British Peers and Politicians in Soviet Union
Photographs and Ephemera of
Woman MP and Baroness
Selected for Moscow Delegation
Soviet Union, Georgia, Finland, October 1954. Two scrapbook albums of photographs, newspaper clippings, and ephemera, from a British Parliamentary Delegation tour of Russia made during the Cold War, compiled and annotated by female MP Elaine Burton, Baroness Burton of Coventry, being her personal record as a participant, and replete with manuscript captions in her hand. Contains 129 gelatin silver print photographs, 14 Russian ephemeral documents including lengthy entertainment programmes, 3 Russian postcards, 28 British newspaper clippings, 3 travel tickets and other related items, foreign currency in paper and coin (the latter being in sealed envelopes), 2 lapel pins representing Communist youth organizations, the lot mounted onto dark grey cardstock leaves with the exception of a few programmes and the postcards which are loosely placed within. Includes documents of various languages: English, Russian, and French. The large majority of the albums pertain to the Soviet Union; a scant few items are from Helsinki. Quarto. Two ring-spine albums, each measuring approximately 31,5 x 25,5 cm, uniform bindings, sage paper boards with titles printed to front in red, one with Baroness Burton’s calling card affixed to front upper corner. Photographs vary in size, the smallest measuring approximately 7,5 x 4 cm, and the largest approximately 22 x 17 cm. Slightly age-toned to front, otherwise in Very Good Condition.
Led by Lord Coleraine [Richard Kidston Law (1901-1980), 1st Baron Coleraine], the Parliamentary delegation visiting Russia had as its objectives, “to get a better conception of Soviet life” and to “strengthen Anglo-Soviet relations.” To this end, the elite party consisting of members of the Houses of Lords and the House of Commons visited Soviet state institutions, factories and farms, in Moscow, Leningrad [Saint Petersburg], Sverdlovsk, Sochi, as well as Tbilisi and Gori which today are part of Georgia, and Kiev in Ukraine. This British Parliamentary Delegation tour represents the first invitation from the Soviet Union since war’s end in 1945.
Elaine Frances Burton (1904-1991), at the time serving as MP of Coventry South, was selected as one of only two women of the sixteen participants in the Moscow Delegation, as it is sometimes referred to.As a former athlete, and a consumer’s advocate, she was eager to adopt her assigned tasks of investigating Soviet merchandise and Soviet sport. She also had a keen interest in women’s opportunities in business and public life, both being topics she spoke on frequently in the County of Warwick, and resulting in additional noteworthy observations.
The Warwick University Library holds a collection of Papers of Elaine Burton, Baroness Burton of Coventry, Labour / Social Democratic Party politician dating from 1950 to 1977.
The National Archives possesses a file dated 1954 pertaining to this Delegation, titled, “Work of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee: Visit by Parliamentary Delegation to the Soviet Union. The file was closed for 30 years after creation, under the Public Records Act 1958.
A distinguished female politician who was selected to represent England in an Anglo-Russo relations-building tour has beautifully chronicled the group’s travels, formal tours and privileged soirées as guests of the government of the Soviet Union, with photographs, ephemera and newspaper reporting.
Elaine Frances Burton (1904-1991), later elevated to peerage as Baroness Burton, was Labour MP of Coventry South, and a former athlete. In preparation for her investigations of goods and sport, prior to the three-week journey abroad, she petitioned the Soviet Embassy for permission to make a study of consumer standards, and also to meet with Russian athletes who had won awards at the 5th European Athletics Championships held only one month earlier. [Russia had the highest number of athlete participants, and the most awards earned with a dramatic margin over and above the second in the running.]
Being a leading female in the political arena of a world power nation, she inherently also had interest in women’s opportunities and quality of life, which is apparent in certain snapshot photographs and annotations.
In two photographs she captures a group of women in Stalingrad [now Volgograd] who smile for her snapshot. In this important industrial city, the group toured a famous tractor manufacturing plant, where she notes that 25 percent of the fifteen thousand employees were women. The plant evidently offered childcare services for toddlers whose mothers are employed there. At a collective farm in Kiev, a photograph shows women workers in the distance, and a close-up scene of women gathering foliage at a silage plant where you can see Miss Burton observing with discontent at the notion of female labourers. She captures a snapshot herself of a woman cleaning the streets. Surely to Burton’s content and surprise, however, the Russian Court Interpreter at the Kremlin was a woman, named Louba.
A post-tour newspaper article quotes Miss Burton’s assessment of Russian women’s opportunities and conditions, as follows,
“There are very great opportunities for women in Russia today, but I didn’t like the sight of them doing heavy work… most of the road sweepers the delegation saw were women…” The report adds that, “Miss Burton’s chief criticism of the U.S.S.R. was the consumer foods, especially the clothes for women…”
With hands-on investigations at a collective farm, a textiles plant, an industrial factory producing agricultural equipment, and city markets, together with her peripheral observations of Russian society captured in photographs, Miss Burton succeeded in presenting a well-rounded illustration of life in the Soviet Union.
