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James Francis (Frank) Horrabin, (1 November 1884 – 2 March 1962) was an English socialist, (sometime Communist), radical writer and cartoonist. He was briefly Labour Party Member of Parliament for Peterborough. He attempted to construct a socialist geography and was an associate of David Low and George Orwell.

Born in Peterborough and educated at Stamford School, Horrabin was a prolific illustrator. He drew his first maps for The Daily News during the Balkan War of 1912-13. After the First World War, having started as a newspaper strip cartoonist on the Sheffield Telegraph,[1] he went to London to work as art director for The Daily News; he also lectured on geography at the Central Labour College in London. He drew the illustrations for H. G. Wells' The Outline of History. In 1919 he began his daily panel The Adventures of the Noah Family in The Daily News. The family strip cartoon was collected into several hard back books, most notably the Japhet and Happy Annuals and Summer Books between 1932 and 1952. The Noah Family moved to The News Chronicle in 1930, and was continued into the 1940s. In 1922, Horrabin created the Dot and Carrie strip for The Star which was taken over by The Evening Post, continuing until 1962.

He was an active socialist in the Labour Party, Fabian Society, and other leftwing groups and very involved in working class education through the Plebs' League and National Council of Labour Colleges. His 1923 text An Outline of Economic Geography, which sold in large numbers and was translated into nine other languages, attempted to provide workers with an account of economic (and political and historical) geography that used bourgeois “pure geography”, but put it within a socialist and historical–materialist framework. Unlike Germany and some other countries, England did not have a strong Marxist theoretical tradition, and Horrabin's approach does not develop theory (though it did attract the admiration of the German Marxist Karl Wittfogel). Rather, it set out to be engaged in practical political education. Horrabin's work was developed within a particular context, but his geographical writings (and pioneering political cartography) exemplify one way of linking geography with political practice. Many of his concerns find echoes in current radical geography, and his work deserves belated recognition and a place in the history of geography.

He was elected MP for Peterborough in 1929 under the premiership of the first Labour Prime Minister, James Ramsay MacDonald, but lost his seat two years later at the General Election of 1931 occasioned by the split in the party consequent on MacDonald forming a National Government. He was succeeded by David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter, then Lord Burghley, another resident of Stamford.

In 1937, only a few months after its institution, an occasional political discussion programme appeared in the television schedules of the BBC. This was 'News Map' which was usually presented by the former MP, who had taken up print journalism. 'News Map' did not leave the studio and it was mainly interested in foreign affairs stories. World events provided quite a few such stories for it to discuss.

His published works include The Workers History of the Great Strike (1927), written together with Ellen Wilkinson MP and Raymond Postgate, Working-Class Education (1924), written with his wife Winifred, and several editions of An Atlas of Current Affairs (1934 onwards) for which he also drew the maps.

Wife Winifred

Horrabin's wife Winifred [née Batho] (1887–1971) used the pseudonym Freda Wynne. She was a socialist and journalist, born on 9 August 1887 in Sheffield, the fourth of the six children (three died in infancy) of Arthur John Batho (1855/6–1891), postal telegraph clerk, and his wife, Lilian Outram (1858/9–1938). Her parents came from artisan families and were members of the Wicker Congregational Church. Her father sailed to South Africa on the SS Durban in 1890 hoping to cure his tuberculosis, but, shortly after being joined by his family, he died and was buried in Graaff-Reinet in May 1891.

Batho returned to Sheffield and attended the Central School, then the Sheffield School of Art from 1907 where she met James. Her political awakening reflected the legacy of her father's death; she became anti-Boer and felt a close affinity with the South African feminist and socialist Olive Schreiner, whose biography she began to write. Batho joined the Women's Social and Political Union and disrupted a speech by Winston Churchill in 1909 with the suffragettes' cry ‘votes for women’. She ‘converted’ to guild socialism "via William Morris's art" and wrote a play, ‘Victorian Love Story: Beloved Good’, about Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane.

Winifred Batho and James Horrabin were married on 11 August 1911 and moved to London. Together they worked in the labour college movement: they favoured independent workers' education and published their views in Working Class Education in 1924. She acted as honorary secretary of the Plebs' League, which was set up in 1908 to promote independent working class education and which was behind the creation of a Central Labour College in 1909 (designed to rival Ruskin College). The Central Labour College moved to London in 1911 and Horrabin organised a Women's League in 1913 to focus on the education of women workers. Both she and her husband wrote regularly for the journal, The Plebs, which Frank Horrabin edited.

Winifred joined the Communist Party and delivered a paper in 1912 to the Fabian Society in which she argued that only the destruction of private property would release women from economic slavery (Is Woman's Place the Home?, published 1933). During the First World War she began writing an autobiographical novel about a wartime love affair.

In the 1920s she became more internationalist and pacifist in her outlook. She visited Russia in 1926, meeting N. K. Krupskaya and making a pilgrimage to Lenin's tomb. In Poland she observed a mass trial of political dissidents. When her younger brother, Harold Batho, died from First World War injuries in 1932, she told the National Conference of Labour Women that the international working classes should resist war, choosing starvation over employment in munitions factories.

In 1937 she began reviewing films and books for The Tribune (she continued until 1948), beginning a long career in journalism which included travel writing, social commentary, and short stories for journals such as Time and Tide. She had a weekly column in the Manchester Evening News from 1944 under the nom de plume of Freda Wynne. In 1938 Horrabin's mother died, Horrabin's novel was rejected by publishers, and she was diagnosed as having an ovarian cyst. She underwent a hysterectomy in February 1939. She moved to Oxford at the outbreak of war and in March 1942 her husband, who was immersed in his second extramarital affair, asked for a separation. Despite knowledge of his adultery, she was devastated and sought psychoanalytical treatment. On 13 October 1947 the marriage was dissolved. Horrabin lived and worked for six months in Jamaica before moving to Blackheath in 1950.

Horrabin's final years were marred by loneliness and a deep sense of failure. In 1951 her elder brother, Arthur (Artie) Denton Batho, died, leaving her without family, and she never fully recovered from the dissolution of her marriage. She compiled (but did not publish) The Summer of a Dormouse, a series of autobiographical essays. Their significance lies in her recollection of suffragist work with Adela Pankhurst in 1909 and socialist contacts in the 1920s and 1930s such as Harold Laski and H. G. Wells. She polished her novel and gave it the title After which War?, but, like her play and the Schreiner biography, it remained unpublished. She died at her home, Sandycross, Ridgeway Road, Dorking, Surrey, on 24 June 1971 and was cremated at Randall's Park crematorium, Leatherhead, on 30 June.

Her papers are at the University of Hull.[1]

See also


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Henry Brassey, Bt
Member of Parliament for Peterborough
Succeeded by
David Cecil, Lord Burghley


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