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A Letter To My English Friends- the political dignity of an Indian student at Goldsmiths in 1933

Shiba Chatterjee seated front row fifth from the right- the only non-white and overseas student at Goldsmiths’ College in 1932-33. Image: Goldsmiths Archives.

Shiba Prasad Chatterjee was the only non-white- what we would now describe as BAME- student at Goldsmiths’ College in 1933.

As the only Indian student in the college, he was studying for a one year teaching certificate in a society that was deeply racist and in a country that was Imperialist and refusing to grant his own people either home rule or independence.

The cover of the first edition of Katherine Mayo’s ‘Mother India’ first published in USA in 1927 and Great Britain in 1928 and which purported to reveal  ‘for the first time […] the truth about the sex life, child marriages, hygiene, cruelty, religious customs, of one-sixth of the world’s population: India’s 350,000,000 people.’

Equally pernicious at the time for Shiba Chatterjee, was the popularity and wide discussion of a book by the American historian, Katherine Mayo, called Mother India which insulted, denigrated, patronised and humiliated Indian society, culture and religion.

It was a best seller, widely quoted and the authority and talisman for all those British Imperialists who believed that Indians were not capable and fit to run their own affairs.

That was the majority of the Great British population, the position of most of the British press and leading and influential politicians such as Winston Churchill.

There had even been a United Empire Party spawned and sponsored by the most powerful newspaper barons, Lords Beaverbook and Rothermere, that sought to break into British mainstream politics.

It had been defeated in 1931 when the Prime Minister of the National Government, Stanley Baldwin, condemned the press barons for wanting: ‘power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages,’ using their newspapers as ‘engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes,’ and distorting the fortunes of national leaders ‘without being willing to bear their burdens.’

At the same time the leader of the Indian Congress movement seeking self-determination for 350 million Indians, Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, had been jailed for the eighth time.

The official student record for Mr. Chatterjee contains very limited though impressive information about his background.

He was born in March 1903 and came to Goldsmiths with a Master of Science degree in Geology from the University of Benares in India.

At the age of 29, he was therefore much older than the other British students attending the college.

While studying at the College he lodged with a Mrs Fenlon at 37 Breakspears Road in Brockley, SE4.

Shiba Chatterjee’s student record. Image: Goldsmiths Archives.

Houses in this conservation area are currently valued at nearly £1 million with two bedroom flats often selling for around £500,000.

He was sponsored during his stay in London by a Mrs Riccobena of 5 Oakley Square N.W.1.

He gained his teaching certificate recognised by the British Board of Education in July 1933.

Nothing more is known about him. In the only other College archive document his presence on the one year teaching certificate is indicated not in type-written script, but by pencilled handwriting.

It is as though the recording of his presence was something of an afterthought.

The traces of Shiba Chatterjee’s existence in the College records may be very slight, but the power and presence of his political and cultural identity is on a giant scale with an article he wrote for the Goldsmiths’ magazine Smiths in the year of his graduation.

The article titled ‘To My English Friends’ represents one of the most heartfelt and dignified appeals for political and cultural understanding it would be possible to find throughout all the archives held at Goldsmiths.

It has the compassion, courtesy, and imperative of Mahatma Gandhi, of whom he was undoubtedly a follower and admirer.

To My English Friends

The only known picture of Shiba Chatterjee, bespectacled, studious, and older than his contemporaries (He was 29) wearing the Oxford bags fashionable at that time, but not the striped College blazer so sportingly worn by the European students around him. Image: Goldsmiths Archives.

India has many problems to-day touching every phase of life, and her best brains are actively engaged in solving them. India is fully conscious that her contribution in the modern age to humanity is long overdue, and is directing her whole energy and resources to enable her children to stand as equals alongside other nations of the world with a view to making original contribution befitting her past traditions. India had a glorious past. Indian civilisation and culture are not to be unearthed as prehistoric fossils. They are still throbbing with life. India gave birth to two world religions- Hinduism and Buddhism, and it is claimed Muhammed, the prophet, founder of the Islamic religion had his inspiration from the Indian savants of that age. India is essentially a religious country, religion is her life blood. Millions of souls belonging to different countries such as China and Japan, Burma and Siam, Tibet and Ceylon look to India as their spiritual home. Without deprecating in the least the wonderful work done by the Christian missionaries in my country, the Indian takes it to be an irony of fate when he sees a Christian missionary engaged in proselytising work in India showing “light to the heathens.”

