HAMMOND, John Lawrence Le Breton



18th July 1872 to 7th April 1949

Biographical Text

Lawrence Hammond was an Oxford-educated economic historian who also wrote for a number of years for the Manchester Guardian. Though he had links to the Webbs and other figures in the Labour Party, he was a politically and ideologically a Liberal. He is best known for his work, much of it co-written with his wife, Barbara Hammond, on industrialisation and its impact on the lives of working people. 

Hammond was born in Drighlington in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 18 July 1872, the son of a Church of England clergyman. He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and then from 1891 at St John’s College, Oxford. At Oxford Hammond had a brief flirtation with Fabian socialism before reverting to the Liberal tradition of his family. Hammond was elected secretary of the Oxford Union in 1894, but Weaver (1997) reckons this distracted him from his studies with the result that he graduated with a second in Greats in 1895. 

Following graduation, Hammond served briefly as secretary to the Liberal MP and industrialist Sir John Brunner, one of the co-founders of Brunner Mond. By 1899 he had established a career as a freelance journalist, and was offered the editorship of The Speaker, an anti-imperialist Liberal weekly periodical. Under Hammond’s editorship, the magazine published a number of articles by writers opposing the Boer War, and then embraced a broader programme of reform including subjects such as education, urban renewal, land tax, rural reform, old age pensions and factory reform.  

In 1901 Hammond married Lucy Barbara Bradby, the daughter of a clergyman. A former student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, she was the first woman to earn a first in both classical moderations and Greats, and was an accomplished historian and writer. She was also a supporter of women’s suffrage and a member of the Women’s Industrial Council. It was she who drew Hammond into a closer study of history, especially economic history. 

Although the Hammonds disliked the notion of war, Lawrence Hammond volunteered for military service in 1914. Commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery, he was discharged on grounds of ill health in 1916. He served with the Ministry of Reconstruction during the latter part of the war. This brought him into contact with people such as Beatrice Webb, with whom he and his wife maintained an enduring friendship, and also the economic historian G.D.H. Cole. During the war the Hammonds managed somehow to maintain their research and writing partnership, which had begun with The Village Labourer in 1911; the second part of their famous trilogy on working life, The Town Labourer, appeared in 1917, and the third, The Skilled Labourer, appeared in 1919. 

In 1919 Hammond left government service to return to journalism. The Manchester Guardian, then edited by C.P. Scott, appointed Hammond its special correspondent to cover the Paris peace conference. Like John Maynard Keynes, Hammond concluded that the Treaty of Versailles was a disaster, and wrote several articles to this effect. He also strongly condemned of British policy in Ireland after the rebellion of 1919, and such was his influence by this point that Weaver (1997) believes his articles may be one of the reasons why David Lloyd George’s government decided to abandon hostilities and recognise Irish independence.  

Through the 1920s and 1930s Hammond continued to write, a mixture of journalism and histories, sometimes individually and sometimes in collaboration with his wife. Both Hammonds received honorary doctorates from Oxford in 1933. Hammond became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1942, and was awarded a further honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester in 1948. He several times declined honours from the British government, but accepted the Légion d’honneur from the government of France in 1948. He was at work on a biography of Gladstone when he died at his home in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire on 7 April 1949. 

It is for their three books on working life, The Village LabourerThe Town Labourer and The Skilled Labourer, that the Hammonds are best known. The theme in all three books is one of steadily worsening conditions for the labouring classes, of an increasing gap between rich and poor and loss, not only of economic power but of social amenity, for the latter. In The Village Labourer, the Hammonds began with the enclosure acts and detail meticulously the loss of privileges and income that enclosure entailed. Some redress for the poor was offered after the harvest failures and near-famine – and subsequent bread riots – of 1895, but thereafter conditions worsened once more. In one damning chapter the Hammonds argue that through the 1820s attitudes to the poor on the part of the ruling class hardened; before, they had been a nuisance, now they were considered a threat. The widespread riots of 1830, and the draconian punishments handed out to rioters were considered proof of this. 

In The Town Labourer and The Skilled Labourer, the Hammonds turn their attention to the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, seeing similarly a steady decline in the condition of the working classes and in particular a disastrous effect on the lot of the skilled labourer. The Hammonds were, and still are, accused of looking backwards and having a more romantic view of the distant past, but as Weaver (1997) argues, this criticism was not entirely just; the Hammonds used documentary evidence to back up their claims, and also tried to develop a programme of reform. This, though not well sketched out in any of their work, consisted in part of a return to some form of smallholding as the dominant means of rural proprietorship, along with a renewed emphasis on skilled work (not dissimilar to some of the ideas of William Morris).  

