as Christianity had transformed those of Rome" (Mumford 1948:378) - indeed it could be argued that the whole of Branford's, if not Geddes', sociology hinged upon the extent to which his ideas were taken up in the post-war period. They were not taken up - although they and he were not without influence in fairly high places (A J Balfour, who had been Prime Minister in the early years of the century was President of the Sociological Society for a time, and other peers and establishment figures were sympathetic). But overall, the impact of Branford's political programme was not as great as he would have liked. (The economic side of things was more the province of Branford than Geddes, with his background in finance; both his wife Sybella and an accountant colleague, John Ross also wrote and lectured extensively on Social Credit. The reasons for this lay partly in the style and tone of writing, which was conscious and deliberate, but which had unintended consequences. The attempt to synthesise facts and values, science and arts, the practical and the poetic, "Science and Sanctity" and "Interpretations and Forecasts" did not lend itself to being taken seriously, but it was very much a part of their world view - "(Branford and Geddes) saw thought as an organic process. Instead of ejecting feeling and sentiment, they sought to integrate them in rational thinking" (Mumford 1948:378). This was a resolute attempt to bring together seemingly incompatible strands of thought and action, and both men were nothing if not practical. Branford's politics were grounded, as he says in "The Drift to Revolution"(1917-20) "not on abstract shibboleths, but upon definite, concrete, realisable aims" - aims which in retrospect have sometimes been realised, but never with any mention of where they, at least in part originated. Branford was in some ways an aspiring philanthropist who never had quite enough resources or the organisational ability to see his schemes through to fruition, seeming instead to display only "a wild devotion to losing causes and remote ideals" (Mumford 1948:376).
Although Alexander Farquharson very quickly became effectively the organiser and moving force behind Le Play House, Branford's original intention was that the post of Editor of 'Sociological Review' should go to the young American, Lewis Mumford. Mumford had read Geddes' work on biology and architecture while a student in New York, and found it "singled itself out from the many stirring contemporary voices then clamouring for attention ... (it) roused something in my soul that no one else had yet touched." (1982:144) From Geddes, Mumford realised the importance of 'the city' as a unit of study in its own right - in the United States at that time, he notes, "only a handful of books about the nature of the city ... existed", and even those contained "little insight into the nature of the city itself as the organic shell of a living community." (1982:150) (Mumford notes later in the same chapter that Geddes' influence in this respect on the work of the Chicago School in the United States, through Charles Zueblin, is almost unremarked.) From 1917 onwards, Mumford engaged in correspondence with Geddes, then in India, and plans were conceived for him to work with Geddes at Outlook Tower. After the war, Mumford worked for the New York literary review USThe Dial UE (until being dismissed in November 1919 when the journal changed ownership), and reviewed Branford and Geddes' 'The Coming Polity'. Branford was impressed by the review, and on learning of Mum fords dismissal, offered him the job of Editor of the Sociological Review (at the same time as Geddes was offering him a job as research assistant at the new University of Jerusalem which he had built.) Mumford notes, "since Geddes' offer was somewhat vague as to both duties and pay, while Branford's was more definite, I decided to go through with the latter" (Mumford 1982:253), in pursuance of which he arrived in London in April 1920. He spent five months in London, eventually deciding against taking up the post on a permanent basis (it went instead to Farquharson); but his account of the time spent in London and at Le Play House form the most detailed contemporary record of that institution in both its formal and informal work. Farquharson, who was to become a lifelong friend recognised his importance early on; in a letter to his future wife in July 1920, Mumford writes, "the future of the Sociological Society, Farquharson said yesterday ... depends upon whether we have enough money to buy Mr Mumford. I am glad I put my price up reasonably high".(1979:63) Despite not being 'bought', in the sense of becoming a permanent full-time worker, Mumford worked with Branford and Farquharson for several months, attending the Civic Education League's Summer School in High Wycombe and many London meetings of the Sociological Society. He remained very close to Le Play House throughout its existence; (one of Farquharson's last acts at Le Play House in 1953 was to name a room after Mumford, although the house was sold within a couple of years).