Workshop strikers preventing people from entering and leaving their place of work in support of  The Indian National Congress movement led by Mahatma Gandhi that sought independence from British rule in 1930. Public Domain.

Gandhi at Dandi, South Gujarat, picking salt on the beach at the end of the Salt March, 5 April 1930. Behind him is his second son Manilal Gandhi and Mithuben Petit. Image: Public domain.

An unsympathetic critic may find fault everywhere in India. If he is an important personage he will rush down to Calcutta, the commercial capital, from Bombay, the main gateway by the imperial mail train, thereby covering a distance of more than one thousand miles in about twenty-four hours time, his quick brain all the time analysing and storing up with what glimpses of the Indian life through a carriage-window of the moving train his powerful eyes catch; he will stay for about a week at Calcutta in a palace as the guest of the Governor of the Province of Bengal, attend a dance and race course; then he will proceed to Delhi, the political capital of India by the fastest train, through the densest part of India, will stay another week at Delhi in the viceregal palace and will keep himself engaged in the same sort of activities. He will, of course, not forget to visit some Indian states where he will be entertained by Rajas and Maharajas, Nawabs and Chiefs, and will take part in shooting the wild animals, tigers and elephants, bears and lions and hordes of others.

He need not stay in India for more than a month, as by this time he will gain sufficient knowledge of a country inhabited by 350,000,000 souls, and in size as big as Europe minus Russia; and then, when he reaches home he invariably comes out with a book indicting the whole Indian people and justifying their perpetual subjections. What a tremendous wave of indignation swept over the length and breadth of our country on the recent publication of a sensational book about India !

Gandhi, front row, far right with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War. During the same conflict the first Warden of Goldsmiths’ College, William Loring was a decorated soldier with The Scottish Horse Regiment. Image Public Domain.

 

Mahatma Gandhi characterised it as a “drain inspector’s report.” When a powerful writer abuses his power the result is disastrous for the whole of mankind; his writings have a tremendous effect on the minds of the intelligentsia of his country, and it is how one nation begins to hate another, establishing the truth of the statement, “The nation we hate is the nation we know not.” To illuminate my point I may be pardoned if I refer to an incident which may be shocking to my friends here, to know. The English men and women at one time were made to believe that the French were no better than apes, and when the French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars were taken in the streets of London, some of the onlookers had seriously lifted the greatcoats of the French soldiers from behind to discover their tails. No further comment is necessary.

 

The world is changing. The interdependence of nations is increasing rapidly and the international co-operation is the need of the day. The progressive thinkers have realised that the national freedom is the indispensable pre-requisite of international co-operation. India is struggling to win her birth-right and paradoxical as it may sound, the oppressed do not bear any ill-feeling towards the oppressor due to the religious mentality of the masses, which is awakened after ageing stupor by the magical wand of Mahatma Gandhi, the politico-religious leader of India. India needs sympathy from other nations politically advanced, and entreats them, specially English women and men of the present generation, to keep an open mind and not to be influenced by the writings and speeches of the unsympathetic critics.

S.P. CHATTERJEE

Shiba Chatterjee’s brilliant denunciation of Katherine Mayo’s book exposed the shallowness of an alleged expert presuming to write with authority on the basis of holiday or vacation knowledge of India that she had experienced through the lens of the rich and powerful.

In reality, it seems probable she was fed large amounts of slanted data and information by British Indian propagandists.

Gandhi had actually said of her book that:

… it is the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains. If Miss Mayo had confessed that she had come to India merely to open out and examine the drains of India, there would perhaps be little to complain about her compilation. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: “the drains are India.”

In 1933 the British media distorted and suppressed the true picture of the growing independence movement in India.

In the news-reel cinemas, people in Britain would be told of the first telephone connected service between London and India in patrician terms. It was not the world that had gotten smaller, but the British Empire in the short Pathé report “Hello India!” All European voices and faces are present, and not an Indian individual in sight or sound.

In reality India was a country of protest, resistance and agitation.

There had been extensive prosecutions of Communists for treason.

Choudhary Rahmat Ali published his pamphlet in 1933 advocating a state of ‘Pakistan’ in the Indus Valley, with other names given to Muslim-majority areas elsewhere in India.

