Sir Francis Meredith Wilfrid Meynell, KB, was born in 1891. His mother was Alice Meynell, a suffragist and Roman Catholic. George Lansbury brought him in to be business manager of the Daily Herald in 1913.
Meynell was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the First World War, having come to security force notice as an active peace campaigner during the First World War, leading the Guild of Pope’s Peace. He was suspected of being involved in propaganda designed to undermine the morale of the British army.
Meynell remained prominent in the peace movement after the war. By now MI5 files were describing him as "an ardent Sinn Feiner" and "an extreme socialist”. MI5’s surveillance of Meynell increased exponentially when he became a member of the Communist Party in 1920.
A trip to Scandinavia caught MI5’s particular attention and allegations that Meynell was involved in smuggling valuables intended to help boost the Communist press. One note on files, dated December 1920, refers to information from a reliable source saying: "When the Bolshevik diamonds were brought into England, they were brought by Francis Meynell concealed in chocolates. I understand that at Stockholm, he purchased a box of chocolates, extracted the cream contents and filled them in with the diamonds".
Later, in a newspaper interview, Meynell said he simply popped the box of chocolates in the post and addressed them to himself and later on the diamonds went back to the Soviet Union to be put to "good use".
Communist Party pamphlets from the 1920s are characterised by superb typography and high quality abstract detailing. Francis Meynell was a key figure in the book design world and would found his own press – Nonesuch Press – in 1923. But first, under his influence, Communist-produced pamphlets and journals began to feature high production values, even to the quality of the paper. Meynall then became editor of The Communist early in 1921. (It had begun publication on 5th August 1920, the first editor being Fred Willis, former editor of the BSP’s weekly.)
Circulation had already begun to rise rapidly, partly due to improvements in the paper’s appearance, but this especially continued when Francis Meynell took over; indeed, during his editorship circulation rose from 25,000 to 60,000. Then railway workers’ leader J H Thomas sued the paper for libel; in the fall out, Raymond Postgate took over from Meynell as editor. The Communist ended with its 131st issue on 3rd February 1923, being supplanted by Workers Weekly. Meynell appears to have left the Communist Party sometime during that year or early in the next.
By the time of the Second World War, the authorities were less interested in Meynell who, in 1940, became an adviser on consumer needs to the Board of Trade. He and his wife worked together during World War II on Utility Design, an austere and functional style.
After the war they lived and farmed in a secluded part of Suffolk for many years. Meynell was knighted in 1946, perhaps owing to influence from old Labour Party contacts, and in recognition of his contribution to `Utility’ furniture; he would die in 1975.