Born Noreen Browne in London on May 16th 1910, the daughter of the Earl of Sligo, an army officer killed in First World War. Her mother also died in the same period, so she and her two sibilings were brought up by strict grandparents. Although they insisted on a very religious upbringing, she became an atheist when she was 16 years old.
Noreen had been taught by governesses until aged about 12 years, and then attended Queensgate Girls Day School. She then studied at the Tobias Matthay Piano School. This was of some note, since Matthay was then a highly prized theoretician of music teaching. His conceptions related to the “displacement of tension and his attention to natural musical laws attracted considerable attention”, and his many successful pupils established him as one of the greatest pedagogues of all time. Students from throughout the world sought his advice on artistic as well as technical matters.
She joined the Communist Party in 1932 becoming the Battersea Branch Secretary. She was also active in the Co-op Women’s Guild. Whilst her husband was in Spain in the International Brigade she was the representative of the Co-operative Women’s Guild on the Battersea Aid Spain Committee.
Noreen was also a skilful singer and joined the Bach choir in 1929. In early 1931, she took part in an East End charity concert, where she met Clive Branson, a painter and poet. They agreed to marry within only a few days, did so within a month, and their life together centred on politics. Significantly, their artist daughter was called Rosa.
Initially members of the ILP, they later joined the Communist Party and Noreen the Co-operative Women’s Guild. They lived in the poorer parts of Chelsea and Battersea
Late in 1934, Harry Pollitt asked her to take money and documents to the then illegal Communist Party of India in Bombay. Her social background was perfect cover. During one hunt for a Comintern messenger, she was dancing with the chief of police during a new year’s ball.
She attended the 7th world congress of the Comintern in Moscow and spent several months engaged in the high risk task as a courier to underground parties in Europe.
Clive Branson went to Spain, as a volunteer for the International Brigade, where he was captured and spent eight months as a prisoner. Whilst her husband was in Spain in the International Brigade she was the representative of the Co-operative Women’s Guild on the Battersea Aid Spain Committee.
In January 1938, whilst her husband was held in a fascist camp, Noreen began to work as a researcher for Pollitt. She then very quickly moved over to the Labour Research Department. Having been named in the deeds of Marx House as its purchaser, she was also deeply involved in its establishment and was its Vice-President up to her death.
From 1938, she worked with LRD for the next 65 years! (She was editor of `Social Service News’ from 1941.) She became the editor of its journal, `Labour Research’, for 28 years from 1944 to 1972 and continued to be associated with the group for the rest of her life. (Social Service News, which she continued to be editor of simultaneously with Labour Research, merged with the latter in 1950.)
During the Second World War, her husband, Clive, was killed in Burma in 1944 and, the next year, she published his letters as “A British Soldier in India”.
She was Secretary of St Pancras Trades Council for a while from 1947, and was a delegate from the clerical and administrative workers’ union.
A member of the Communist Historians Group, Branson was a serious and published author. She was writer of a book on the struggles in Poplar, in East London, from 1919-25 and on `Britain in the Nineteen Thirties’, the latter with Margot Heinemann and two volumes of the history of the CPGB covering 1927 to 1951
As an LRD specialist, she concentrated on issues relating to social services. Her first personally written book, “Room at the Bottom” (1960) was a critique of the welfare state, but was published under the name of Katherine Hood. She also co-authored a book with Roger Simon, under the same name (he was James Harvey!). Noreen Branson died aged 93 on 25th October 2003 “still convinced of the need for a socialist transformation of society”. [Quote from Lionel Fulton in the Morning Star.]
Sources: Socialist History Society leaflet, Labour Research December 2003, Guardian (undated) October/November 2003,
Morning Star 8th November 2003