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George Lansbury

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Halesworth, Suffolk, England
Death: May 7, 1940 (81)
Manor House Hospital, Golders Green, London, , England (Hendon 3a/883 - age 81)
Immediate Family:

Son of George Lansbury, Sr. and Mary Anne Ferries
Husband of Elisabeth (Bessie) Jane Brine
Father of Edgar Lansbury; William Arthur Lansbury; <private> Lansbury; Constance Lansbury; Annie Lansbury and 5 others
Brother of <private> Lansbury; <private> Lansbury; Catherine Ann Lansbury; Arthur Lansbury; Harry Thomas Lansbury and 3 others

Managed by: Barry Charles Wingham
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About George Lansbury

<Archive obituary> <The Times, May 8, 1940>


Mr. George Lansbury, Labour M.P. for the Bow and Bromley Division of Poplar since 1922 and Leader of the Opposition from 1932 to 1935, who had been ill for some time in Manor House Hospital, died last night at the age of 81.

For nearly 50 years he was prominently associated with the Labour movement and was widely known as an ardent propagandist, but his pronounced 'Left Wing' sympathies kept him in his position of a detached critic among the movement's official representatives until his inclusion in the second Labour Government as First Commissioner of Works. After the fall of the second Labour Government he became, as the only member of the Cabinet to survive the General Election, the chairman of the much reduced party in Parliament, and was elected as the party's leader when Mr. Henderson resigned that position in 1932. The appointment, although dictated by circumstances, was cordially accepted by the movement at large.

After some years as a Liberal agent Lansbury joined in 1892 the Social Democratic Federation, which later became affiliated to the Labour Party. Under his leadership the Labour Party in Poplar gained widespread notoriety. The policy he followed, which came to be known as 'Poplarism,' was severely criticised, and in 1921 he and other councillors went to prison for refusing to collect rates. He entered national politics in 1895, when he contested Walworth as an S.D.F. candidate for Parliament. He polled only 207 votes. At the General Election of December, 1910, he won Bow and Bromley, holding the seat until 1912. In that year he challenged re-election by resigning his seat, without consultation with the leaders of the Labour Party, in order to test the policy of refusing to allow Parliamentary business to go on until the question of woman suffrage had been settled satisfactorily.

For the next 10 years Lansbury was out of Parliament and devoted himself to Labour journalism and platform activities as chief spokesman of Labour's 'Left Wing'. He helped to found, and for a short time edited, the Daily Herald, which was launched as an unofficial journal in opposition to the Labour Party's organ, the Citizen. During the War Lansbury converted his paper into a weekly, but in 1919 he succeeded in restarting it as a daily newspaper, and edited it as 'Left Wing' journal until 1923, when it was taken over by the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, Lansbury remaining as general manager but resigning the editorship. He was always a vigorous advocate of friendship with Soviet Russia. He regained the representation of Bow and Bromley in the House of Commons in 1922. He was passed over in the selection of Ministers in the first Labour Government in 1924, but in the second Cabinet formed by Mr. MacDonald in 1929 he held a position as First Commissioner of Works. He was a member of the Central Unemployed Body for London, and served for a number of years on the L.C.C. When he became a Minister in 1929 he was sworn a Privy Councillor.

In 1880 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Isaac Brine. She died in 1933. He left two sons and six daughters.



George Lansbury (1859 - 1940) was a British politician, socialist, Christian pacifist and newspaper editor. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1910 to 1912 and from 1922 to 1940, and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935.

He was a campaigner for social justice and improved living and employment conditions for the working class, especially in London's East End.

Early years

George Lansbury was born 21 February 1859 in a tollhouse located between the towns of Lowestoft and Halesworth in Suffolk, England. His father, George Lansbury, Sr., was a migrant laborer employed at the time for a contractor engaged in the construction of railroads throughout the eastern part of England. The family lived in a series of hastily-constructed temporary dwellings abandoned as soon as construction in an area was completed. His mother, Anne Lansbury, was of Welsh heritage, married at an early age. Both of his parents drank fairly heavily, a fact which Lansbury's son-in-law and biographer indicates may have influenced George Junior's lifelong abstinence from alcohol.

