Archives of Peace News

Archive reference: Cwl PN

This large Commonweal Archive covers a newspaper that has documented and encouraged peace movements for over 70 years. The history of  Peace News is that of the peace movement in Britain. Written, edited and read by activists, it reflected and shaped campaigns and debates. Discover its story in our 100 Objects exhibition, Object 94: Pioneering Pacifist Journalism.

A brief history of Peace News

The first issue of Peace News, on 6 June 1936, was financed by a London-based pacifist study group. Peace News soon became the official newspaper of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), formed in 1934 by Dick Sheppard. Humphrey Moore was editor. Peace News reached a peak circulation of 35,000 in 1938. However, circulation dropped during World War II because of restrictions on distribution and printing and divisions within the peace movement. John Middleton Murry, editor from 1940-1946, became disillusioned with pacifism and resigned.

Frank Lea became editor in 1946, assisted by Hugh Brock whose printing firm had produced Peace News during the war. Hugh Brock also worked alongside Bernard Boothroyd (1949-1951) and J. Allen Skinner (1951-1955), before becoming editor himself in 1955. Under Brock, Peace News shifted its focus to nuclear disarmament, non violent direct action and the movement for colonial freedom. Gene Sharp, the American non violence campaigner, joined the staff in 1955 and began to cover the black civil rights movement. Formal links with the PPU were broken in 1961.

Hugh Brock retired as editor in 1964, replaced by Theodore Roszak (1964-1965) and Rod Prince (1965-1967). Thereafter, all the editorial staff became co-editors. During the late 1960s, writers were influenced by counter-cultural ideas, and causes including Biafra, and civil rights in Northern Ireland (through co-editor Bob Overy who moved to Belfast). In 1969 potlatches (regular meetings with readers) began.

Peace News moved its offices to Nottingham in 1974, re-organising as a publishing collective. The newspaper became a fortnightly magazine. In 1975 Peace News won a ‘scoop of the year’ award for its investigation into plans for a private army to break up strikes. Peace News was also closely involved in the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign and was found guilty of contempt of court for its role in the ‘Colonel B’ affair. Peace News encouraged the campaign for nuclear disarmament in Britain in the early 1980s. Financial difficulties led to the disbanding of the collective in 1987; publication was suspended until May 1989. The magazine returned to London and has been co-published with War Resisters’ International since July 1990.

About the Archive

With a few exceptions, the coverage of this archive begins in the late 1950s and is most useful for the 1960s. There are significant gaps, reflecting the nature of the organisation, and the creation and custody of the archives. The Archive includes:

  • Minutes and papers of the Board of Directors, Committees and Working Groups and Peace News Collective.
  • Minutes, lists of participants, correspondence, questionnaires for Peace News conferences, and meetings of readers and supporters, including the Potlatches.
  • Readership survey responses and questionnaires.
  • Editorial correspondence files.
  • Files relating to pamphlets and books published by Peace News, and publicity, including the 50th anniversary in 1986.
  • Over 200 subject files cover organisations, countries, individuals and topics of interest to Peace News, 1948-1987. Key topics include nuclear disarmament and nuclear power, non violent direct action, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the black civil rights movement in the United States, and conscientious objection.

The large photographic collection contains images collected from various sources for possible publication in Peace News, 1942-1990, and illustrates the history of Peace News, individuals, the British peace movement and related groups, and countries. There is extensive coverage of the Anti Apartheid Movement, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Faslane Peace Camp, Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, Molesworth Peace Camp, Torness Alliance, and peace movements in Greece, Italy, the United States and Germany.

The Archive was catalogued as part of the PaxCat Project, with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.