The missing memoirs of Tom Brown, Tyneside syndicalist

Tom Brown was a lifelong syndicalist, promoting ‘the grassroots organisation of the workers in action, bending employers, union bosses and the State to its will’.[1] Born in Newcastle, the search for work took him to the West Midlands and London. Eventually, he retired to Gateshead with his wife Lily and wrote his memoirs. Unfortunately, the manuscript was borrowed by ‘two visiting female American academics whom he had met either at or in connection with the Durham Miners Gala’ – and never returned.[2]

Brown’s surviving articles frequently draw on his own experiences. ‘School for syndicalism’ recalls his earliest memories of factory work; ‘Into battle with the bazooka bands’ mentions moving back to County Durham after the defeat of the 1926 General Strike.[3] He wrote a pamphlet on the strike: ‘Lions led by rats’ sums up his view of what went wrong.[4] At least one American student interviewed him about the General Strike.[5] Might that be what the Mysterious Americans were interested in?

If you know the current location of his memoirs, or you can tell us something that would help to track them down, we’d be glad to hear from you.


1, ‘Story of the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation: Born in Struggle’ From: Direct Action February 1968, at
2, Details from Mark Hendy
3, See
4, The British General Strike, 1926 (1943, Reprinted in Tom Brown’s syndicalism, 1990)
5, See ‘British Labor’s Divided Ranks In the General Strike’ By Haldan Christensen (1965) at

[additional info, not published in the October 2018 issue of the KSL Bulletin:]

Tom and Lily moved to Gateshead c.1967/8. [T.B. visited London] soon after 15 May 1972. He made no mention then of the American women; he would almost certainly have mentioned the memoirs in a general sort of way. He was dead by the early summer of 1974, something I discovered then when a letter or publication Stuart sent him was returned marked “deceased.” I wrote at once to Lily to ask if he had left the memoirs he often talked of writing and she wrote back about the Americans. All that must narrow things down a bit. The ladies’ interest may have been caught initially by Tom’s early membership of the SLP [Socialist Labour Party] (today just about dead, I think, but which in its heyday produced a daily paper, the Daily People, in the USA; of course the same party also produced, besides James Connolly — who would have had a substantial Irish following in the USA — a large percentage of the founders of the CPGB).”