The Fabian window - lost for more than 25 years - was unveiled by the prime minister Tony Blair today (Thursday 20 April) during the centenary year of the Labour Party in its new home, the Fabian-founded London School of Economics and Political Science.
The stained glass window was designed by George Bernard Shaw in 1910 as a commemoration of the Fabian Society, and shows fellow Society members Sidney Webb and ER Pease, among others, helping to build 'the new world'.
Now, after a fascinating history, the window is finding a home in the heart of London at LSE, the social science university institution founded by Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb and Shaw in 1895.
At its first home the window was unveiled by Labour prime minister Clement Attlee, also a former LSE lecturer.
Artist Caroline Townshend created the Fabian window, according to Shaw's design in 1910. For whatever reason, Shaw never collected the window from her workshop. The belief is that it remained there until 1947, when Mrs Townsend's niece Eva Bourne, also a stained glass artist, presented it to Beatrice Webb House, Holmbury St Mary, near Dorking. This was the year the house was formally opened by the Webb Memorial Trust as a conference and educational venue for the Labour party and the Fabian Society, officially opened by Clement Attlee.
The window was subsequently stolen from the house in 1978 and surfaced in Phoenix, Arizona, soon after but then disappeared again until it suddenly appeared for sale at Sotheby's in July 2005. The Webb Memorial Trust re-purchased it and have now loaned it to LSE to sit alongside the painting of LSE founders Sidney and Beatrice Webb by William Nicholson in the School's Shaw Library.
Mr Blair spoke about the remarkable way the Fabians influenced the Labour party, not just in its creation but also in its economic, political and intellectual development. 'Despite all the very obvious differences in policy and attitude and positioning... a lot of the values that the Fabians and George Bernard Shaw stood for would be very recognisable, at least I hope they would, in today's Labour party.'
He continued: 'One of the things I think they were best at was being utterly iconoclastic about the traditional thinking that governed our country and indeed constantly, whenever a piece of conventional wisdom came out, they questioned that conventional wisdom in its fundamentals, and did so with remarkable success.'
Mr Blair concluded that he was 'absolutely delighted to come to this extraordinary and august centre of learning, which is similarly associated with the Fabians and the Webbs' for such 'a wonderful and poignant moment'.
Dianne Hayter, vice chair of the Webb Memorial Trust and former general secretary of the Fabian Society, welcomed invited guests to the ceremony. She said: 'The original Fabians would be delighted to see the window located in the Webb-founded LSE. The Fabians helped found the Labour Party which this year celebrates the centenary of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is, therefore, very fitting to see the window back in the UK, and unveiled by a representative of the 2006 PLP.'
Director of LSE Howard Davies said: 'It is a great honour for the School to have this piece of national heritage on campus. The window will be a visible reminder to students, staff and visitors of the School's historical links with Shaw, the Webbs and other Fabians, whose ideas continue to influence our thinking about society, economics and politics.'
For more details about the window, contact:
The window - is set within an oak frame, giving an overall size of 81 x 76cm. Cited as an example of 'Shavian wit', the figures are in Tudor dress to poke fun at Pease who evidently loved everything medieval. The Fabian Society coat of arms is shown as a wolf in sheep's clothing. The first man, crouching on the left, is HG Wells, cocking a snook at the others. He is followed by the actor-manager Charles Charrington, Aylmer Maude (translator of Tolstoy's War and Peace), G Stirling Taylor (reading a book, New Worlds for Old), and the dentist F Lawson Dodd. The women, from left to right, are Maud Pember Reeves (mother of Amber Reeves, who bore Wells a daughter in 1909), Miss Hankin, the suffragist Miss Mabel Atkinson, Mrs Boyd Dawson, and, at the end, the artist who made the window, Caroline Townshend herself.