Mumford's relationship with Geddes (both the man and his philosophy) was more tempestuous, going through phases of idolatry, interspersed with periods of despair and frustration. Their face to face meetings were often hurried and unsatisfactory; "Nobody, once within Geddes's orbit, somehow ever found it possible to break into his endless soliloquy and get down to work. His time and other people's time rarely coincided." (Gladys Mayer, quoted in Mumford 1982:153). Mumford compared the way in which Branford, as his host on his first visit to England had taken time to get acquainted socially before engaging in planning for the future - Geddes had launched straight into grand schemes for which the young Mumford was emotionally unprepared. Geddes was inclined to treat Mumford as the image of his son Alistair, killed in France in 1917, presenting a psychological situation "too violent, too urgent" for Mumford to handle. Their personal relationship never reached the level of their mutual admiration of each other's qualities - and gradually, Mumford's attachment to Geddesian philosophy waned (Mumford 1966). He remained a powerful influence however, summed up by Mumford in Nietzsche's words on Schopenhauer, 'what he taught is put aside; what he lived, that will abide." (Mumford 1982:158). 'In many cases', Mumford concludes, '(Geddes) paid the penalty of the pioneer: by being thirty years too early he was forgotten - or rather, never even discovered.' (Mumford 1982:147).
For the first three years of Le Play House's existence, the Civic Education League, the Regional Association and the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society, all having much the same rationale and much the same active membership remained in existence as separate organisations. Only the Civic Education League maintained any kind of regular activity, organising schools, conferences and fieldwork both in Britain and abroad (see Section 5.5 below), and belying Hilliard's contention that it folded in 1919 (Hilliard 1961). The Sociological Society's Cities Committee and the Society itself were relatively inactive, organising occasional meetings. The Regional Association, consisting of a number of geographers, discussed amalgamation with the Geographical Association in 1921, but decided against it (14.10.21 : VB208). The following year, Farquharson suggested to the Regional Association that if it was to continue at all, "it might be well to mark out a narrow line of effort and get ahead actively on it", (7.4.22 : VB208), referring to the organisation of a regular survey exhibition at Le Play House. From late 1922 onwards, moves towards some form of amalgamation between at least the Regional Association, the Civic Education League and the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society were being actively canvassed, although Branford was resolutely opposed to the Sociological Society itself losing its separate identity (7.12.22 : VB208). Paradoxically, the most active organisation, the Civic Education League does not appear to have held any meetings as such - although the Annual Report of the Directors (of Le Play House) for 1923 records that Alexander Farquharson acted as Chairman and that an Annual General Meeting was held in December 1923. No minutes exist in the Keele archives however.
Le Play House was officially controlled by its Directors, elected from each of the constituent bodies - these were Victor and Sybella Branford and Alexander Farquharson from the Sociological Trust (which owned the House, Victor Branford having formally handed it over in 1921 (VB206)), H V Lanchester from the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society, Amy Holman from the Civic Education League and Valentine Bell from the Regional Association. Le Play House Educational Tours, which had taken over the foreign field trips initiated by the Civic Education League did not have a seat.
Amalgamation was formally agreed by the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society in April 1923, and by the Civic Education League and the Regional Association at separate meetings in December 1923. From January 1924, all activity was carried on under the Le Play House banner. The only exception was the Sociological Society, which held infrequent meetings and really existed in name alone, largely on Branford's insistence on keeping space for what he chose to call 'pure sociology'.
From the start, there was a need for some guidelines as to what exactly a 'Regional Survey' was, how it was to be carried out, who was to finance it, and what its purposes were. In some ways, the absence of any clear statement of intent at the start was responsible for the problems which Le Play House and the Institute of Sociology were to face later - as Mumford wrote to Patrick Geddes in May 1931, "surely it was contrary to your own teachings to build the building first and then seek to attract the pupils. That is our own weak American method; the method that produces palatial buildings and fills them with vacant minds" (Mumford 1979:114).