This would be taken up by Muhammad Ali Jinha’s All-India Muslim League and become a foundation for the future establishment of the Muslim state of Pakistan.

The British colonial authorities had used the police to shut down an Indian National Congress meeting in Calcutta.

On the 8th May 1933, Mahatma Gandhi had begun a three week hunger strike because of the mistreatment of the lower castes.

On the 1st August, just days after Mr Chatterjee’s graduation, Gandhi had been re-arrested again.

But wherever Shiba Chatterjee and his Indian compatriots in London looked, there would be the ever-present distortion of mainstream media for the purposes of imperialist propaganda.

Pathé short filmic representation of ‘The Country That Is India’ in 1933 was simply another manifestation of the pro-imperialist, Indophobic and racist prejudices contained in Mayo’s ‘drain-inspector’s’ colonialist tract:

86 years later, the integrity and grace of Shiba Chatterjee’s generous address to his English friends at Goldsmiths’ College deserves amplification, recognition and respect.

He may have had sympathetic and supportive friends among his fellow students.

An edition of the College magazine 1931 contains an account from three trainee teachers who decided to accompany Ghandi on his early morning walks in the East End when he was in Britain for talks on home-rule.

But the historical truth about University of London, Goldsmiths’ College during the 1930s is that it was a higher educational institution that perpetuated and served the racist and colonial purposes of the British Empire.

Many students were trained to pursue teaching careers in colonies that subjugated, exploited and denigrated the human rights of people throughout the world.

It also needs to be acknowledged that recent historical investigation has highlighted evidence that during the twenty one years of Gandhi’s time in South Africa in the midst of British imperialism and colonialism he was corrupted by and contaminated with hierarchical racism in his recorded attitudes to Africans.

The South African academics Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed in the award-winning 2015 study The South African Gandhi Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, published by Stanford University Press, argued that Gandhi ‘throughout his stay on African soil, stayed true to Empire while showing a disdain for Africans. For Gandhi, whites and Indians were bonded by an Aryan bloodline that had no place for the African. Gandhi’s racism was matched by his class prejudice towards the Indian indentured.’

Shiba Prasad Chatterjee was a highly educated Indian scholar, writer and independent thinker who, on his own expense, travelled thousands of miles from his home in India to study in New Cross and acquire a British professional teaching qualification.

Perhaps he gave back to the College and British society much more than he was ever given. He left a message for future generations that is as valid and enduring now as it was in 1933:

The world is changing. The interdependence of nations is increasing rapidly and the international co-operation is the need of the day.

 

Forthcoming ‘That’s So Goldsmiths’- an investigative history of Goldsmiths, University of London by Professor Tim Crook.

‘it wont rain roses’- 1963 and the pursuit for justice in education

Tug of war on the Goldsmiths’ College back field in 1961 for Rag Day. ‘it wont rain roses’ editor and author David Elliott is in the woolly jumper centre and looking backwards. But the pamphlet was looking forwards to building a better education system.

A common theme of the history of Goldsmiths is the recurrence of students and staff politically campaigning to make the world a better place.

It’s possible to select any decade of the 20th century and find evidence of lobbying and what could be described as political activism, or  ‘political education.’

It does not mean all or even most of the students and staff were involved at any one time.

Or indeed that there was necessarily consensus and agreement.

Award winning and leading UK publisher, David Elliott, was an undergraduate student between 1961 and 1964 and he believes there was a ‘progressive atmosphere’  and ‘radical spirit’ at the college when he was there.

The then Warden of the College, Ross Chesterman, later knighted for services to higher education, had a reputation for being tolerant of protest and student activism while at the same time encouraging constructive and reasoned debate.

This may account for Goldsmiths’ College winning the University of London debating cup two times in the early 1960s and David Elliott was in one of victorious teams knocking the big London Colleges off their perch.

Around thirty years earlier in 1932, a delegation of students had marched on Parliament and lobbied their MPs against massive cuts in funding for schools and teachers. The school leaving age then was only 14.

This was a time when no more than 12 per cent of children received a secondary education and half of those had to pay for it.

When one of the Goldsmiths’ students asked an MP why so much more money was being spent on arms instead of educating the poor he was accused of being a Bolshevik and directed to go and stand on the other side of the lobby hall as though he had been a naughty boy deserving of detention.