Lansbury's maternal grandmother and mother were both religiously nonconformist — being strict Sabbatarians — and politically radical. George was brought into politics at a young age, being taught to read with the pages of a newspaper. Lansbury was formally educated in the rural one-room schoolhouses of the day, with the family never staying in one place for long — Sydenham and Greenwich were among the towns which the family called home.

Late in 1868 the Lansbury family moved again, this time to Bethnal Green and later Whitechapel in London's East End.

Entry into politics

His earliest political involvement was with the Liberal Party, which he joined in 1886. He acted as electoral agent for Samuel Montagu in Whitechapel at the General Election of 1886, and for Jane Cobden, who stood for election to the London County Council as a Liberal candidate in 1889. That year Lansbury took up the issue of pressing for a legal eight-hour day, but after failing to secure the support of the National Liberal Federation at their 1889 conference he became increasingly disillusioned by the Liberals. He came into contact with the Social Democratic Federation and, in support of the famous 1889 Dock Strike, joined the recently formed Gas Workers' and General Labourers' Union.

Lansbury left the Liberal Party in 1892 and, with friends, formed the Bow and Bromley branch of the Social Democratic Front (SDF). He became a prominent member of that organisation, standing twice as a parliamentary candidate for the SDF in the 1890s, before leaving to join the Independent Labour Party around 1903. In 1910, he became MP for Bow and Bromley, when the sitting Conservative MP retired and the Liberals supported his candidature. Two years later he clashed with Asquith in the House of Commons over the issue of women's suffrage and resigned his seat in order to stand in a by-election in support of the Suffragette movement. However he was unsuccessful, and did not return to the House of Commons for ten years. Continuing to support the campaign for women's suffrage, Lansbury was charged with sedition in 1913 and jailed in Pentonville, during which time he hunger-struck and was temporarily released under the Cat and Mouse Act. In Parliament, he defended authors of a "Don't Shoot" leaflet addressed to soldiers called to deal with militant strikers.

Lansbury helped found, in 1912, the Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper. He became editor just prior to World War I and used the paper to oppose the war, publishing a headline "War Is Hell" at the outbreak of fighting. In 1922 the Herald was desperately short of funds and Lansbury reluctantly handed over the paper to the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party.

He was instrumental in opening the first training school for destitute Poplar children in 1905, called Hutton Poplars and situated near Hutton in the Essex countryside, the model for subsequent children's homes.

As Labour Mayor of Poplar, one of London's poorest boroughs, Lansbury led the Poplar Rates Rebellion in 1921, opposing not only the Government and the London County Council, but leaders of his own party. The borough council, instead of forwarding the precept of collected tax monies to LCC, dispersed the money as aid to the needy. Thirty councillors, including six women, were jailed by the High Court for six weeks. Council meetings during this time were held in Brixton Prison, until the government grew uneasy about the imprisonment and LCC asked the High Court to release the prisoners. A rates revision was achieved and Lansbury returned to Parliament at the 1922 general election, when he regained his old seat of Bromley and Bow.

Between 1925 and 1927 he edited Lansbury's Labour Weekly, which included columns by Ellen Wilkinson and Raymond Postgate and artwork by Reginald Brill.

Lansbury's standing within the Labour party grew and in 1927 he was elected Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party for 1927-28. In 1929 Lansbury became First Commissioner of Works in the second Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. In this capacity, he was associated with the construction, amongst numerous other public works, of a large open air swimming pool on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, popularly known as 'Lansbury's Lido'. This led to him gaining the popular title "First Commissioner for Good Works".

He was sworn into the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1929, allowing him the use of the title The Right Honourable for Life.

Leader of the Labour Party

Two years later the government fell, MacDonald deserted the Labour Party to form the National Government and the party went to a massive defeat in the 1931 General Election. The party's new leader Arthur Henderson and nearly every other leading Labour figure were defeated. Lansbury was the one exception and became Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1931. The following year Henderson stood down from the leadership of the overall party and Lansbury succeeded him.

