Elizabeth “Joan” Beauchamp was the sister of Kay Beauchamp (see separate entry), a leading suffragette and a personal friend of the Pankhurst family. She was also one of the earliest women graduates from the University of London.
During the First World War, Joan became active in the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF) founded by Clifford Allen and Fenner Brockway in late 1914, during the early stages of the First World War. The NCF was established to help and give advice to the estimated 16,000 pacifists and socialists who refused to join the military and fight. The Fellowship faced great hostility from police and authorities who regularly raided their offices at 8 Merton House, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, London and arrested their leaders.
Joan worked at the NCF head office, specialising in the production and distribution of illegal anti-war publications, along with other notable women such as Ada Salter, Gladys Rinder, Lydia Smith, Lilla Brockway and acting general secretary, Violet Tillard, a Quaker who was imprisoned for 61 days and later died in helping Russian refugees during the famine.
While working at the NCF, Joan met William “Harry” Thompson, a lawyer, a conscientious objector and public speaker for the NCF. Thompson was imprisoned in Wakefield jail in 1917 and Joan entered into correspondence with him throughout his two-year sentence. On his release, the roles were reversed in 1919, when the judiciary finally caught up on Joan’s anti-war activities; she received 10 days imprisonment in January 1920.
Joan was a founding member of the Communist Party and maintained a life-long loyalty to it; Harry Thompson never joined but was most certainly a close confidante of Harry Pollitt, the Party’s General Secretary. As “W H Thompson”, he became Britain’s most prominent and renowned labour movement lawyer, a man at the forefront of all the major campaigns faced by the movement in the early part of the 20th Century from the Poplar councillors’ revolt to the Meerut conspiracy trial in India. He was the ever-present legal advisor to every-and-any progressive movement in the period between the two world wars.
Harry and Joan subsequently married at the Hampstead Quaker Meeting House in North London and Joan went on to be a journalist in London. During the Second World War, Joan received severe injuries from a German flying bomb but this did not deter her. When Harry died, in August 1947, Joan was instrumental in encouraging her sons Brian and Robin to take on the practice, and continue in their father’s tradition and commitment.
On his death Robin Page Arnot stated: “Harry Thompson built up a specialised knowledge in workingmen’s compensations – and he did more than anyone else to make this a burning issue”. It is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to say that Harry Thompson practically invited common law compensation claim route for unions to serve their members who are injured or killed at work by employer negligence. Unquestionably, Harry and Joan were a team and his pioneering legal work for the whole labour and progressive movement was no aberration; the Daily Worker notebook for 8th August 1947 recorded that Joan Beauchamp “was a decisive factor in the success of his (Harry Thompsons) work”.
The firm of solicitors that Harry Thompson founded, with his wife’s strong support, is today probably the largest catering only for trade unions and their members, and one of the largest in the country in any field. It still bears his name and maintains a family connection amongst its partners in the form of the third generation, as well as its politically progressive reputation amongst its clientele and the legal profession at large. An enviable record of tenacity in pursuing employer liability and maximising damages payments to ordinary workers and their families is more than suitable memorial to both Harry and Joan.
Sources: `The Search for Harry Thompson’; Daily Worker 8 August 1947
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