Why Victor Grayson?

In the final weeks of my undergraduate degree a decade ago I was searching for a biography of Hugh Gaitskell called Leader Lost by Geoffrey McDermott.  Inexplicably this was out on loan but a slim volume nearby was called Labour’s Lost Leader by David Clark.  Was this too about Gaitskell? How many ‘lost leaders’ could the Labour Party have?

Despite David Clark’s volume having nothing whatsoever to do with Hugh Gaitskell and my essay deadline on the Gaitskellites beckoning, I was drawn into his story of Victor Grayson and I sat and read it from cover to cover.  The story of Grayson’s life gripped me and I traced a copy of Reg Groves’ The Strange Case of Victor Grayson (1975) which added a certain amount of colour to Clark’s later work but lacked serious scholarship.  Nevertheless I tried to track down the three earlier biographies;  Reg Groves’ The Mystery of Victor Grayson (1946), W. Thompson’s two biographies from 1910 A. Victor Grayson, MP: England’s Most Illustrious Socialist Orator – His History, Speeches and Future (1910) and Victor Grayson: His Life and Work: An Appreciation and a Criticism (1910).  These are scarce books and at the time I couldn’t source copies.  That was that, or so I thought.

Fast forward to the winter of 2012 and I was out campaigning with the local Labour Party in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections for which none of us had much enthusiasm.  We retreated from the awful weather to a local councillor’s house to dry out and have a cup of tea.  The majority of those present were in their sixties and seventies and we got around to talking about the history of the party.  One councillor asked me if I’d heard of the politician that disappeared – “John Stonehouse?” I replied.  No not him, another one.  “You mean Victor Grayson?” Yes, that’s him.  Needless to say no-one else present had heard of Grayson so I explained a little about his life.   The response came back from the other assembled councillors and party workers “why haven’t we heard of him?” Quite.

About twelve months later I was contacted by the local councillor who told me that her deceased husband had been interested in Victor Grayson and as I’d been the only other person she’d met that knew the name and story of Grayson would I like his papers?  “Of course” I responded, not knowing quite what to expect.  I collected two battered box files of papers, books, pamphlets, letters and photographs and took them away with me on a holiday down South for Christmas week.

When I opened the boxes I began to realise that Derek Forwood, who collected this material, had more than a passing interest in Victor Grayson.  In the early 1960s Derek had visited the Colne Valley and collected the memories and stories of the surviving people that knew Grayson first hand.  He’d also corresponded with Clement Attlee, Herbert Morrison and Fenner Brockway amongst other Labour luminaries whilst exchanging detailed and valuable letters with the likes of Sidney Campion who have now become hugely important in the quest for Grayson’s ultimate fate.  All of this material was present alongside a small mountain of typed extracts from contemporary newspapers, biographies and autobiographies that mentioned Grayson.

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Opening the first box of material

It was clear that Derek Forwood had hoped to write a biography of Grayson and contacted the publisher Victor Gollancz who wrote personally to Derek to say that Grayson should not be forgotten despite the best attempts of the established Labour leaders like Attlee.  But Derek’s own life and career blocked any further progress on his work.  He stood unsuccessfully an impressive five times as a Labour PPC during the Wilson years and became a well known and liked council leader in North Warwickshire.  Towards the end of his life Derek again took up his research but sadly contracted cancer and died in 2007.

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Derek Forwood congratulating his opponent Fergus Montgomery in the Brierly Hill by-election 1967

What began as a hobby for me in 2013 quickly turned into an obsession with any spare time dedicated to research into the life of Victor Grayson.  In 2015 I made contact with David Clark and was able to contribute in a very small way to his Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery (2016).  As David Clark states in his latest work, interest in Grayson seems to been growing year-on-year thanks to the internet with online searches and posts about Grayson far outstripping those of any of his political contemporaries and most since.  With this page I want to document my ongoing search for Victor Grayson and share the locations and contents of scattered archives and materials to help future researchers.  Please feel free to ask questions, share theories and post your own documents.

I’ve begun to compile my own research into a book whilst continuing to follow up leads and my journey has led me to archives and private collections across Britain and, thanks to the internet, across the globe.  I hope you find this page useful and enjoy it.  The truth is still out there.

Harry Taylor

 

 

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