The Webb Memorial Trust - the Trust was established in 1944 as a memorial to Beatrice Webb, one of the co-founders of LSE. Trustees at the time included Walter Citrine, Richard Tawney and Harold Laski. The Trust's first act was to obtain a substantial mortgage from the Transport & General Workers Union to purchase a large Victorian country house near Dorking in Surrey and re-name it Beatrice Webb House. The Trust's intention was to use this as a conference centre for 'the advancement of education and learning with respect to the history and problems of government and social policy'. So it became a resource to further the education and organisational skills of bodies involved in the Labour movement. In the subsequent 30 years, it was widely used by the Labour Party, the Fabian Society and trade unions for weekend and summer schools.
Following considerable decline in the demand for such basic facilities in the 1970s and 80s (and the increasing running costs of a large Victorian house), the Trust ran into debt and was obliged to sell the property in 1986. The proceeds were invested and have been used to fund a number of projects both in the UK and in Eastern Europe to promote economic and social justice and democratic structures. For many years the Trust has funded single term scholarships in areas such as labour relations and economic and social history for students from emerging Eastern European countries at Ruskin College, Oxford.
Over the next three years the Trust will be funding a major resource project looking at changes in government policy over the last 60 years aimed at reducing deprivation, identifying what has worked and what has not, and suggesting what now needs to be done. The project will report in 2009, the 100th anniversary of the publication of Beatrice Webb's Minority Report to the Poor Law Commission. http://www.webbmemorialtrust.org.uk/
The Fabian Society
The Fabian Society is Britain's leading centre-left think-tank and political society. Founded in 1884, early members included George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, Emmeline Pankhurst and HG Wells. The Society joined with trade unionists in 1900 to found the Labour Party, to which it has remained affiliated ever since, while its editorial and financial independence have made it a consistent source of constructive, critical debate across the political left. Influential Fabian authors included Annie Besant, RH Tawney, GDH Cole, Tony Crosland, Richard Titmuss, Peter Townsend, Brian Abel-Smith, Tony Benn, Denis Healey, Ben Pimlott, Tony Blair, Robin Cook and Gordon Brown.
Fabian pamphlets first proposed a minimum wage in 1906, the National Health Service in 1911, and the abolition of hereditary peers in 1917. The Parliamentary Labour Party was said to 'look just like an enormous Fabian school' after Labour's 1945 landslide with over 200 Fabians elected to Parliament (a feat repeated in 1997).
Today the Fabian Society has a growing national membership of over 6,000 plus 65 Local Societies around the UK supporting the Society's prominent role in national debates. The theme of the first Fabian pamphlet (Why are the Many Poor?) remains central, with current research focused on ending child poverty and narrowing inequalities in life chances. www.fabians.org.uk
Wandering window, p7 (28 Apr 06)
Picture article features the Fabian Window. After a 96-year journey that took it halfway across the world, the Fabian Window, designed by George Bernard Shaw in 1910 to commemorate the Fabian Society, has finally found a home at the Fabian-founded LSE. Tony Blair unveiled the window last week.
BBC News Online
Wit, wisdom and windows (27 Apr 06)
While the centenary of Samuel Beckett's birth is being marked by a global celebration, 2006 also marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of fellow countryman, and playwright, George Bernard Shaw - an occasion that Tony Blair celebrated by opening the Fabian window at LSE.
Press Association Newsfile
Blair pledge to visit to pensioners' flats (20 Apr 06)
Reference to Tony Blair's visit to LSE to unveil a stained-glass window. The historic window, depicting George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb and other early members of the Fabian Society, was previously unveiled in 1947 by the then Labour prime minister Clement Attlee. It later vanished before turning up in Phoenix, Arizona, and appearing for sale at Sotheby's in July last year. Mr Blair said the unveiling was a 'wonderful and poignant'' moment. On his visit to LSE he said he had looked at a record of an early Labour Party meeting. "The topic of conversation was party funding," he joked. Director of LSE Howard Davies welcomed Mr Blair.
updated 20 April 2006