In 1962 a later post Second World War generation of Goldsmiths students were taking their message to Parliament again to continue the struggle- this time to raise the school-leaving age to 16, achieve more participation in higher education and expand equality of opportunity.

The Goldsmiths’ student union newspaper Smith News, which sold weekly for three old pence, reported on June 1st 1962 that in a grand lobby of Parliament over 50 MPs had been briefed by a delegation of 450 students.

David Elliott recalls: ‘the mass picket on Westminster was organised as almost a military operation with hired buses shuttling students every hour to the House of Commons- with Marshals and stewards controlling the flow. I wore an armband with CHIEF STEWARD which, alas, got lost.’

The paper was asking the questions ‘What did we achieve?’  and ‘Where do we go from here?

It acknowledged: ‘We have given a lead to other Training Colleges, and already seven colleges have sent petitions to the Ministry.  Others are asking our advice; letters from Goldsmiths’ students are appearing in local newspapers, questions are to be asked in the Commons, and MPs are busy writing replies or fixing appointments.’

Many students and staff were committed to a national ‘Campaign for Education’ which drew support from all the political parties.

In 1963 one of the major contributions of the Goldsmiths dimension was a research pamphlet titled: ‘it wont rain roses.’ The lack of an apostrophe in ‘wont’ was a deliberate design and campaigning decision.

David Elliott remembers that students and Smith News ‘mostly contributed sections and my job was to curate and edit the pamphlet as it developed. I ended up writing most of it.’

David Elliott, pamphlet editor, writer and undergraduate on the right. ‘It was a Goldsmiths/University of London ball event as Barbara Spencer (my ‘date’) was women’s Vice-President so I had to hire a Dinner Jacket and borrow a bow tie. It was in the Great Hall and I was in my second year in 1962.’

He was given ‘amazing support’ from an education lecturer, Charity James, who was ‘in effect the main copy editor and supplied the title. We printed 1,000 copies I think, which the National Union of Teachers distributed. All I can remember was it was quoted in Parliament and The Times called it ‘shrill but necessary.’

David has held onto one of the few surviving copies.

Only Warwick University’s library appears to have a copy available for researchers.

The title ‘it wont rain roses’ was inspired by the George Elliot quotation: ‘It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.’

The original cover of ‘it won’t rain roses’ ‘A booklet written and published by Goldsmiths’ College, Campaign for Education.’

Charity James would become a legend in education. She would be a founder and Director of the Goldsmiths’ ‘Curriculum Laboratory’ and authored the seminal publication in 1968 ‘Young Lives at Stake: A Reappraisal of Secondary Schools’.

In his 1996 memoir ‘Golden Sunrise: The Story of Goldsmiths’ College 1953-1974′ Sir Ross Chesterman wrote: ‘There were, on the staff of the College, many really distinguished people, some with original ideas and the enthusiasm and energy to bring them to action and fruition. Mrs Charity James was a very good example of what I mean […] She had a group of some twenty comprehensive Heads and senior teachers seconded to work on her course. Her vigour, her imagination and her confidence quite won the hearts of the London Heads and their staffs and, as I could see, literally made them new people […] The Curriculum Laboratory greatly increased its impact and its influence by regularly producing a publication called Ideas, published by the College.’

“it wont rain roses’ began by saying that the pamphlet was committed:

…it is written by people who are intimately concerned with education in this country, by people who are training to become teachers. In a year’s time most of us will be dealing with children – perhaps your children. We shall be attempting to give them an education. Therefore we are committed. We believe that the education many children receive today is shoddy and a disgrace; an insult to the word Education. And this we hope to show you in the pamphlet.

Its theme is a simple one. At the present time Education is not being given the priority that it deserves. In 1963 more money is spent on Advertising and expense accounts than on Education.

The Government is not prepared to provide enough money for expansion and development; the teachers do not possess a professional attitude to their role in Society; and many parents tend to regard the Eleven Plus as the be all and end all of the system.  [The Eleven Plus was an exam children took at primary school when 11 years old. A minority would be selected for grammar schools with many remaining in secondary education until 18 when they would take A’levels and were encouraged to go to university. The majority would go to what were generally regarded as less academic secondary and technical schools with most leaving school at 15.]

