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About the collection

Foundations of British Sociology: The Sociological Review Archive is a unique resource held in Keele University Special Collections and Archives. The archive consists of papers from the Sociological Society, LePlay House, the Institute of Sociology and several smaller subsidiary groups, all part of the early sociology movement in Britain. It also contains a large amount of survey material gathered on study tours and field meetings run by LePlay House across Britain and Europe, as well as the papers of prominent members of the societies Victor and Sybella Branford and Alexander and Dorothea Farquharson.

The material includes papers and correspondence relating to key activists and opinion- shapers such as Victor Branford, Francis Galton, Patrick Geddes, H.G. Wells, Lewis Mumford and Alexander Farquharson on themes such as the responsibilities of the state and the citizen, planning urban development, the position of women, the role of technical education, local government reform, regionalism, the co-operative movement, rural society and the family. Researchers will find valuable materials on the origins of modern British sociology, and related social sciences such as social psychology, cultural geography, town planning and demography.

The cataloguing of the archive has been carried out by Project Archivist Annabel Gill, funded by The Sociological Review, and supported by the University Library and Research Institutes of Humanities; Law, Politics and Justice; Life Course Studies.

Below are brief descriptions of the societies and people whose papers are in the collection. The information for these descriptions has come from:

  • Beaver, S.H., 'The LePlay Society and Field Work', in Geography, 47 (July 1947), pp.225-240.
  • Evans, D., 'LePlay House and the Regional Survey Movement in British sociology, 1920-1955', unpublished MPhil thesis (1986) available at
  • Farquharson, D., 'Dissolution of the Institute of Sociology', in The Sociological Review, 5,3 (1955), pp.165-173.
  • Scott, J., 'Victor Branford', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, currently only available online at
  • [Obituary of Sybella Branford] The Times, 15 June 1926.
  • [Obituary of Victor Branford] The Times, 25 June 1930.
  • [Obituary of Alexander Farquharson] The Times, 17 February 1954.
  • [Obituary of Alexander Farquharson] The Times, 20 February 1954.

Sociological Society

The Sociological Society was founded in 1903 by, among others, Victor Branford and Patrick Geddes. Its aims were to publish a journal, hold meetings for lectures and discussions, keep a library, promote sociology in universities and colleges, provide a research centre and establish a press for sociological publications.

The Society began publishing Sociological Papers in 1904 which contained lectures and discussions from Society meetings. The Sociological Review, established in 1908, replaced Sociological Papers as the Society's publication and continues to be published today, edited at Keele University.

In April 1920 Victor and Sybella Branford bought LePlay House at 65 Belgrave Road, London on behalf of the Sociological Society. The building became the headquarters of the Society and rooms were let to organisations with similar aims. In 1930 the Sociological Society amalgamated with LePlay House (an organisation named after the building) to form the Institute of Sociology.

Regional Association

The Regional Association began as the Provisional Committee for the Development of Regional Survey in 1914 (which had initially been known as The British Association for Regional Survey) and became the Regional Association in January 1918. The Association was started by two school teachers, George Morris and Mabel Barker and carried out surveys which focussed on biology, geography and geology rather than sociology. In October 1924 the Association merged with the Civic Education League to become LePlay House. The Association had links to the Outlook Tower, through Patrick Geddes who was Chair, and the Scottish Regional Association.

Civic Education League

The Civic Education League went through several incarnations, beginning in 1897 as the Moral Instruction League, it became the Moral Education League in 1909. In 1916 it became the Civic and Moral Education League and finally became the Civic Education League in 1919. Alexander Farquharson became involved in the League and was on the Council by 1910. The League ran training schools and foreign field trips and was based in LePlay House from May 1920. In 1924 the Civic Education League merged with the Regional Association, Cities Committee and Foreign Fieldwork Committee to become LePlay House.

Regional Surveys

All of the societies whose papers are held in the collection were involved in promoting regional survey work to some extent, either conducting surveys and organising field trips or teaching survey method. The survey collection contains photographs, reports, printed material, research notes, presentation sheets and lantern slides collected during field trips across the British Isles and Europe as well as North Africa. The majority of the material comes from LePlay House, the Institute of Sociology and the LePlay Society and was collected between the 1920s and 1950s.

