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RMD - Ramsay MacDonald Papers
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Ramsay MacDonald Papers

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This material is held at The University of Manchester, The John Rylands University Library
Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD
Dates of Creation 1893-1937
Name of Creator Macdonald, James Ramsay, 1866-1937, prime minister
Language of Material English
Physical Description 2 li.m.
Location Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

Correspondence and papers of James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), first Labour Prime Minister. The correspondence relates to a wide range of subjects, political and personal. There are discussions upon political questions with colleagues, instructions on government policy during his premiership, affectionate notes to family and friends and day-to-day working correspondence. There are files relating to the Independent Labour Party, the Union of Democratic Control, the Coal Dispute and General Strike of 1926, the 'Zinoviev Letter' affair of 1924, the spread of Communism, Palestine (revealing of MacDonald's impatience at Lord Passfield's attempts to hinder Jewish settlement), China, India and Egypt.

Other material includes a series of appointment diaries and notebooks, 1900-1937, the most interesting of which is a notebook kept by Ramsay MacDonald during the International Economic and Monetary Conference of 1933. The Prime Minister wrote a series of character sketches of the main players, such as Litvinoff: 'Stout and perspiring. Boldly inaccurate and began by saying no wage cuts and no unemployment in Russia. It took one's breath away!'. Finally, there is a small set of Cabinet papers dating mainly from the period after 7 June 1935, when Ramsay MacDonald resigned as Prime Minister and took up the post of Lord President of the Council; they are concerned with foreign affairs, especially the fear of German armament, Italian aggression and the preparedness of Britain for war. Almost all are marked Top Secret.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) was born in Lossiemouth, Morayshire, the illegitimate son of Anne Ramsay. Educated at Drainie Parish School, Ramsay MacDonald became involved in politics during the 1890s, joining the Independent Labour Party, standing as a Labour candidate at Dover and Southampton and becoming secretary of the Fabian Society. He was elected as Labour MP for Leicester in 1906 as a result of a pact with the Liberal Party and played a leading role in the formation of the parliamentary Labour Party, being elected to the Chairmanship in 1911. During the First World War, Ramsay MacDonald was the main spokesperson for the anti-war policy advocated by the U.D.C. (Union of Democratic Control) which earned him much personal hatred and provoked an unpleasant press campaign. Notwithstanding, Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in January 1924, a government which lasted only until November. After four years as Leader of the Opposition, he was again elected Prime Minister of a Labour government in June 1929, and of a National Government in 1931. Intended only as a temporary measure, the National Government went on to win the General Election of 1931 and this resulted in Ramsay MacDonald's ostracisation from the Labour Party. He resigned the Premiership in June 1935, but remained in the Cabinet as Lord President of the Council until May 1937, when he retired due mainly to ill-health. He died at sea on 9th November on the way to a tour of South America.

Ramsay MacDonald was an extremely complicated man, not easily understood by contemporaries or friends, and whilst he was consistent, courageous, honourable, and deeply committed to the basic tenets of socialism, his shy aloofness, suspiciousness and self-pity prevented him from being completely at ease with the working men with whom he forged a party.

An early member and leading influence upon the Independent Labour Party, his greatest legacy is as the 'master builder' of the Labour Alliance of 1900, which resulted in the election of many Labour members of Parliament, and the creation of a strong parliamentary party. His writings, which included pamphlets, articles and books, did much to shape the party's thinking and he had a great influence upon early strategy and tactics. Throughout the rise of the Labour Party in the early part of this century, Ramsay MacDonald played a dominant role, and enabled Labour to replace the Liberals as the main opposition to the government, by proving that it was not merely a 'working class' movement, and replacing its extremism with a doctrine of moderation. As Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald demonstrated that the Labour Party was capable of holding office effectively, and that working class men could be suitable representatives of their country; his efforts were especially concentrated upon foreign policy and among other things he played a major part in agreements made over German reparations in 1924, arranged the Naval Conference of 1930 which resulted in a genuine advance towards disarmament, and chaired the Indian Round Table Conference. Even when in failing health in the 1930s, Ramsay MacDonald attended conferences at Ottowa, Geneva and London, and organised the World Economic Conference of 1933. He worked longer hours than any previous holder of that office, being a poor delegator and suspicious of others, and suffered constantly from exhaustion and ill-health.

His formation of the National Government in 1931, following a major economic crisis which brought down the Labour Government, was seen as a betrayal of his socialist roots and working class background, a claim which many had made even before this due to his fraternisation with the upper classes, especially Lady Londonderry, who came to be regarded as a major influence upon him both politically and personally.

The decision to remain as Prime Minister cost Ramsay MacDonald his reputation and effectively erased the memory of years of hard work on behalf of the Labour Party: he was instead remembered as the man who betrayed it for his aristocratic friends - a man who had been both a social climber and a political incompetent. Ramsay MacDonald died lonely and disappointed, reviled by both Labourites and Conservatives, and worn out by the last painful years of office.


