Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst
Leonard Elmhirst was determined to preserve his personal papers, as well as the official records of The Dartington Hall Trust. Later notes written on many of the papers, suggest that he spent time working through his archive, explaining the background of documentary evidence, and completing the archival image of his life and work.
Leonard's papers record his involvement as a founding trustee at Dartington Hall, and also his work as an agricultural economist interested in rural regeneration in India and Britain. He held posts with a variety of research institutes, and chaired many enquiries into aspects of rural life and industry in Britain.
His close association with Rabindranath Tagore, India, and the Middle East continued into the 1960s. This is reflected in extensive correspondence and other records among his papers. He was also closely involved with the independent Political and Economic Planning group, serving as a chairman and member of the PEP Executive between 1931 and 1972. Leonard also had extensive contacts in America as documented by a substantial subseries of papers.
Leonard Elmhirst's papers have been divided into about 26 record series as follows: Africa; Agricultural Economics; Cornell University; Development Commission; Devon; Devon County Council; Education; Festival of Britain; Forestry; General Correspondence; India; Land; Law and Finance; Maurice Browne Ltd; Middle East Survey Committee; National Parks; Overseas; Political and Economic Planning; Research Grants Board; School; South Western Regional Board for Industry; Tagore; Theatres; United States; and Water.
Correspondents include: Clifford Allen; H N Brailsford; Herbert Corner; Frances and John Cornford; Stafford Cripps; Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson; Prof J J Findlay; Victor Gollancz; Gerald Heard; Aldous and Julian Huxley; Andree Karpeles; John Maynard Keynes; Stephen King-Hall; Alister Hardy; Basil H Liddell Hart; Lewis Lorwin; J J Mallon of Toynbee Hall; A S Neil; Henry W Nevinson, Harold Nicolson, Max Nicholson (and PEP); Sean and Eileen O'Casey; Charles K Ogden; Laurens van der Post; S K Ratcliffe; Seebohm Rowntree; Bertrand and Dora Russell; Vita Sackville-West; George Bernard Shaw; T E Shaw (Lawrence); Stephen Spender; Siegfried Sassoon; C P Scott; Tomaso Gallarati Scotti; Professor R H Tawney; William Temple; Rifat Tirana; Arthur Westall Vivian-Neal MC; Arthur Waley; H G Wells; Ellen Wilkinson; Michael Young; and Beryl de Zoete.
Most of these papers are open for research by appointment.
Leonard Knight Elmhirst was born on 6 June 1893, the second of nine children born to a Yorkshire parson. His father was a curate at Laxton Vicarage in East Yorkshire until 1903 when the family moved to Pindar Oaks, a rented house on the outskirts of Barnsley, where he was to take over management of the family estate. Leonard grew up in the countryside and was educated at home up until the age of nine when he was sent to his first boarding school, St Anselms, Bakewell, Derbyshire. In 1907 he was sent to Repton public school where he remained until 1912, leaving to continue his education at Trinity College, Cambridge to read for a degree in history. In 1915, he accepted a position to do war service with the YMCA in Mesopotamia and India, providing services for the troops. He subsequently became the private secretary to a Presbyterian missionary administering an agricultural college in Allahabad. During this period in India he studied the problems of Indian rural life and agriculture. From 1918-1919 he served in the army in England and Ireland.
Between 1919 and 1921 Leonard attended the New York State College of Agriculture, Cornell University, studying new, scientific methods of farming for a BSc in Agricultural Economics. During this period he met Dorothy Whitney Straight whom he was later to marry, through his fundraising efforts for the Cosmopolitan Club, a hostel and club for foreign students of which he was president. In 1921 he was hired by the Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore to direct an agricultural school in a small village that was besieged by monkeys and mosquitos. The project, which was near to Tagore's school at Santiniketan aimed to develop a better life for the people of rural India by educating them to become self-reliant and encouraging the revival of village arts and crafts. The project was called the Institute of Rural Reconstruction, later to be named Sriniketan, a Sanskrit work meaning 'the abode of grace'. Tagore, however, could not pay him, so his salary and many of the operating expenses of the school were paid by the progressive philanthropist, Dorothy Whitney Straight.
Between 1923 and 1925 Leonard travelled extensively on Tagore's behalf, in India and to the Phillipines, China and Japan, establishing contacts for Tagore and studying agricultural methods and equipment and with Tagore, as his secretary, on visits to Burma, China, Japan, Argentina and Italy.
Leonard married Dorothy Straight in 1925 at her home on Long Island, New York, and they purchased the near derelict estate of Dartington Hall the same year. Leonard continued to travel extensively, to India and to Europe and other countries in his capacity as president of the International. Conference of Agricultural Economists which he helped to set up in 1929. He was greatly involved in committee work, particularly in the field of forestry and education, and was concerned with the problems of rural areas both at a local and national level, being a member of Devon County Council and many other bodies. Leonardís experience with the American system of agricultural experiment stations and co-operative extension services influenced the laboratory role of Dartington agriculture and forestry in Devon. He promoted related rural industries and these ventures provided employment for local residents. This was to assist the area greatly and Dartington began to be seen as a centre for the regeneration of rural life.
Both Leonard and Dorothy became trustees at Dartington Hall when the first Trusts were established in 1931.
Leonard gained the following degrees: BA Cantab Cambridge University 1915; MA Cantab 1919 (History, Cambridge University); BSc Ag Cornell University, 1921.
He received the following honorary degrees: Hon.D.Pol.Sci. Freiburg, 1953; Hon. D.Litt. Visva-Bharati, 1960; Hon.D.C.L. (Honorary Doctorate), University of Durham, 1962; Hon.D.C.L. (Honorary Doctorate), University of Oxford, 1970; Hon.D.C.L. (Honorary Doctorate), University of Exeter, 1972.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1926 and a fellow of the American Farm Economic Association in 1960. He also received a medal from the Calcutta Art Society in 1964 at a ceremony held at Dartington Hall .
Leonard refused in 1946 a Barony of the United Kingdom which was to be recommended by Prime Minster, Clement Attlee: his reasons for refusing are given in a letter dated 20 May 1946 - LKE/G/36/F/1). He also refused a recommendation from Prime Minister Edward Heath to be appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1972 (LKE/G/36/F/2).
Leonard Elmhirst died on 16 April 1974 at the age of 80.
Information for Researchers
All papers belonging to The Dartington Hall Trust Archive (with the exclusion of Dartington Hall School pupils individual records) are held at the Devon Record Office. All enquiries relating to research should be made to Devon Records Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, Devon EX2 7NL
+44 (0)1392 384253
+44 (0)1392 384256
The following requests should be made direct to the Archives & Records at The Dartington Hall Trust as shown below:
Copies of images as seen on The Dartington Hall Trust online catalogue with appropriate reference number (Ref No.)
Permission to publish or quote from any document held in the Dartington Hall Trust Archive
Former pupils of Dartington Hall School wishing to view their records
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The Dartington Hall Trust
Totnes TQ9 6EL
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