Many of the surveys follow the method of 'Place, Work, Folk' which was developed by Patrick Geddes, influenced by the work of Frederic LePlay (the French sociologist from whom LePlay House takes its name). The method looks at how the three principles work together and influence each other. The focus of each survey varies but typically they are studies of local industry, housing, infrastructure, natural features and people.

LePlay House

LePlay House was established in 1924 as an umbrella organisation to incorporate the Regional Association, the Civic Education League and the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society with the Foreign Fieldwork Committee which was already run from LePlay House. The organisation was named after the building in which it was based. LePlay House merged with the Sociological Society to form the Institute of Sociology at a joint meeting on 24 January 1930.

Institute of Sociology

The Institute of Sociology was established in 1930 from the amalgamation of the Sociological Society and LePlay House. Both organisations held Annual General Meetings on 24 January 1930 where formal amalgamation was agreed. The Institute continued to use the name LePlay House as a subheading and it appears on many documents and publications produced by them. Alexander Farquharson was appointed Chief Executive Officer and an Editorial Board for The Sociological Review was established including Farquharson, Alexander Carr Saunders and Morris Ginsberg. Robert Randolph Marett (Professor of Anthropology at Oxford) was President of the Institute between 1931 and 1934, followed by Ernest Barker (Professor of Political Science at Cambridge) between 1935 and 1937 and George Gooch (historian) between 1938 and 1948 (an extended presidency because of the Second World War).

In 1939 the outbreak of war and subsequent bomb damage to LePlay House meant the Institute moved out of London to a house in Malvern. As foreign field trips were impossible during the war, the Institute concentrated on local studies and provided training for, and conducted fieldwork with, the Royal Army Education Corps. They also produced pamphlets on local study schemes for training colleges and organised conferences on the relationship between sociology and education.

Financial difficulties in the post-war years meant a reduction of staff at LePlay House, which moved to Ledbury in 1946. The Institute could not afford to maintain a centre in London as well as the one in Ledbury and the Farquharsons did not want to move back to the city so LePlay House remained in the country.

In 1951 Alexander Farquharson wrote to Lord Lindsay of Birker who had been a Vice President of the Institute and was at that time Principal of the University College of North Staffordshire (UCNS), now Keele University. They entered into discussions about the future of the Institute as the Farquharsons wanted to retire. Lord Lindsay died in 1952 but negotiations continued and it was agreed later that year that the UCNS would take over The Sociological Review along with the LePlay House Library stock which related to it.

After Alexander Farquharson's death in 1954 it was decided to sell the Ledbury property and wind down the Institute. At an Extraordinary General Meeting on 7 July 1955 a resolution was passed to voluntarily dissolve the Institute of Sociology. Lack of finance was the main factor in this decision. All the survey material and other papers which the Institute held were transferred to the UCNS with the remaining library stock.

The Sociological Trust

The Sociological Trust was set up to oversee the running and finances of LePlay House when it was purchased in April 1920. The Board consisted of Sybella Branford, Alexander Farquharson and Harold Gurney, cousin of Sybella.

LePlay House Press

Shortly after LePlay House was bought in April 1920 Sociological Publications Limited was set up to publish The Sociological Review and books and pamphlets from the societies with offices in, or linked to, LePlay House. Sociological Publications Limited ceased to exist in September 1934 and was replaced with LePlay House Press which continued to publish until the dissolution of the Institute of Sociology.

The Sociological Review

The Sociological Review was established in 1908 and was the only journal of its kind in Britain until 1951. It was, and still is, published quarterly and it aimed to publish articles on the central problems of sociology, on leading questions in all departments of social science in relation to central sociological theories and the practical applications of social science. It sought to promote investigation and to advance education in the social sciences. Victor Branford was Editor of The Review from 1912 until his death in 1930 when Alexander Farquharson took over the role (although Farquharson is listed as Joint Editor previously to this).

In 1952 the Council of the Institute agreed that The Sociological Review should be transferred to the University College of North Staffordshire and a new series started in 1953 (which continues to this day). The Institute also gave the LePlay House Library stock to the University College.