We live in an age of great industrial wealth, yet 55% of Primary Schools still in use today were built in an age of gaslight. If this is the legacy offered to so many young children today then we believe that something is drastically wrong.

Front cover of the weekly student newspaper ‘Smith News’. David Elliott writes: ‘The three students in the photo are (left to right) Malcolm Laycock (Goldsmiths’ Student Union President) John Harvey, Editor of Smith News, and a first year student I believe was called Chris Prior. The photograph was taken outside the St Stephen’s Hall entrance to the Palace of Westminster. The caption is a ‘joke’ which you might have gotten- it was an advertising slogan for a tablet which dealt with bad breath and used with images of people up close…’ John Harvey would go on to become a leading award winning scriptwriter and crime novelist. Malcolm Laycock became an award-winning national broadcaster for the BBC.

In its concluding section the pamphlet said:

Education is not a luxury that only rich countries can afford. It is a vital necessity. Because of our persistent apathy, thousands of young minds are being wasted, and we risk national decline. Our suicidal values must change. It is not a question of can we afford it. It is a question of can we afford not to do it. And the answer is that we cannot.

It can certainly be argued that Parliament did, eventually, answer the call in ‘it wont rain roses.’

By the late 1960s there was massive public investment in education.

University education expanded exponentially.

Comprehensive education was introduced and most grammar schools phased out.

The Eleven Plus examination was officially abolished, though many local education authorities continued to organise similar examination and testing at eleven which resulted in secondary school selection.

David’s generation of student teachers undoubtedly made a contribution to the national Education debate.

And although he and his fellow campaigning activists were a minority of the students at Goldsmiths, it can certainly be argued that their impact and contribution have been memorable and significant.

A photograph taken by David Elliott of Christmas Dinner at Aberdeen Hall in 1961. The Hall of Residence no longer exists. Goldsmiths’ College students usually spent their first year in one of a number of Halls of Residence scattered around South East London and Kent. In the second and third year, students became known as ‘Homers and Diggers’ meaning they either lived at home or in rented ‘Digs’.

 

Find out about Goldsmiths’ College student culture in the late 1960s by visiting the Golddream Exhibition in the Kingsway corridor of the Richard Hoggart Building 4th March to 14th April 2019.

For more on the history of Goldsmiths sign up for Professor Tim Crook’s inaugural lecture Monday 11th March 2019 6 p.m. Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths, University of London.

That’s So Goldsmiths– a forthcoming history of the university is being researched and written by Professor Tim Crook.

Goldsmiths satire on a Victory Dinner- 1924 and the League of Nations

Christmas postcard designed by Goldsmiths Art School student Eric Fraser celebrating the purpose of the League of Nations in circa 1924. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London Archives.

When Goldsmiths’ College decided to host a Victory Dinner in 1924 as an act of remembrance for the Great War of 1914-18, those who had lived through it embraced the occasion with gentle satire.

The Victory Menu for 15th November, four days after Armistice Day, was designed to mock the forms and documents that had been turning education in the post war period into a bureaucracy.

It became ‘Circular 1311’, and ‘Form 99 Pen T.’

Victory Menu for dinner at Goldsmiths 15th November 1921. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London Archives.

There was choice of the main dish: ‘Pensioned Dover Soles, Fried- according to Form 60, Act 1918,’ or ‘Super Saddle of Annuation Mutton with Board of Education Jelly.’

For a side order, the following was on offer and something of a limited choice: ‘Dished – Whitehall Potatoes and Caulage Flower with Raymont sauce.’

The reference to ‘Raymont’ was the name of the second Warden of the college Professor Tommy Raymont.

For dessert, another choice on the menu:

‘Tart of Apples, From the Tree of Knowledge with cream that Nestlés bonny babies

Fruits of the Warden’s Victory

Gorgonzola with Odour of Sanctity

Coffee, Black, White or Red-Tape’

The menu is tailed off with ‘Dainty Drinks and Glorious Gargles as served to the law officers of the Treasury. Each teacher’s pink form should be filled with the above before Superannuation.’

It is the signatures on the other side of the menu that makes this event rather resonant and poignant.

The autographs are by ‘lost to history’ figures in the story of Goldsmiths: F H Cecil Brock, Harry E. J. Curzon, Frederick Marriott, Arthur H R Huggett, Edwin S F Ridout, Joseph Kay, and Graham T. White.

