Mr. H. N. Brailsford

Noel Brailsford
photo from website on his book on Macedonia and from Spartacus[10]
Henry Noel Brailsford, 59, (1873-1958) was a left-wing intellectual and political journalist, writer of more than 15 major books and a vociferous critic of British imperialism. He was a strong supporter of the suffragette movement and met many of the historical figures of the day: Nehru, Gandhi, Lenin, Trotsky.

Seated beside….

In some respects Noel is the odd one out, not literally as in the only man on a table of ladies, but given his profession as a writer and with his interest in politics.  Perhaps he may have been seated alongside the senior woman at the table, schools inspector Elizabeth Stevenson; perhaps form might have meant Clare Leighton his partner would have been beside him (but somehow I don’t see this whole company worrying too much about formalities).

What’s on his mind?

If anyone was thinking about politics on this celebratory evening it surely would have included Noel. His most recent book (1932) was on India so perhaps he regaled the company with his recollections of Nehru and Gandhi. In 1932 he also published a pamphlet If We Want Peace under Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth imprint. This isn’t a particularly suffragist table but he was of course well placed to join in any conversation on the roles and rights of women and perhaps how to achieve progress.

Noel’s Story So Far

Born in Yorkshire on Christmas Day 1873, Noel was brought up and educated in Scotland. After graduating from Glasgow University, but failing to find an academic foothold, he joined the Greek Foreign Legion in 1897 to assist the Greeks in their fight against the Ottoman Empire, retiring, slightly hurt, “disabused of his Byronic impulses”.[1] However his first book, a novel drawing on those experiences, attracted the attention of Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott who sent him back as a special correspondent in Crete and Macedonia.[2]

In 1899, he moved to London, and worked as a leader-writer for a series of liberal newspapers, such as the Morning Leader, The Echo, The Tribune, the Daily News, Reynolds’s News, New Statesman and Nation. In 1907 he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and edited the ILP weekly, the New Leader (1922-6). He came in contact with revolutionary Russians, including Lenin and Trotsky, and was a supporter of Soviet Russia in its early days. Travels to India also brought him into contact with Nehru and Gandhi.[3]

At some financial sacrifice he had resigned from the Daily News in protest against the forcible feeding of imprisoned suffragettes. Active in the women’s suffrage campaign, encouraged by his former student militant suffragette first wife, Jane Esdon Malloch, he was a key figure in the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and edited their journal for a while.[4] He tried to bring constitutionalists and militants together and set up and was the honorary secretary of the Conciliation Committee, formed in 1909, which produced a number of bills in favour of women’s suffrage for debate in parliament.[5] He spoke at the 1928 Victory and After Luncheon at the Hotel Cecil chaired by Lady Rhondda.[6]

What Noel Did Next

Ahead of him, as for all his contemporaries, were to come the challenges of the Spanish Civil War, Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin’s abuses. As F.M. Leventhal comments in his ODNB entry, “More than any other event during his lifetime, the Spanish conflict aroused his passionate idealism. It was Spain that converted him from a belief in concessions to avoid war to military resistance to fascism. His denunciation of the Munich agreement was among the strongest indictments to appear in the British press. He also spoke out forcefully against the Soviet purge trials, earning the enmity of the Communist Party”.[7]

At the time of the 1933 dinner Noel was living with Clare Leighton, 25 years his junior. He had separated from his wife Jane in 1921 but she refused him a divorce. Noel’s wife died in 1937 and he suffered a breakdown, resulting in Clare leaving for the US. He remarried in 1944, to a German refugee, 40 years his junior. He ceased his journalism in 1950 and died in 1958 with his last book, The Levellers and the English Revolution (1961), incomplete. Leventhal writes “a tireless dissenting voice, never wavering in his quest for international conciliation, social justice, and the liberation of subject peoples”.[8] [9]

Noel, born on Christmas Day, died precisely 25 years after the dinner, on 23rd March 1958. Did he have an inbuilt sense of timing?


[1] F.M. Leventhal, Brailsford, Henry Noel, (1873–1958), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 6 January 2011, first published 23 September 2004, accessed online 18 January 2018. The writer of this ODNB entry is also the author of The last dissenter: H. N. Brailsford and his world, OUP,1985


[3] Open University, Making Britain, H.N Brailsford, online, accessed 5 January 2018

[4] Communication from Angela V. John 21.3.2018

[5] Henry Noel Brailsford, Sources for Women Suffrage in the Guardian Archive, accessed 19th January 2018

[6] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, pp 93 and 388

[7] F.M. Leventhal, Brailsford, Henry Noel, (1873–1958), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 6 January 2011, first published 23 September 2004, accessed online 18 January 2018

[8] F.M. Leventhal, Brailsford, Henry Noel, (1873–1958), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 6 January 2011, first published 23 September 2004, accessed online 18 January 2018


[10] Henry Noel Brailsford, Spartacus Educational, accessed 19th January 2018

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