Among the History’s papers is the material collected by its founder, Col. Josiah Wedgwood MP, towards the project during the late 1920s and 1930s. It includes the remarkable questionnaires which were eventually sent in the period 1936-38 to living Members and former Members who had been in the House between 1885 and 1918. Wedgwood himself explained their purpose within the context of the project as a whole in the preamble to the questionnaires:
‘It has been suggested that it would be desirable for living Members or ex-Members of Parliament to assist in the compilation of their own biographies. Below are questions which ought to be dealt with. It would be useful to have answers to these from our predecessors and contemporaries; they will inform and guide our contemporaries in this and other lands. No biographer, only the man himself, can answer these questions.’
A large number of the questionnaires were filled in, or responded to in other ways, by Members and their families and, on the basis of them, Wedgwood wrote many short biographies, most of which were sent for correction to their subjects. The project was never completed, largely because of the demands of external events in the late 1930s and Wedgwood’s failing health (he was unwell for some time before his death in 1943). The papers associated with the project have, however, been kept by the History and since her retirement at the end of 2004, Priscilla Baines, the former Librarian of the House of Commons, has worked on conserving, transcribing and listing the questionnaires, their associated correspondence and Wedgwood’s biographies, and analysing them for publication. The documents provide a rich source of information about the personal and political backgrounds of members of parliament during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the socio-economic composition of the House of Commons was changing rapidly, government activity was increasing and party discipline was becoming firmly established. The analysis was published in November 2012 as Colonel Josiah Wedgwood’s Questionnaire: Members of Parliament 1885-1918 (Wiley-Blackwell).
There is a further, smaller, series of questionnaires completed by the families of deceased members and with biographies compiled by History of Parliament staff in the late 1930s. Those questionnaires and associated documents are in the process of being transcribed and there are plans to make them available on-line on the History of Parliament website, together with the Wedgwood questionnaires and their associated documents.