The Social Reconstruction Survey came to life in February 1941 after Sir Harold Butler, Warden of the College at the time, and G. D. H. Cole prepared a joint report proposing that Nuffield College undertake research into problems caused by redistribution of the population during World War II. The Nuffield College Committee approved the research scheme and the Social Reconstruction Survey was set up with Cole as Chairman of the Committee and, later, Director. The Survey was set up before the College even had any buildings of its own and was originally based on Broad Street, in the Indian Institute.
The Survey was an unofficial body but received a grant of £5,000 from the Treasury in 1941-42 and, in return, staff prepared reports at the request of government departments for official inquiries. Indeed, the Survey assisted the Beveridge Inquiry, a government inquiry headed by Sir William Beveridge into Social Insurance and Allied Services.
It was decided that it would be beneficial to bring people together from different political and professional backgrounds to discuss plans for social reconstruction and, so, Cole instigated many Private Conferences, creating a forum for people to express their views without fear of scrutiny from the public or media.
Despite the extensive work of the Survey, opposition to its research began with the Hebdomadal Council, the chief executive body for the University of Oxford, which requested the Survey reduce its scope of research. Lord Nuffield also expressed concern at Cole’s involvement with the Survey and the Treasury refused to offer further funding. Government departments were, by this point, paying a lot more attention to social reconstruction and saw the Survey as intruding on their responsibility.
And so, three years after its inception, the Survey was wound up. Cole resigned from his position as sub-Warden of the College in September 1943 and as Director of the survey in January 1944. The Survey’s education, local government and social services sub-committees continued to meet though and published books and pamphlets over the next four years, until their work ended in December 1947.
All information in this post came from sources in the ‘Nuffield College Social Reconstruction Survey’ section and the ‘Nuffield College Private Conferences‘ section of Nuffield College Library Archive (in particular box A1/1-5 of the Social Reconstruction Survey and box K2/5 of the Private Conferences). More information about the archives, including a guide to their contents and information on how to access them, can be found on the archives pages of our website.