Is it possible that this is a group of Goldsmiths’ College staff tutors who were sitting on the same table and one of them decided their menu card should be signed by their companions?

So who were these people dining in a somewhat ironic celebration of post Great War bureaucracy?

F H Cecil Brock was the Vice-Principal for men in the ‘Training Department’- the largest body within the college teaching teachers to teach. He left to take up the principalship of Crewe College in December 1929, having been a Goldsmiths’ Vice-Principal for nine years.

Harry Edward James Curzon was head of Mathematics from September 1906 to his tragic death from suicide in 1935. He gave nearly thirty years of his life to the College, gained a PhD while lecturing in New Cross in 1920 and was one of the country’s leading educational text book authors on Maths.

At the time of this dinner he was on a salary of £600 a year and, on the basis of his multiple degrees, a BA and MA from the University of Cambridge, a BSc, MA and DSc from the University of London, he was probably the most academically qualified of all the lecturers at Goldsmiths College during this time.

£600 a year in 1924 is the equivalent of £34,500 in 2019.

Frederick Marriott was the oldest of the group at the age of 64 and only a year away from retirement having been the headmaster of the Art School since 1891.

In his time at New Cross he bridged the Victorian age, the Edwardian epoch, Art Nouveau, the First World War, and the beginning of Art Deco.

Like all of the Art lecturers throughout most of the 20th century, his salary was substantially less than his Training Department colleagues.

And for some bizarre reason of hierarchy, the Art School tutors also had to sit in the College refectory on benches that were lower than those of the other members of staff.

Perhaps on the occasion of the Victory Dinner, his seniority and the fact he was a year away from his own superannuation, meant he may have been permitted to dine ‘at the same level.’

He was one of two people at the table who had been working in the New Cross Building when it was the Goldsmiths’ Company’s Technical and Recreative Institute. He had devoted 34 years of his working life to teaching art at Goldsmiths.

Arthur Henry Richard Huggett joined Goldsmiths in the summer of 1906 having just gained his BSc degree from King’s College, University of London. He was appointed lecturer in Nature Study and Drawing and had been trained as a teacher at the famous St Mark’s College in Chelsea.

Two more autographs were supplied by another couple of  ‘old timers.’

Graham T.White had been teaching engineering as far back as 1893 in the days of the Goldsmiths’ Institute. He was made head of the Mechanical, Electrical and Constructional Engineering Department in 1919.

Joseph Kay, a lecturer in Teaching and specialising in Manual Instruction and Mathematics, joined at the beginning of the University of London, Goldsmiths’ College reincarnation in September 1905.

Mr Kay would remember looking around the old Royal Naval School chapel that had been utilised as the College’s largest lecture hall when he arrived in September 1905 to prepare for the first term of teaching:

The Tower of this building housed a staircase, out of bounds in my time. On the plaster ceiling at its head were the naval boys’ inscriptions of earlier Naval students, one of whom I remember, was Lord Charles Beresford.

He actually earned £25 a year more than Dr. Curzon in 1924, perhaps because he assisted the Vice-Principal for men in organising subjects and leading the teaching of theory and practice and what was described as ‘men’s manual work.’

Plumbing class at Goldsmiths’ College 1926-27. Image: Goldsmiths, University of London Archives.

Graham T. White headed an engineering department that started optimistically each year with an enrolment of about 850 students; some of whom studied plumbing. By Christmas drop-outs usually reduced the figure by three hundred.

Mr White specialised in running evening instruction in Mathematics and Physics up to University of London B.Sc standard during Institute days and afterwards.

In 1931 he would take his department away from the College main building in New Cross to become part of the new South-East London Technical Institute half a mile down the road in Lewisham.

Mr J. Kay would retire at the end of August 1931 and A.H.R. Huggett in 1930. Lecturer in History, Edwin Stanley Forsyth Ridout was ‘a new boy’- starting in September 1921. Before taking up his lectureship he had gained degrees in Dublin, Cambridge, London and Lille in France. After 29 years at Goldsmiths, he took retirement in the summer of 1950.

The first college history, The Forge, published in 1955, observed that ‘…the accession of Dr. Ridout to the staff in 1921 greatly helped in levelling up the teams and in establishing the college in University sports during the 1920’s.’