During the 1920s therefore, several papers and pamphlets were produced, mainly by Farquharson, although Geddes and Branford had more than a passing interest, attempting to explain the organisation and uses of the survey both for the student and for the putative 'consumer'. The first emanating from Le Play House was "An Introduction to Regional Surveys" by Farquharson and Sybella Branford, issued in 1924, and prepared at the invitation of the Sociological Society's Cities Committee, although it was based loosely on an earlier pamphlet by Fagg prepared for the South Eastern Union of Scientific Societies (Fagg 1928). The pamphlet expounds a fairly orthodox Le Play/Geddes model of Place-Work-Folk, interpreted somewhat mechanistically, although with a more practical emphasis than Geddes' writings at that level. It is written, according to the introduction, "to meet the needs of Civic Societies and similar groups", groups which were becoming interested in surveys in fairly substantial numbers at this time - and there is explicit recognition that such surveys will most likely be undertaken by volunteers, "people without much specialised knowledge and skill". The pamphlet was reissued in 1947, more as a tribute to Sybella Branford than as a guide which would still have been of use at that time - indeed, as an official statement of Le Play House policy on the conduct of surveys, it was replaced by "Social Surveys and Community Organisation", first issued in 1931. Nonetheless, in describing the 'folk and work' aspects of town surveys, the authors suggest methods that are considered novel by many social researchers even today - 'competent observers' they write, 'might photograph typical street corner gatherings, typical bands of youths ... typical factory door crowds. Each institution might be asked to record its own activities in a series of photographs'. The preparation of exhibitions, which would then be displayed in (among other sites) the place where the survey was done is not far removed from some innovatory forms of contemporary ethnography. Although the emphasis tends towards epidemiological and quantitative mapping without any very specific purpose, there is evidence throughout of sociological sensitivity combined with an immense practicality, two qualities which are not always found together.
It was at about the same time (the mid 1920s) that the Sociological Review first began carrying reports of regional surveys; and the period from 1924 to 1929 was one in which both the form that surveys should take, and the means by which they should be carried out attracted considerable attention. It was during this period too that Farquharson was first engaged in full scale surveys for outside bodies rather than for students on Le Play House courses; and an internal paper produced for the Le Play House Council in 1927 shows a marked difference in approach from that of the Branford and Farquharson pamphlet referred to above. In this, Farquharson talks specifically of the 'civic' survey rather than the 'regional' survey; and gives a greater emphasis to the social life of the area, its development from the point of view of the adequacy of its social services and its likely future needs in this direction, with a correspondingly reduced section on environmental factors. ("It should be noted that these need not occupy a great length of time"(Farquharson 1927)). Considerable space is however devoted to describing the importance of studying the work of existing voluntary organisations, and the scope of their activities; evidence of the growing relationship of Le Play House survey work to social service and away from geography.
Throughout the 1920s, Le Play House became more involved in carrying out surveys in particular localities at the specific invitation of outside bodies, or in conjunction with such outside bodies - examples include Chester (Council of Social Welfare), Southampton (Council of Social Welfare - this was prior to and separate from Percy Ford's published survey of the town (Ford 1934), Middlesborough (Guild of Health), Margate (Council of Social Service), Hastings (Twenty One Club), Tynemouth (Rotary Club/Council of Social Service - the survey was directed and the results published by Henry Mess (1928)), Melton Mowbray (Rotary Club) and Brynmawr (Society of Friends). (Farquharson and Marie Jahoda were later involved with another Quaker research project in Wales in the late 1930s directed by Peter Scott (AF42) (Jahoda 1982)). Not all of these surveys were published, and the involvement of Le Play House varied from advice in the early stages to total control of the project.
