SOME OF THE LEADING FIGURES IN THE WEA EARLY YEARS
Albert Mansbridge, a lay preacher in the Church of England, was a man of deep religious
feeling. This strong spiritual stimulus, his understanding and interest in the lives and needs of
working people and his own considerable intellectual abilities were characteristics which
throughout his life enabled him to attract towards the WEA the interest and support of
outstanding people in the Church, the Universities, the Labour and Co-operative movements and
among working people. The story of the WEA is studded with stars from all these spheres.
In 1908, Mansbridge asked William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, to be the WEA's
first President and in that capacity he helped to guide the WEA for fourteen years. Mansbridge
said of him that he "lived on terms of intimate friendship with all types of men and women in
fields, mines and workshops, as in universities, palaces and cathedrals". It was a quality that
earned him the name of "people's Archbishop". He once described his appointment as WEA
president as the greatest honour of his life.
The ideals which drew William Temple to the WEA were shared by his friend R H Tawney.
Both believed that Christian people should be concerned not only with that of the society of their
personal lives but also with that of the society in which they lived. And both saw in the WEA a
movement which was seeking to offset some of the effects of educational disadvantage among
working people. Tawney's presence as a tutor in the early WEA tutorial classes was once
described in a phrase not remarkable for exaggeration but grasping the essential, as "the right
man in the right place". The WEA was fortunate indeed that a man of academic distinction,
whose thought and action were permeated by ideals of equalitarianism, appeared on the WEA
scene at so important a moment in its history. He described his experience as a WEA tutor as a
"fellowship" with his students; and said with typical humility that he owed them much. "The
friendly smitings of weavers, potters, miners and engineers have taught me much about the
problems of political and economic science which cannot easily be learned from books".
He helped to build the WEA in other ways also; he served on its executive for 42 years and was
its President from 1927 to 1943. Like Temple, he regarded his work for the WEA as one of his
most important tasks; he once said it meant more to him than his work for the Labour Party, the
London School of Economics or the Church.
If Temple and Tawney represented the spiritual and academic forces in the WEA, there were
others among the Association's earlier Presidents whose contribution had been in trade unionism,
notably Sir Arthur Pugh. the leader of the Iron and Steel Trades' Confederation and Harold Clay,
the busman's leader. Many whose careers were outstanding in public life had in younger years
nurtured their growing talents in the WEA and continued throughout their lives to contribute to
its work: Mary Stocks, historian of the WEA calculated that in 1945, 14 members of the
Government were tutors, former tutors or members of the WEA Executive and 56 MPs were
active in the WEA in some capacity, either as tutors or students. Arthur Greenwood was a Vice
President for 15 years. GDH Cole for 10, Arthur Creech Jones for 20, Richard Crossman for 3,
RA Butler for 12 and Hugh Gaitskell for 10. It would be difficult to say which is the greater, the
influence which experience in the WEA has had on prominent personalities in our society or
their influence on the development of the WEA.
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