As the provenance of the collection is relatively unknown, and the original order seems to have been greatly disturbed in some areas, the collection has been arranged as logically as possible by the archivist, separating the papers into four series based upon broad informational content.

Unless stated, all letters are only one sheet of paper.


The Ramsay MacDonald papers are divided into:

  • RMD/1 Correspondence and related papers
  • RMD/2 Diaries/Notebooks
  • RMD/3 Cabinet/Political papers
  • RMD/4 Related material

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Acquisition Information

The archive was purchased by the library from Peter Eaton Booksellers in c.1989.

Separated Material

Other Ramsay MacDonald papers are held at The National Archives, Kew (ref. PRO 30/69): see A Guide to the Papers of British Cabinet Ministers1900-1951 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1974).


David Marquand Ramsay MacDonald, ( Jonathan Cape Ltd, London 1977).

Anne de Courcy 'Circe: the Life of Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry') and related books listed under RMD/4/2.

For a discussion of the John Rylands collection, see David Howell's survey in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol 72, 1990.

Preferred Citation

Ramsay MacDonald Papers, RMD/1/1/10 (etc.), The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester.


Communism England
General Strike, Great Britain, 1926
Socialism England
Great Britain Politics and government 20th century

Personal Names

MacDonald James Ramsay 1866-1937 Statesman

Corporate Names

Labour Party Great Britain
Union of Democratic Control

Cataloguing Info

Title Ramsay MacDonald Papers
Author Catalogued by Sarah Smith
Publication John Rylands University Library
150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH, phone: +44 (0)161-275 3764, fax: +44 (0)161-834 5574,

© The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester, 2004.

Edition 1st edition
Creation The finding aid was originally compiled by Sarah Smith in December 1995. The finding aid was converted to EAD v.1.0 in July 1999, and was converted to EAD version 2002 by James Peters in December 2004.
Descriptive Rules Finding aid compiled according to JRUL's Guide to the listing of archives (3rd edition, 2004), which is based on the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)), second edition.
Language Usage Finding aid written in English.
December 2009
  • Minor revisions by John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives.

Correspondence and related papers

Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1
Dates of Creation 1893-1937
Physical Description Condition: some of the letters have suffered from rodent? damage, and have undergone significant conservation work, making some of them difficult to read. Where this applies, a note will be made at item level.

Scope and Content

The correspondence of Ramsay MacDonald relates to a wide range of subjects, both political and personal, from 1893 to his death. There are discussions upon political questions with colleagues, instructions on governmental policy during his premiership, affectionate notes to family and friends and day to day working correspondence. The letters include both correspondence to Ramsay MacDonald and his replies.


The correspondence contained in this collection presented a particular problem, in that many of the papers were arranged in files according to event (such as the 1926 coal dispute) or subject (the U.D.C.), while others appeared to be completely disordered. The decision was taken, in the absence of any knowledge of provenance or original order, to maintain the ordering of the correspondence according to subject where such could be found, and to list chronologically where it could not. Thus the series of correspondence comprises fifteen sub-classes

  • RMD/1/1 Dover and Southampton candidacies
  • RMD/1/2 The Independent Labour Party
  • RMD/1/3 The Union of Democratic Control (U.D.C.)
  • RMD/1/4 The 1926 coal dispute
  • RMD/1/5 Communism
  • RMD/1/6 The Zinoviev Letter
  • RMD/1/7 'The Daily Herald'
  • RMD/1/8 The John Syme case
  • RMD/1/9 Palestine
  • RMD/1/10 China
  • RMD/1/11 India
  • RMD/1/12 Egypt
  • RMD/1/13 Private correspondence
  • RMD/1/14 General correspondence
  • RMD/1/15 Miscellaneous correspondence

The letters are not subdivided according to whether they were written or received by Ramsay MacDonald, as this would destroy the 'picture' provided by having a series of correspondence. Where possible, copy replies from Ramsay MacDonald or his staff have been married to the letter which provoked them, and the pair treated as one item.

Dover and Southampton candidacies

Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1
Dates of Creation June 1893-November 1895
Physical Description 51 items.

Scope and Content

This series of letters written to Ramsay MacDonald and including some of his draft replies, relates to a period when he was attempting to gain a parliamentary seat through collaboration with the Liberal Party. At Dover, he took over the Labour candidacy from Major Edwards in July/August 1892, insisting that he was an "independent ally" of the Liberals, rather than a subordinate. The correspondence charts his unsuccessful attempts to secure approval from the Dover Liberal Association. The material focusing upon Southampton, dating from April 1894, is more extensive, and shows the bid by Ramsay MacDonald and his supporters to secure him a Liberal candidacy, and the eventual decision to stand as an Independent Labour Party candidate, thus causing the defeat of the Liberals at the election of June 1895. The letters are mainly from Ramsay MacDonald's supporters at the Gladstone Club, especially John Randolph, discussing his original candidacy, his dealings with the other candidates (Wilberforce and Barnes) and his attempts to win over the local Trades Council, headed by H.G. Wilson. The final few letters refer to the Liberal attempts to overturn the general election results.