In most of these cases however, there is evidence of Farquharson's connections with voluntary social service work both before and immediately after the war. The work and philosophy of the Charity Organisation Society has been discussed above (Section 4.3). More directly related to social survey interests were the British Institute of Social Service, established in 1907 "to promote civic, social and industrial betterment" (Brasnett 1969), and the National Council of Social Service founded in 1919. At about the same time, a number of local social welfare organisations were formed, one of the earliest of which was the London Social Welfare Association (1910 - later the London Council of Social Service). There was reciprocal exchange of ideas between these councils and Le Play House, and several members of the Council of Le Play House and later the Institute of Sociology were workers in such organisations. From about 1924 onwards, the National Council of Social Service, aware that the distinction between urban and rural problems was no longer particularly valid turned its attention towards the idea of regions, and with the aid of a grant from the Carnegie UK Trust began in 1924 a survey of social services in two areas, Cheshire and Fifeshire where there was no clear distinction between town and country and Farquharson, together with the town planner Patrick Abercrombie was involved in both surveys.
This kind of activity became a regular feature of Le Play House work in the late 1920s, and created a measure of influence for the organisation - it also led to a certain measure of disagreement between Farquharson and both Branford and Geddes. Farquharson wrote to Branford in 1927, "we have already secured some recognition as authorities on surveys in connection with the early stages of the (Sheffield) scheme. If we retain our hold, and negotiate a sound scheme of co-operation which will leave me free for other work here, and also in connection with other surveys, we shall I think have taken a decisive step in securing our position with regard to the further development of the survey movement" (20.2.27|:|AF160). He was explicit about the reasons for Le Play House not being able to capitalise on what he saw as its true potential - an overemphasis on formulae at the expense of practical involvement - writing to Branford in 1926 that, "if it is desired to reorganise the Sociological Society in the near future, I do not think it would be advisable for Geddes to include it in his field of work. As you know, the chief reason for the present weakness of the Sociological Society is that no reputable student, outside the ranks of the Geddesians, will take any active part in its work, and this state of things cannot be remedied by further Geddesian propaganda". (5.12.26 : AF160) In the light of this, he was also more sceptical of over-emphasis of the Le Play formula in survey work and sociology more generally, writing to Geddes in 1929, in connection with a project for the Hutchinson University Library volume on sociology that, "it is essential to sweep aside all this hackneyed treatment of the Place, Work Folk theory. Its radical defect is that it tries to demonstrate unity by analytical methods ... it tries to suggest the unity of Place, Work and Folk by separating these three elements. Many of our members tell us that they are thoroughly tired of the vain repetition of those terms and get no meaning out of them". (2.5.29 : VB243). He pursued the same theme too in his negotiations on behalf of Le Play House with the London School of Economics, trying to persuade Ginsberg to take a more active part in the Sociological Society; "We put to Ginsberg clearly and specifically the question as to whether and on what terms he and any of his colleagues are prepared to take any part in the work of the Sociological Society. He answered with equal clarity and definition that they are not ready to do so unless a radical reorganisation, involving the retirement of Geddes and yourself to purely honorary positions should take place". In the same letter however Farquharson notes that, "(Ginsberg) further thought it would be good to extend and make known our survey activities, which he thinks useful and on lines which the LSE is unlikely, indeed unable to touch" (9.12.27 : AF160)
The issue was not resolved - indeed, it continued to surface throughout the early 1930s, both with regard to the general practical value of carrying out surveys, and in the context of the relationship between the professional and educational side of survey work. It was also a factor in the growing distance between the various disciplines (sociology and geography, and later psychology and market research) which were already, or were shortly to become, involved in developing the social survey. Indeed, had it been resolved at all satisfactorily at any stage, there is every chance that the influence of Le Play House on the mainstream of British social research would have been considerably greater.