LePlay Society

In October 1931 the LePlay House Educational Tours Association split from LePlay House and the LePlay Society was formed as a separate organisation to replace it. The Society organised field trips to places unspoilt by tourism so that they could observe traditional industries and ways of living. Between 1931 and 1960 at least 71 foreign, and 10 British, field trips were organised to locations including Russia, Bulgaria, Albania and North Africa.

Margaret Tatton (who had formerly organised field trips for LePlay House) was heavily involved in running the Society for the whole of its thirty year existence. Stanley Beaver was the Chairman of the Society's Council in its later years. The LePlay Society wound up in April 1960.

Victor Branford

Victor Branford was a founder member, and the first Honorary Secretary of, the Sociological Society which was established in 1903. He attended Patrick Geddes' summer schools in Edinburgh in the 1890s and worked for him at Outlook Tower. Geddes was very influential on Branford and they worked together on several projects including the Sociological Society, the scheme to save Crosby Hall and several publications. In 1910 Branford divorced his first wife and in December of that year married Sybella Gurney who also became involved in the Sociological Society. Branford was active in promoting his sociological approach in the USA and was made an honorary member of the American Sociological Society in 1926. He was Editor of The Sociological Review from 1912 until his death and was instrumental in establishing the first two chairs of Sociology at the University of London and the London School of Economics.

Victor Branford's sociological ideas were, like Patrick Geddes', derived from the work of Auguste Comte and Frederic LePlay. He was the first to write about the 'third way', a political strategy between capitalism and social collectivism, of mobilising credit through co-operatives.

By profession he was a certified accountant and banker. At his death, on 22 June 1930, he was chairman of the Argentine-Paraguayan Timber Company and a director of the Paraguay Central Railway Company.

Branford's will was intended to benefit the Institute of Sociology but the money was tied up in South American investments and despite much work from Alexander Farquharson and Harold Gurney, Sybella Branford's cousin, it was never fully recovered. The will also specified that Branford's unpublished writings should be published and although some work went towards this it was eventually decided that the material was too unfinished and required too much editing for this to be possible.

Sybella Branford

Sybella Catherine Nino Gurney was born in 1870. She was involved in the co-operative movement, in particular the Labour Co-Partnership Association and co-operative housing schemes. With Henrietta Barnett she helped in the planning of the Hampstead Garden Suburb and Gurney Drive was named in her memory. She helped to form the Rural Co-Partnership Housing Association which built 200 houses in South England before the First World War. After her marriage to Victor Branford in December 1910 Sybella became involved with the Sociological Society and was on the board of The Sociological Trust. She died on 11 June 1926.

Alexander and Dorothea Farquharson

Alexander Farquharson was born in 1882 and obtained his degree from Edinburgh University. He initially worked as a school teacher and was given the MBE for services at the Ministry of Food between 1914 and 1918. He became involved in the Moral Education League (which later became the Civic Education League) in 1910 and it was his involvement in the League which brought him into contact with Victor Branford and the other organisations based at LePlay House.

Alexander worked as secretary of the Institute of Sociology for 30 years and took on the role of Editor of The Sociological Review after Victor Branford's death in 1930. Alexander Farquharson and Dorothea Price married in December 1933 and lived at LePlay House until the dissolution of the Institute of Sociology. In the later years he became the Honorary Director of the Institute and together with Dorothea ran the Institute until his death on 16 February 1954.

Alexander Farquharson was Secretary of the International Conference on Social Work from 1932 until 1948 which was hosted by LePlay House in London in 1936. He was also involved in the Guild of St George and became the Grand Master in 1951.

Towards the end of his life, Alexander entered into negotiations with Lord Lindsay to arrange for the transfer of The Sociological Review to the University College of North Staffordshire (UCNS). Despite Lord Lindsay's death in 1952 the transfer was agreed the same year by the Institute's Council. The library stock and archive collection were also given to UCNS.

Dorothea Farquharson's background was in education and she worked as a history lecturer at Durham University before she became involved with the Institute of Sociology. Her first contact with LePlay House was at the High Wycombe School of Civics in 1921 run by the Civic Education League and she went on field trips run by the Educational Tours Association. She later became Honorary Organiser of Field Studies for the Institute of Sociology and arranged numerous field trips within Great Britain and Europe. She was instrumental in arranging the transfer of the archive and library to UCNS. Dorothea died in 1976.

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