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/1
Dates of Creation 30 Jun 1893

Scope and Content

From Revd A. Hudson (National Liberal Foundation) to Ramsay MacDonald regarding his call to Mr Schnadhorst and his letter of introduction from Mr Donald Murray. Both have been passed on to Mr Allard, the Secretary of the Home Counties Division of the Federation, as the subject is Dover.

Dated at 42 Parliament St, London.

Handwritten; headed paper


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/2
Dates of Creation 10 Jul 1893

Scope and Content

From W. Allard to Ramsay MacDonald, requesting a printed statement of RMD's political views.

Dated at 42 Parliament Street, London.

Handwritten; headed paper.

Note in hand of RMD "I suggested conference".


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/3
Dates of Creation 18 Jul 1893

Scope and Content

From W. Allard to Ramsay MacDonald, informing RMD that he, Mr Bradley and Mr Harby have decided that the proper course of action is for the latter two to report to the Dover Liberal Association, and he will be contacted as soon as anything definite comes from Dover.

Dated at 3 Greave Gate Terrace, Hunstanton [Norf].

Handwritten; headed paper.

Endorsed in hand of RMD (i) "They according to this letter declined it, electing to report to Dover and get some resolution". (ii) "Mrs Webling 2 Camden gardens Shepherd's Bush. Old French [unreadable]. Over Thames."


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/4
Dates of Creation 9 Sep 1893

Scope and Content

From Arthur Harby to Major Edwards, confirming a meeting despite holiday plans.

Dated at Dover [Kent].


Note by Edwards "i.e. Friday 15th Sept 8pm at G.M. Bradley's office."

Note from Major Edwards to Ramsay MacDonald, asking if this arrangement is adequate and informing RMD that he tried to see Harby but was unsuccessful. A later addition excuses Edwards from attending the proposed meeting, and asks RMD to manage alone or arrange another meeting.

Handwritten in pencil on same page as above.


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/5
Dates of Creation 10 Oct 1893

Scope and Content

From W. Allard to Ramsay MacDonald, asking him to visit in the next day or two.

Dated at 42 Parliament Street, London.

Typed; headed paper.

Note in hand of RMD "Called and urged necessity of A's taking care there was no bogus business".


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/6
Dates of Creation 19 Oct 1893

Scope and Content

From Arthur Harby to Ramsay MacDonald, declaring that cooperation would be impossible, due to difficulties which are sure to recur.

Dated at 4 St. James' St, Dover [Kent].

Handwritten; headed paper.


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/7
Dates of Creation 30 Oct 1893

Scope and Content

From W. Allard to Ramsay MacDonald, asking him to call either tomorrow or Wednesday next at 12 noon, for a chat with himself and the Hon. Secretary.

Dated at 42 Parliament St, London.

Typed; headed paper.

Note in hand of RMD "Assured me they were doing all they could. Apologies for conduct of their friends in Dover and used rather strong language about them."


Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/8
Dates of Creation 2 Dec 1893

Scope and Content

From W. Allard to Ramsay MacDonald, informing him that the proposal which he wished them to submit to the Dover Liberal Association concerning his candidature was defeated. Terms of the Resolution included. Invites him to look in next week. Includes a notice of the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Dover Liberal Association on Tuesday 28th November.

Dated at 42 Parliament St, London.

Typed; headed paper

Note in hand of RMD "Called 7th on return to town and after conversation A asked me to acknowledge as by next." and notes throughout text.

Note written on notice "To consider a communication with reference to the Candidature of Mr J.R. MacDonald."

Copy Letter

Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/9
Dates of Creation 7 Dec 1893

Scope and Content

From Ramsay MacDonald to W. Allard acknowledging receipt of his letter of the 2nd, and expressing regret that Allard's friends in Dover cannot see their way to cooperate; he doesn't believe that the resolution represents the true opinion of Liberals in Dover.

Dated at the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Palace, London.

Handwritten; headed paper.

Draft letter

Reference Number(s) GB 133 RMD/1/1/10
Dates of Creation 9 Dec 1893
Physical Description 3 sheets.

Scope and Content

From Ramsay MacDonald to W. Allard, commenting upon events of the past weeks. He has been advised by his supporters to go on with the contest, and is in agreement with them, especially as he believes that the people who voted for the resolution have almost caused the death of Dover Liberalism. A liberal supporter claims "the great weakness of Liberalism in Dover is in its leaders." RMD regrets that their decision has been accepted by Allard, and no enquiry was made into how it was passed. In a crossed out page, RMD claims " greatest regret is that I am now driven to the conclusion of my friends of the Independent Labour Party. I have stuck to the opinion that Liberalism was a sufficient gospel for the above politicians until but a few days ago.." The Labour Committee will meet in a week or two to discuss whether or not RMD can carry on with his plan to stand.


Note in hand of RMD "Committee discussed matter in my absence."