The chronicle begins with Miss Burton’s letter of invitation “to be a Member of the British Parliamentary Delegation to visit Russia” dated 10 September 1954, accompanied by the original postmarked covers. Following this is a sample application form, in Russian, for entry into the USSR.
One of her missions was to study Soviet sports, a subject of great personal interest to her. A pioneer sportswoman in her young years, at age 16 young Miss Burton had claimed the title of world’s sprint champion in 1920, creating a legacy that would empower future female youth. She had also played hockey and swam for Yorkshire; she was a member of the National Fitness Council from 1928 to 1929. Sport being a passion that she maintained throughout her life, as a former competitive athlete, it stands to reason that she would be eager to interview Russia’s athletes of the day, in hopes of learning the secret to their enormous success at the very recently ended European Championship Competitions of 1954.Burton believed that the Russians had developed “a new kind of physical training.” [Her passion for sport never diminish, and she would later campaign for the creation of an independent grant-supported body for sport in England, which ultimately led to her appointment as a member of the newly formed Sports Council in 1965, which she held until 1971.]
She was also sent, in part, to study Soviet goods. At a market in Tbilisi, she engaged the women vendors with a smile and the universal handshake, here capturing some charming views. She also examined the products of a textiles factory. [Only months earlier, on 4 February 1954, the Soviet Union’s All-Union Chamber of Commerce, and a party of British businessmen representing the United Kingdom, had made business trade agreements. In July, there were a number of important relaxations in the restrictions on trade with the Soviet Union and the East European members of the Soviet bloc.] It is interesting to note that she would later become a well-known and vocal advocate the consumer, which included work on the Airline Users’ Committee. Her consumer protection campaigns began at the same time as she became a founding member of the Social Democratic Party beginning in 1981.
Special tours were granted to the elite guests such as a visit to Moscow’s Red Square plaza, the Kremlin for a meeting with Soviet Union leader Georgy M. Malenkov, and the Winter Palace Square in Leningrad. Entertainment included distinguished ballet performances by leading dancers.
One surprising element of the albums is a large photograph of Russian ballet dancer Galína Sergéyevna Ulánova, who is often acclaimed as one of the greatest ballerinas of the twentieth century, together with dancer-artist Yury Zhdanov, standing amidst the British delegates and other notable spectators, after a performance of Romeo and Juliet by the famous duet at the historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.
In Kiev, Miss Burton and the other delegates attended the “Marusja Boguslava” ballet at the National Opera House constructed in 1901, where she obtained the autograph of the conductor, A. Svechnikov, in her programme. [Maria Bohuslavka or Maria Boguslavka was a legendary heroine who lived in Ukraine in the 16th or 17th century.]
Photographs also reveal a walking tour through the exquisite tunnels of the Moscow Metro which had only been built 19 years earlier, a visit to the Smolny Institute and a cruise on the Volga-Don Canal in Stalingrad.
A formal reception was held by the Heads of both parliamentary chambers of the ‘Supreme Soviet’ legislative body, the council called ‘Soviet of Nationalities’ and the council called ‘Soviet of the Union.’ During the proceedings, Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington, and Miss Burton herself, proposed toasts.
Also shown and noted are famous streets, monuments to Stalin and Lenin, locations related to the Second World War including the Battle of Stalingrad, and a memorial to victims of atrocities effected by Germany’s WWII leader.
The British Parliamentary Delegation to Russia, led by Lord Coleraine, arrived at Moscow on 30 September 1954 to be greeted by the Deputy Chairman of Supreme Soviet Presidium. The party was formally welcomed at the Kremlin by the Chairman of the Soviet of the Union, Alexander Volkov, and the Chairman of the Chamber of Soviet Nationalities.
A subsequent guided tour of Moscow features the statue honouring the founder of Moscow Yuri Dolgorukiy, Gorki Street, shoe shops and grocery stores newly established since war-time rationing had been abolished, the exterior of Lenin Library, the Moscow Hotel, lecture and accommodation facilities at new Moscow State University, a free primary school, the Krasny Proletari industrial plant, murals at the Arpad and Kiev Metro stations where female attendants were employed, and the new grounds of USSR Agricultural Exhibition pavilions.
In Leningrad [Saint Petersburg], the delegation was greeted by Nikolai Smirnov. Sightseeing here included the Winter Palace, St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Petrodvorets/Peterhof Palace which had been destroyed by the Germans in the Second World War and since completely reconstructed, the Petropavlovsk Fortress, the Lenin statue in the courtyard of the Smolny Institute, the Elektrosila electrical plant for turbine production, a Fashion House, Renaissance art in Hermitage, and the River Neva.
The visit to Stalingrad [Volgograd] included a tour to the Defence Museum with King George VI’s sword on display, sites from the Battle of Stalingrad and the viewing of a post-battle aerial film of the devastated city, the Planetarium, Peace Street, a cruise on the Volga departing from the new embankment, Stalingrad Factory Works where delegation deputy-leader Nas Edwards test drove a new tractor, the workers’ Palace of Culture which displayed the interior of a typical worker’s family three-room flat (rent then being 3% of family’s earnings).
In the same year, conferences were being held between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and France, regarding European security, arms control, peace treaties for Germany and Austria, the instability in Southeast Asia, and more.