In some ways, the most representative work of Le Play House was its foreign field work, undertaken during the 85 or so trips between 1921 and 1952 (See Appendix D) to places as diverse as Scandinavia, North Africa and the Soviet Union, with a considerable number to rural parts of what is now Eastern Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s. The first trip was to Belgium in April 1921; the last to the Pyrenees in 1952. The trips were organised initially by the Civic Education League, whose secretary in 1921, Margaret Tatton had been a close friend and colleague of Farquharson's since well before the war. Although Farquharson led the trip and many others thereafter, it was probably Margaret Tatton's aptitude for the more routine aspects of organisation (Beaver 1982; Freeman 1983) which enabled the tours to achieve the importance that they did. Prior to his arrival at Le Play House, Farquharson's approach appears to have somewhat less active. Mumford recalls a conversation with Branford in 1920 in which Branford had suggested a winter vacation in Egypt to investigate theories on the origins of civilization - Farquharson's response was, "That is the difference between you and me, Branford. I was just thinking that it would be nice to spend a winter in the British Museum reading about Egypt". (Mumford 1954:17). However, within the space of a few years both Farquharson and Le Play House became converted to the importance of practical experience, and foreign tours became a valuable source both of that experience and also of income. Following a highly successful tour to Norway in 1923 (Le Play House 1923), Le Play House Educational Tours became an independent organisation within Le Play House, in some ways a travel company with educational overtones. Tours varied in size and duration, although most lasted about two weeks with between 20 and 30 students, recruited by leaflets, and advertisements in the Sociological Review and geographical journals. The aim was primarily educational, but there was also the suggestion that work of real scientific value could be done. Groups were usually led by academics in geography, history, biology or other natural sciences, with the interests of the leader playing a large part in determining the direction that the work took. Tours led by Farquharson tended to produce more sociological accounts, if only in the sense of speaking more of history, culture and lifestyle than environment - but there were many tours whose bias was almost wholly biological or geological. Most trips produced reports, often including maps, charts and lanternslides, many of which remain in the archives at Keele. They comprise a valuable and underused source of evidence on life in Europe between the wars.
From 1927 onwards, disagreement began to arise at Le Play House over the organisation of foreign fieldwork. The problems were partly personal, in the relationship between Margaret Tatton and others involved in the organisation of tours (Farquharson, Dorothea Price, Eileen Thomas and Eleanor Spear, the Secretary to Le Play House); but they were also academic, in that Tatton, Le Play House Educational Tours (renamed the Foreign Fieldwork Committee of Le Play House in 1928) and the Le Play House Students Committee (which also organised its own tours in the late 1920s under K C Edwards, later Professor of Geography at Nottingham) were becoming more strongly slanted towards geography, which had by then a stronger institutional base in schools and universities than sociology. Academic geographers, especially C C Fawcett, H J Fleure, Arthur Geddes, J L Myres and L Dudley Stamp were involved both with the organisation of tours and as tour leaders (Freeman 1983); and the Geographical Association was becoming more generally interested in survey work, forming a Regional Survey Committee in 1926 (Fagg 1928). The period around 1930 was incidentally an important one in the development of Human Geography (Roxby 1930: Freeman 1980), and one in which the Regional idea achieved probably its greatest prominence within the discipline.
Relationships between the Tours Association and the rest of Le Play House deteriorated markedly from the summer of 1927 onwards, due apparently to personal disagreements between Margaret Tatton, Dorothea Price (later Farquharson) and Alexander Farquharson, which arose at a field trip to the Pyrenees. Tatton's letters to Dorothea earlier in the year are friendly and give no indication of any friction (in February 1927, inviting Dorothea to lead the trip Margaret Tatton writes, "personally, I know of no-one who would do it better than you" (8.2.27 : AF99)). By July however, it was apparent that personal animosity between Margaret Tatton and Dorothea Price, probably over the latter's deepening friendship with Alexander Farquharson, was souring their work. By September, the disagreements had been brought to the attention of Trustees by Margaret Tatton, in a manner which to Farquharson suggested that they did not perhaps 'quite reflect the views of the Committee as a whole' (AF99). In October Margaret Tatton wrote to Dorothea "Neither of us can fail to realise that the position between us is so critical that on the surface it looks as if our friendship must end." From then on, relationships between Margaret Tatton, Farquharson and the majority in Le Play House deteriorated, and with them, the relationships between the Tours Committee, the Students Committee and the mainstream activities of the House. In late 1928, the Tours Association was designated the Foreign Work Committee of Le Play House, and an agreement drawn up for the duration of 1929, effectively defining separate spheres of activity. (VB215) It was a trial separation which was never reversed, and culminated in the split between the Institute of Sociology and the Le Play Society in 1931 (see Section 6.2)