The spirit of the Victory Dinner was not to gloat and glorify the victorious vanquishing of Germany.

At Goldsmiths’ College there was enthusiasm for the first international experiment in creating a global policing body with the purpose of ending all wars.

In the inter-war years between 1918 and 1939, the League of Nations based in Geneva would try to do just that, though historians and people experiencing the agonies of the Second World War argue that it failed to achieve this laudable aim.

Opening of the first session of the League of Nations in 1920. Image: National Library of Norway Public Domain.

And the staff and students at Goldsmiths were so committed to the values of ‘Peace and goodwill towards all men’ and ‘Within the four seas all men are brothers’ that during the 1920s and 1930s the College’s League of Nations Union would enthusiastically organise talks and lectures exploring the tensions surrounding conflict resolution or the lack of it all over the world.

During the session 1934-35, the College’s League of Nations Union played an active part in College life, in spite of a small actual membership of 40.

In that year the Society secured ‘first class speakers’ for its meetings including Dr. Gooch and Dr. Nikolas Hans Ex-Minister of Education for the Kerensky and Bolshevik Governments.

The League of Nations Christmas card for 1924 shown at the top of this article was designed by Goldsmiths School of Art student Eric Fraser who would go on to become one of the country’s leading illustrators of his time.

Perhaps it was exchanged by the men eating their ‘gorgonzola with the odour of sanctity’ in November of that year?

Frederick Marriott, as head of Art, may well have been the person distributing it.

He may well have been sipping his ‘red-tape’ coffee with pride and enthusiasm for his young scholarship winning student whose impressive artwork exhorted the global defence of liberty and depicted children of all races as being the worthy recipients of such freedom and privilege.

For many decades henceforth Eric Fraser would define and characterise much of the design and symbolic representation of sound programmes in the BBC’s Radio Times magazine.

In the years ahead the League of Nations would be a forum for hope rather than an effective resort to justice; where reality would defeat idealism time after time.

In the summer of 1938 students at Goldsmiths’ College concerned about international affairs would have been horrified by the invasion of Abyssinia by Fascist Italy, the invasion of Manchuria and China by a militarised Japan.

Their studies would be pursued against the backdrop of the escalating civil war in Spain, the absorption of Austria into a Greater Germany and increasing tension that would later on that year produce the ambiguity of the Munich agreement.

The independence and security of Czechoslovakia would be violated for the false hope of avoiding war with Germany.

A student signed only by the initials I.M.R. wrote this ‘call to participate in the League of Nations Union’ in the summer edition of the student magazine Smiths:

Of the three types of person at present inhabiting Goldsmiths’ College, the Communist is noisy, the Pacifist has too little to say, and the Person of no particular opinion seems to offer the only hope of progress. People of the latter sort are so buffeted and bewildered that at the moment they dare not attempt to think for themselves. Yet they can be “mind shakers, moulders of a new world,” since having so far held aloof from any set political belief, they are capable of critical, unbiased judgment.
Yet I would say to them, “Beware of waiting too long.”

Much would be achieved if we could only persuade people to think international before it is too late. The League of Nations, which was formed in this hope, has failed through the lack of faith and goodwill of its members. But that is no reason for deserting it. Rather by joining the Union we should show our desire for better understanding, and help to remedy the League’s weaknesses. It seems a pity that from this College only four students should be sufficiently enthusiastic to attend the exchanging ideas with students from the British colonies and from the United States. Here, at any rate is one chance of showing interest in the world as a whole, and of broadening knowledge.

Image: By Martin Grandjean – Strictly based on a flag kept by the League of Nations Archives (United Nations Geneva)., CC BY-SA 4.0

For all of the disillusioning disappointments of international affairs during the 1920s and 30s, the League of Nations did at least provide an experience of what was lacking in a worldwide body set up to prevent conflict.

After the horrors of the Second World War, The United Nations was established in 1945 to learn and benefit from the League’s failures.

A key difference would be direct participation, support and involvement of the United States.

And it could be argued that the words of the student ‘I.M.R.’ in 1938 to aim to be among the ‘mind shakers’ and ‘moulders of a new world’ have endured and persisted as an abiding spirit of humanitarian aspiration at Goldsmiths’ College.

That’s So Goldsmiths– a forthcoming history of the university is being researched and written by Professor Tim Crook.