Of more importance was the criticism that, despite their meticulous use of documents, the Hammonds did not use statistics carefully. As a result, more statistically-minded historians such as J.H. Clapham were unable to undermine many of their conclusions about poverty and declining standards of living. 

The notion that the industrial age had enriched the few but impoverished the many provides the opening note for his Rowntree lecture at York in 1921. Hammond comments that Yorkshire had served as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, which he describes as ‘at once the greatest human achievement and the greatest human failure… Never before had there been such an advance in the arts that multiply the pleasures, and the comforts, and the knowledge of the world. But side by side with all of this, we see a spectacle of human pain, and human degradation… The stupendous victory over nature which humanity achieved was never pressed into the service of human freedom and progress.’ 

The early years of the Industrial Revolution, Hammond says, were years of social and economic regression. Unlike the Middle Ages, where it was at least recognised that human beings had souls, in the Industrial Revolution, ‘men, women and children who were looked upon as mere instruments for the acquisitions of wealth’. Initially there were worker revolts, culminating with the Chartists in 1830; the failure of the latter led for a time to a culture of grim acceptance that poverty and degradation were the worker’s lot.  

But by the late nineteenth century, says Hammond, there had begun ‘an intellectual revolt against the whole gospel of the industrial revolution’. He is referring in part to Marxism, though he mentions Marx himself only briefly, but also to the liberal intellectual tradition of people like Octavia Hill, Ebenezer Howard and William Morris, who sought not only to improve the living and working conditions of the working classes, but also to restore their dignity (in the text of the lecture he does not mention these people by name either, but his words provide us with a clear inference). 

The First World War brought matters to a head, and in Russia the capitalist system collapsed entirely; other countries had seen radical changes. For Hammond, however, the problem was not merely one of whether to reform – or dispense with – capitalist economics. As a liberal, he was equally concerned with issues like freedom, justice and what we might now call the meaning of life. Man is still groping after something which will distinguish his life, and make it worth living’, says Hammond, something worth thinking about and hoping for, and the difficulty of satisfying his great need increases with every one of our material achievements. 

The reforms industry must in his view undertake are very much structured around that sentiment. We all have a natural desire to express ourselves, he says, and yet at work we are denied the right to do so; therefore, ‘we must find some way of making industry the expression of the men and women in it.’ There must also be more equality. Hammond sees equality as one of the driving forces shaping change in modern society, and industry must open its doors and allow greater equality between workers and employers, men and women, or fall behind. And finally, along with equality, there must be justice. Hammond harks back several times to the example of the French Revolution and the principles of Rousseau, implying that the price of injustice is revolution and social upheaval of the kind then afflicting Russia. 

Hammond closes his lecture by restating his view that although the last two centuries had seen great material progress, that progress had come at a price of a deteriorating society: 

If Leonardo da Vinci came back to the world in which he had attempted to fly, and saw how readily we now control all the elements, he would marvel at our progress. But if any philosopher of Athens visited us, he would see that in spite of our experiments in government, and industry, in spite of the vast enrichment of the resources of mankind, we are still asking the question he asked — ‘What is justice?’  

Major works 

(with F.W. Hirst and G. Murray) Liberalism and the Empire, 1900. 

(with L.B. Hammond) The Village Labourer, 1760-1832: A Study of the Government of England Before the Reform Bill1911 

(with L.B. Hammond) The Town Labourer, 1760-1832: The New Civilisation, 1917. 

Past and Future, 1918. 

(with L.B. Hammond) The Skilled Labourer, 1760-1832, 1919. 

(with L.B. Hammond) Lord Shaftesbury, 1923. 

(with L.B. Hammond) The Rise of Modern Industry, 1925.  

(with L.B. Hammond) The Age of the Chartists, 1832-1854: A Study in Discontent, 1930. 

(with A. Toynbee) Britain and the Modern World Order, 1932. 

(with L.B. Hammond) James Stansfield: A Victorian Champion of Sex Equality, 1932. 

The Growth of Common Enjoyment1933. 

Gladstone and Irish Nation, 1938. 



Koot, G.M., ‘Hammond, John Lawrence Le Breton’, in D. Rutherford (ed.) Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2004. 

Koot, G.M., ‘Hammond, Lucy Barbara’, in D. Rutherford (ed.) Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2004. 

Weaver, S.A., The Hammonds: A Marriage in History, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. 

Weaver, S.A., ‘Hammond, John Lawrence Le Breton’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Original Source

‘British industry: historical survey’, 11 February 1921, York


“HAMMOND, John Lawrence Le Breton ,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed August 5, 2020, http://rowntree.exeter.ac.uk/items/show/40.