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Donald Chesworth (1923-1991) was a politician and administrator. Over the course of his 45-year career, he worked for a wide range of organisations on projects aligned with his socialist values, both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

29 April 2019

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Photograph of Donald Chesworth

Chesworth’s career included periods working as a local councillor, acting as an adviser to Commonwealth Governments, and spending ten years as Warden of Toynbee Hall in East London. He was also on the board of various charities and grant giving trusts. His archives were deposited at Queen Mary in 1991, shortly after his death. Although the collection has been available to researchers for many years, we are now embarking on a project to catalogue the collection in detail. This will give us a better understanding of what the collection contains, and enable researchers to find relevant material. There are an estimated 400 files of paperwork, as well as numerous printed reports, photographs and objects, so creating a detailed catalogue is a lengthy but worthwhile task. As of April 2019 the collection has been sorted and organised by subject, and about a third of the papers have been catalogued.

As an overview, the collection contains:

Papers relating to North Kensington

Chesworth was a Local Councillor for Kensington North from 1952-1965. In the 1950s, this constituency contained a large amount of slum housing. Unscrupulous landlords took advantage of flaws in legislation, housing shortages and racial tensions to charge exorbitant rents for poor quality housing. Immigrants from the Caribbean were particularly affected, as they struggled to secure accommodation elsewhere. Chesworth’s papers from this time focus on his work to improve housing conditions and ensure fair rents for his constituents. The papers include an autobiographical account of Chesworth’s time living and working in North Kensington, and notes on campaign meetings held by Oswald Mosley, who ran as the Union Movement candidate for Kensington North in the 1959 General Election.

Papers relating to Chesworth’s work in Tanzania and Mauritius

Chesworth was Chairman of the Territorial Minimum Wages Board in Tanganyika (Tanzania) from 1961-1962 and worked as an adviser to the Mauritius Government on several occasions, including two stints as Salaries Commissioner in the 1970s and 1980s. This work involved recommending new salary scales for public sector workers. To do this, Chesworth assembled large amounts of information and statistics concerning people’s working and living conditions, which are preserved in his archive alongside his reports to the Government.

Papers relating to the work of anti-poverty charity, War on Want

Chesworth was a member of the Council of Management of War on Want from 1965-1976, including periods as Chairman. During this time the charity was working on projects throughout Africa and Asia. Chesworth’s papers focus primarily on the charity’s work in Tanzania and Bangladesh. This includes papers relating to the Bangladesh War of Independence, and the co-ordination of the British relief effort for Bangladeshi refugees. There are also papers relating to the setting-up of an agricultural college for young farmers in Mahiwa, Tanzania.

Papers relating to Toynbee Hall

Chesworth was Warden (Chief Executive) of Toynbee Hall, a residential settlement and charity in London’s East End, from 1977-1987. Chesworth was involved in a range of initiatives in the local community, with a focus on education, tackling unemployment, and providing legal advice. The archive contains papers relating to Toynbee Hall’s centenary in 1984, projects with the local Bengali community, and historical papers relating to Toynbee Hall in the first half of the twentieth century.

Papers relating to education in Tower Hamlets

Chesworth’s involvement with education in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets included sitting on various education committees in the 1970s and 1980s and acting as a school and college governor. His papers include committee papers, correspondence and reports, particularly regarding tertiary education, adult education and youth initiatives in the borough.

Chesworth’s range of interests and areas of work make this an incredibly varied collection, providing opportunities for research on topics such as education, poverty, housing, immigration, race relations, local government, charity work, and workers’ rights. As cataloguing continues on the Donald Chesworth collection, we look forward to sharing interesting items and stories with you through this blog.

If you would like to find out more about the collection, or use it in your research, please email



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