History of the Housmans Peace Diary

The Housmans Peace Diary was begun in 1953 by Harry Mister, then general manager of both Peace News and Housmans Bookshop, which had been founded by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) in the optimistic aftermath of the Second World War, to promote peace literature along with the related issues of human rights, justice, and the environment. The shop was named in honour of the pacifist writer and dramatist Laurence Housman (1865-1959), who formally opened its first premises in Shaftesbury Avenue, central London, in 1945.

Housmans in the sixties

Despite the intensity of the Cold War, the British peace movement was burgeoning, following the first major British demonstration against nuclear weapons in 1950, and the first civil disobedience action in 1952, both originating from the PPU. Yet Harry Mister was conscious of a gap in communication between the growing number of organisations. The National Peace Council, the co-ordinating body for British peace groups since 1908, had traditionally published a Year Book including a directory of organisations. Latterly this had been reduced to an annual directory, but then, for economic reasons, that also had ceased publication.

Harry Mister conceived the idea that an annual directory could be made viable by combining it with a diary, and so Housmans Peace Diary was born with the 1954 edition. From the outset the Directory was expanded to become international in scope, covering both individual organisations in major countries around the world and organisations operating either in several countries or as international federations.

At this time, however, the Diary itself was an ordinary commercial product, the publishers simply printing and binding the Peace Directory – and a small amount of related material – along with it. This Housmans Peace Diary format continued from 1954 for thirty years, with the addition in later years of a range of peace symbols embossed on the cover. The Diary proved itself an invaluable tool in the first wave of the nuclear disarmament movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

For the 1984 Diary, at the height of the second wave of the nuclear disarmament movement, Alexander Donaldson and Nigel Kemp, of the Housmans staff, designed an entirely new format, incorporating the Peace Directory into a specially compiled diary. This marked major “Peace Days”, such as United Nations Day and Prisoners for Peace Day, as well as noting anniversaries of significant peace and war events, as a contribution towards publicising the long history of the worldwide peace movement and encouraging its continuance. From that year also, short articles have been included on topical themes, weekly quotations on peace and nonviolence have been introduced for reflection or inspiration, and colourful covers have been designed by many different artists. The present page size was adopted for the 1990 edition with the intention that a looseleaf filofax version would be possible, but there was not sufficient demand to make two different products viable – so the separate filofax version was quickly discontinued, but the size remained.

Over the years the number of anniversaries recorded has been increased, so that there is now an entry for every day of the year, the great majority being “round number” anniversaries, rendering them the more suitable for celebration or protest worldwide, as well as facilitating a fresh selection each year. Not only do groups sometimes ask for further information on certain events in order to mark their anniversary suitably, but the major British newspaper The Guardian, in an editorial on the complexities facing President Bill Clinton in choosing a date for his own contemplated strike on Iraq in 1998, commended “the excellent Housmans Peace Diary” as a guide to avoiding the embarrassment of a Middle East adventure on, for example, the 10th anniversary of either the Israeli jailing of Mordechai Vanunu or Saddam’s massacre of the Kurds at Halabja.

The Peace Directory has also been enhanced over the years. Because its scope began to exceed the capacity of the Diary, Peace News Trustees, the parent company of both Peace News and Housmans, set up the Housmans Peace Resource Project in 1992 to manage the Drectory as an entity in itself. The Directory database, organised since 1989 by Albert Beale, now comprises some 3500 regularly updated entries, of which a selection of about 2000 of the most relevant is made for each year’s Diary. From 1984 to 1998 there was also a British Local Directory published in the Diary, giving a brief region-by-region selection of local peace and related groups around Britain.

The editorial policy is that, although Housmans is rooted in the radical pacifist wing of the British peace movement, the features, dates, quotations and directory in its Peace Diary should reflect the broad spectrum of the global movement, thus giving the Diary transnational relevance. The 1999-2001 editions were co-published by New Society Publishers in Canada, on their initiative, in an attempt to build up the North American market, but the venture proved economically unviable.