By Dr. James Peters, Archivist, University of Manchester Library
Walton Newbold (1888-1943) is one of the few University students known to have been active opponents of the War. Unlike some other student pacifists, his motives for opposing war were strictly political, rather than religious or humanitarian.
Walton Newbold had graduated from the University with a masters degree in history in 1912. During this period, he had been briefly engaged to his fellow student Ellen Wilkinson, the future Labour cabinet minister.
Newbold had been a very active student politician, and although he seems to have considered an academic career, he soon gave up research to become a campaigning journalist. Newbold wrote prolifically for the radical press, and published a series of works arguing that an arms race, caused by colluding governments and armaments companies, lay behind the international tensions which eventually led to war in 1914.
Newbold was prominent in various anti-war groups, including the No Conscription Fellowship. Although opposed to military service, his poor health meant that he was unlikely to have been called up.
His polemical journalism continued throughout the War, and soon got him into trouble with the authorities. In October 1915, he was fined by a police court in Buxton for comments he made in the American press and in private correspondence (which the authorities were monitoring) about British firms trading with the enemy through neutral companies. He had also called for a US trade boycott of all belligerents.
Newbold appears to have relished his day in court. In his unpublished memoirs, “Wars of this World Revolution”, he recalled “Of course, I was guilty … I had sought to prejudice the relations of His Majesty’s Government with a Foreign Power, to wit, the United States…” (Walton Newbold papers, University of Manchester Library).
Newbold was by all accounts a difficult personality and it seems he tried the patience even of erstwhile supporters. Newbold’s only defence witness at his hearing, John Graham, the Quaker Principal of Dalton Hall, was a tireless defender of pacifists. Graham later wrote to his son giving a slightly different picture of events: “Newbold’s advocate and I succeeded in persuading the magistrates that he was a Quaker enthusiast with his knife into armament firms, and not a German spy or Anti-British. I did not pay his fine. His mother paid it… I have had an abusive anonymous letter sent in consequence…containing a big old rusty nail and an imitation handcuff. It will amuse thee when thou see it”. (John Graham papers, University of Manchester Library.)
Newbold later became a supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, and was one of two Communist MPs elected at the 1922 general election. His parliamentary career was brief, as he lost his seat at the next election. In later years he turned against his former left-wing colleagues, and became a supporter of Ramsay Macdonald’s National Government.