The Fulham East by-election in June 1933 was dominated by the issue of re-armament against Nazi Germany, following Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations. Lansbury, a lifelong Christian pacifist, sent a message to the constituency in his position as Labour Leader:

I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: "Do your worst."

As a pacifist Lansbury found himself increasingly at odds with the official foreign policy of the party he led. On several occasions he offered to resign the leadership but his parliamentary colleagues dissuaded him, not least because there was no clear alternative leader. However in late 1935 the disagreements became more severe and public. Many in the Labour Party, particularly the Trade Union wing led by Ernest Bevin, were pushing for the party to support sanctions against Italy for its aggression against Abyssinia. Lansbury fundamentally disagreed with this. In the weeks leading up to the Labour Party Conference Lansbury's position was weakened when both Lord Ponsonby, the Labour leader in the House of Lords, and the Labour frontbencher and National Executive member Sir Stafford Cripps, widely seen as Lansbury's political heir, resigned from their positions because they too opposed sanctions and felt it would be impossible to lead a party when they were in disagreement with it on the major political issue of the day.

Many wondered how Lansbury's leadership could survive, even though he retained an immense personal popularity. At the Conference this was publicly displayed by delegates, but then during a debate on foreign policy Ernest Bevin launched a withering attack on Lansbury. Heavily defeated in the vote, Lansbury determined to resign as leader. At a meeting of Labour MPs called shortly afterwards there was a great reluctance to accept his resignation, partially out of continued support but also because many Labour MPs feared that the next leader would be Arthur Greenwood, widely seen as heavily aligned to trade unionists like Bevin. In a vote the MPs voted by 38 to 7 with five abstentions to not accept Lansbury's resignation, but he insisted on stepping down. When it came to selecting a successor (initially envisaged as a temporary position), Greenwood's name was not considered and the party instead unanimously elected Lansbury's deputy, Clement Attlee.

Lansbury was chair of the No More War Movement, chair of the War Resisters' International, 1936–1940, and President of the Peace Pledge Union, 1937-1940. He was a critic of British policy towards the Spanish Civil War and worked with Spanish pacifist José Brocca.

His efforts to prevent World War II led him, under the banner Embassies of Reconciliation, to visit most of the heads of government in Europe, including Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He also visited U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He died of cancer on 7 May 1940, aged 81, in Manor House Hospital in North London.

Personal life


George Lansbury married his schoolfriend Elisabeth (Bessie) Jane Brine in 1880. They had twelve children, including Edgar and Daisy Lansbury; and he was the father-in-law of suffragette Minnie Lansbury, Belfast-born actress Moyna MacGill, and historian and novelist Raymond Postgate. George Lansbury was grandfather of actress Angela Lansbury, producers Bruce and Edgar Lansbury, and animator and puppeteer Oliver Postgate.

Historical sites

George Lansbury lived at 39 Bow Road, Tower Hamlets, which was destroyed by German bombing a few months after his death in 1940. The site is now occupied by a block of flats that bears Lansbury's name and carries a memorial plaque. Outside the flats, at the corner of Bow Road and Harley Grove, there is a stone memorial to George Lansbury with an inscription that includes the words "A great servant of the people."

George Lansbury's name and memory live on in the Lansbury Estate and Lansbury Gardens, East London, numerous street names both in London and Halesworth, Suffolk where he was born, and the aforementioned Lansbury's Lido that he founded on the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park.

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George Lansbury's Timeline

February 22, 1859
Halesworth, Suffolk, England
March 13, 1859
Halesworth, Suffolk, England
April 7, 1861
Age 2
Battersea, Surrey, England
April 7, 1861
Age 2
Battersea, Surrey, England
February 1881
Age 21
Whitechapel, London, England
April 3, 1881
Age 22
45 Montague St, Mile End New Town, London, England
August 1882
Age 23
Whitechapel, London, England
May 20, 1884
Age 25
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
August 1885
Age 26
Whitechapel, London, England