M - O

Morton A L

A L Morton

(Arthur) Leslie Morton was born on July 4th 1903 at Bury St Edmunds into a farming family. From 1921, he studied at Cambridge, where he was one of the group that formed around Maurice Dobb (see separate entry). Morton joined the Communist Party in 1929 and remained a member all of his life, along with his wife, Vivien, the daughter of T A Jackson (see spearate entry for Jackson).
 
A teacher for a time at A S Neill's school, Summerhill, he was one of a group of London left-wing intellectuals of the 1930s. His friends at that time included AL Lloyd and Maurice Cornforth (see separate entries). In 1932 and 1933 he was involved in a debate with F R Leavis
 
He took part in the Hunger Marches of 1934 and was the Daily Worker correspondent for the East Anglia contingent, also serving on the editorial board of the paper in this period. He acted as the `owner’ of the paper at a time when personal liability applied in libel cases, threatening jail since the paper had no money!  

During this period, he was a member of the Holloway Group of Islington Communist Party, which had headquarters in a disused workshop in Andover Yard, just opposite the Hornsey Road Baths. “Much of our work,” he was to recall, “was concentrated in the area lying in the angle of Hornsey Road and Seven Sisters Road, we canvassed all the streets in the area and tackled the Campbell Road, said to be the poorest street in the district and the one where people lived in the worst conditions.” [Letter from Morton to History Workshop Autumn 1980’]

 
Morton was a prolific English Marxist historian. His 1938 `A People's History Of England, published by the Left Book Club, was adopted quasi-officially as the Communist Party’s national history, and went through later editions on that basis. For a time during the early part of the Second World War, he was the full-time district organiser of the Party’s East Anglia district and was chair of the district committee for many years. It was not always an easy task yet Leslie Morton did not easily give up.

 

Rotten eggs were still floating in the pond at Belchamp Walter, in Essex, after attempts to break up a Communist Party meeting broke on the last Sunday evening in August. Morton was thrown from the platform onto the road and the local paper claimed that it was only police action in stopping the meeting that prevented serious violence emerging. [Thanks to MW: August 29th 1950 Suffolk & Essex Free Press]

 

The assailant, one Mr F. Pearson, found a leaflet advertising the meeting, which had been slipped under the door of his house at North Waver. Pearson showed the paper to his friend Archie Cameron of Crows Farm who declared it has got to be stopped, so with Mick and Jim Butler they rallied 20 supporters and went to the pond where the meeting was held. When Morton and his comrades arrived, the speaker stood on the lowered boot of a car. Archie Cameron walked up to him and grabbed him by the hand and laid him out with a punch so that he fell on his back in the road. Max Morton, A L Morton’s brother (of Paines Manor, Pentlow) rushed up to help but was stopped by Fred Pearson.  A L Morton gamely resumed his place on his `platform’ and tried to begin again when the police advised them to end the meeting.

 

Morton worked mostly as an independent scholar; for a time in the 1940s he was closely associated with the Historians Group of the Communist Party. He is known also for work on William Blake and the Ranters, and for the study `The English Utopia’.
 
Morton was one of the group of leading communist historians invited to Moscow in 1954/5, with Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and the historian of ancient history, Robert Browning (see separate entries for all). 
 
Morton took part in the Peoples’ March for Jobs in the 1980s and died in 1987 at his home, The Old Chapel Clare, in Suffolk at the age of 84.
 
Publications:
 
`A People's History Of England’ (1938)
Language of Men’ (1945) essays
The story of the English revolution (1949) Communist Party pamphlet
The English Utopia (1952)
The British Labour Movement, 1770-1920 (1956) with George Tate
The Everlasting Gospel: A Study in the Sources of William Blake (1958)
The Life and Ideas of Robert Owen (1962)
The matter of Britain: essays in a living culture (1966)
The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution (1970)
Political Writings of William Morris (1973) editor
Freedom in Arms A selection of Leveller writings (1975) editor
Collected poems (1976)
Three Works By William Morris (1977) editor
History and the Imagination: Selected Writings of A.L. Morton (1990) edited by Margot Heinemann and Willie Thompson
 
Sources: Morning Star 24th October 1987; 26th October 1987