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GREAT EAST ANGLIANS: George Lansbury

PUBLISHED: 12:02 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:20 12 December 2018

George Lansbury at the funeral of George V in 1936. Picture Wikimedia Commons

George Lansbury at the funeral of George V in 1936. Picture Wikimedia Commons

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George Lansbury was born near Halesworth. He would become Labour Party leader and grandfather to stars.

George Lansbury's granddaughter, Dame Angela Lansbury, seen here in 2003. Picture: EVA RINALDIGeorge Lansbury's granddaughter, Dame Angela Lansbury, seen here in 2003. Picture: EVA RINALDI

If any man deserves our admiration for having the courage of his convictions, it is Suffolk-born George Lansbury, a socialist reformer and once a leader of the Labour Party.

Recognise that surname? Yes, he was the grandfather of screen and stage star Dame Angela Lansbury (National Velvet, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Murder She Wrote) who was the daughter of Edgar, his son.

Meanwhile, the son of one of his daughters was children’s TV pioneer Oliver Postgate, a man who, alongside Harwich-born Peter Firmin, we have to thank for Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine.

But maybe we must also thank George Lansbury for his unswerving support for women’s suffrage. Lansbury was Labour Party leader in the 1930s but was forced to resign the leadership in 1935 because of his pacifism. In 1937 he visited Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, believing that his personal influence could halt the looming war. In 1940 he was nominated for, but did not win, the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bagpuss was co-created by George Lansbury's grandson, Oliver Postgate.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNBagpuss was co-created by George Lansbury's grandson, Oliver Postgate. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

We must also thank toll keeper Robert Clarke who in February 1859 was living in a cottage on the Bramfield Road at the Mellis crossing. George Lansbury (father of Halesworth George) was a timekeeper moving around the country with a gang of men who were building the East Suffolk Railway. Also with Lansbury Sr was his heavily pregnant wife Mary Ann. Concerned for Mrs Lansbury Mr Clarke provided his cottage for her confinement. His kindness helped to ensure the baby was born in a safe place. Infant George was baptised in Halesworth church on March 13 and his parents registered their abode as ‘The Thoroughfare’. Today, the lodgings are marked by a plaque. (Source: Nat Bocking)

The family were not in Suffolk for long as they moved on with the railway workers but I like to think Robert Clarke’s compassion somehow shaped George Lansbury.

As a young man, Lansbury was an atheist but in the 1890s he became a Christian socialist. He was one of the founders and, for a while, the editor of the Daily Herald, the first British newspaper to espouse left wing politics. (The Herald became The Sun in the 1960s).

As MP for Bow and Bromley, Lansbury, along with Keir Hardie supported votes for women. In October, 1912, Lansbury decided to draw attention to the plight of suffragette prisoners by resigning his seat in the House of Commons and fighting a by-election in favour of votes for women − and lost. The following year he was imprisoned for making speeches in favour of suffragettes who were involved in illegal activities and, while in Pentonville, went on hunger strike in solidarity, one imagines, with the women.

Lansbury and his wife Bessie, spent most of their married life in London. The couple had 12 children.

George Lansbury died in 1940. He may not have been long in Suffolk but his life and legacy have left us all much happier. Historian A.J.P. Taylor said Lansbury was “the most lovable figure in modern politics”.

Sources: Wikipedia, spartacus-educational.com

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