More important however than the personal disputes in the area of foreign fieldwork were the moves, instigated at about the same time, to bring about the full amalgamation of Le Play House, the Sociological Society and all their disparate activities into one body. In March 1927, Farquharson reported to the Le Play House Council in detail on the background to the problem (VB206). In 1925, full powers had been given to the Trustees to annul or reconstruct the original constitution of Le Play House, as they might think fit, in the light of incipient financial difficulties. However, the long illness and eventual death of Sybella Branford, who was one of the trustees delayed this work, and in any event, the financial position of the House appears to have improved during 1926. It was with renewed optimism that an Advisory Council was established in October 1926 to investigate the possibilities for the future, and the activities of Le Play House were summarised as being general propaganda work in connection with regional surveys and sociology; meetings in London for propaganda purposes and discussions of topics of interest; survey meetings in different parts of the country for training workers and for the study of particular districts; surveys in town or country areas by skilled workers in response to local needs; publications, especially the Sociological Review; and foreign tours, then in the hands of the Le Play House Educational Tours Association. Farquharson noted particularly that 'Le Play House (i.e. the Trustees) has no (financial) responsibility for Le Play House Press or Le Play House Educational Tours'; and that 'the Sociological Society, which was established many years before the foundations of the House has its offices here, and is maintained as a separate organisation, while cooperating formally and informally with the House in many ways.'
In October 1927, a Committee was established containing representatives from the Sociological Society (Victor Branford and Reginald Wellbye), the Sociological Trust (Alexander Farquharson and Harold Gurney) and Le Play House (G L Pepler and H V Lanchester) (VB181) to look at co-operation and ultimately amalgamation. Proposals put forward in 1927 by Branford suggested a number of guidelines
Despite general agreement on the benefits of such a scheme, there is evidence of serious concern on the part of Branford and others of the 'old guard' of the Sociological Society that their particular interests might be lost in the clamour for more practical applied work, in other words, more surveys. Writing to the Trustees in September 1928, Branford remarks, "Looking back, I am inclined to think that it was a mistake not to have enlarged the scope of the (Sociological) Society, so that it could carry on all the things that Le Play House as a separate organisation now does. (VB216)" However, he went on to concede that "some merging of Le Play House ... and members in the Sociological Society would help to develop all those survey activities in a sociological direction, and to go towards preventing what tends at present to happen, namely the arrest of such surveys at what might be called a pre-sociological state." As a result, concessions were made to Branford - it was agreed that the new Institute should have a special 'sociology committee' to ensure that 'pure sociology' be strengthened and maintained; a 'Sociology Group' led by Geoffrey Davies and Reginald Wellbye existed for a while, but does not appear to have done a great deal. It was also agreed to add a paragraph defining Civic and Regional Surveys as "sociological studies of human communities, or any aspect or activity of such communities" to the draft constitution of the Institute of Sociology. For much of the time when amalgamation was being most actively discussed, during 1928 and 1929 Branford was out of the country, and he wrote in alarm to Eleanor Spear (Secretary to Le Play House) that he was 'unaware that the amalgamated scheme between Le Play House and the Sociological Society had gone as far' (2.12.29 AF166). Branford was especially concerned about the future of the Sociological Review, in that it had 'been allowed to drift away from the other activities', and was only continuing to be published because of his personal interest in its survival. Branford's letter provoked energetic correspondence from other members of the Sociological Society Committee and Le Play House Executive to Spear through December 1929, anxious to ensure that procedures had been correctly followed, and culminating in an offer to delay proceeding until he was well enough to return. Branford's prime concern was that the legal position of the Trustees, which required that they be elected by the Council of the Sociological Society would be jeopardised by any premature dissolution of that body, especially while a vacancy existed for a trustee to replace Sybella Branford.
However, legal opinion sought by Le Play House was to the effect that the Council of the Sociological Society, not itself having been formally elected since 1925, was not a competent body to appoint trustees (VB 160). In the event, matters were resolved without further dispute, and concurrent Annual General Meetings of Le Play House and the Sociological Society were held on 24 January 1930, which resulted in the establishment of an Institute of Sociology by the formal amalgamation of the two bodies.
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