Records of Sylvia Scaffardi

c.1910- 2001


Admin History:

Sylvia Crowther-Smith was born on 20 January 1902 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her father, Sydney James Crowther-Smith, emigrated from England to Brazil around 1888, where he met and married the daughter of wealthy Brazilian landowners in the late 1890s. By 1914, the family had moved to England, and settled in Eastbourne, in order for Sylvia and her sister Lydia to be educated in an English boarding school. After the First World War, Sylvia won a scholarship to Royal Holloway College, where she read English and became involved in the college dramatic society. Through the dramatic society, she met Lena Ashwell, a former West End star, and joined the Lena Ashwell Players. She then travelled the country working for touring companies and provincial repertory theatres. Sylvia first met Ronald Kidd, the founder of the National Council for Civil Liberties, when she joined a theatre company in Hertfordshire for a production of Ashley Duke's The man with a load of mischief (1926). Kidd had been engaged as stage manager and also played the part of the nobleman.

Ronald Hubert Kidd was born in 1889 into a medical family and grew up in Hampstead. He read science at University College London, but did not obtain a degree. He then lectured for the Workers' Educational Association and became involved in the campaign for women's suffrage. He was conscripted during the First World War, but never saw active service, being discharged for health reasons. He worked for a year as secretary to the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, before entering the civil service, firstly in the Ministry of Labour and then the Ministry of Pensions. However his career ended when he resigned in protest at the cuts in pensions for shell-shocked war veterans. Thereafter he found work as a freelance journalist, publicist, actor and stage director. By the time he met Sylvia, he was estranged from his wife Isadora and daughter Anne in Bristol, and living in lodgings in London.

Sylvia moved to London and began living with Kidd in the late 1920s, and entered his Bohemian and radical circles. She began to work as a freelance editor around this time, whilst Kidd opened the Punch and Judy bookshop at 43 Villiers Street. The origins of the National Council for Civil Liberties lie in the work which Kidd began in 1932 of observing the Hunger Marches as they arrived in London and reporting on the policing of the events. Sylvia joined him in this work (including at an anti-Nazi demonstration on 17 December 1933), and when the committee which formed the nucleus of the National Council for Civil Liberties first met on 22 February 1934, she was elected Honorary Treasurer.

In July 1934, she began to receive a salary for her work and the title of Assistant Secretary. Effectively, the organisation's first office was the room at no.3 Dansey Yard, off Shaftesbury Avenue, where Kidd and Crowther-Smith lodged. They ran the NCCL together in its early years, with Kidd as General Secretary, supported by an Executive Committee which included Vera Brittain, Claud Cockburn, Rev. Dick Shepherd, Harold Laski and Kingsley Martin, and by the lawyers DN Pritt and WH Thompson on the General Purposes Committee. However the volume of work put pressure on Kidd's health and from 1938 onwards, the number of office staff employed by the organisation had to be gradually increased. The issues dealt with by the NCCL during the 1930s and early 1940s included the Incitement to Disaffection Bill of 1934, the banning of 'non-flam' films, the operation of the Special Powers Acts in Northern Ireland, the rise of fascism and anti-semitism (especially the British Union of Fascists meeting at Olympia on 7 June 1934), the Public Order Act of 1936, political bias in the letting of public halls and by the police, the Harworth Colliery dispute of 1937, the case of Major Wilfred Foulston Vernon, the freedom of the press and the BBC, and the impact on civil liberties of the outbreak of war.

Sylvia resigned as Assistant Secretary of the NCCL in August 1941, at a time when her mother was dying of cancer and Kidd was suffering from a recurrence of heart problems. In November, Kidd had to give up the post of General Secretary and was made Director of NCCL instead, in an effort to reduce his workload. However he did not recover his health and died at the age of 53 on 12 May 1942.

A few months before Kidd's death, Sylvia entered the civil service, working in the Planning Division of the Ministry of Works on the White Paper on rural land utilisation in wartime. The Division was then formed into an independent Ministry of Town and Country Planning, where she remained until 1944 and her move into the wartime propaganda work of the Publications Division of the Ministry of Information. She was employed in the post-war Central Office of Information until 1952, when she was made redundant in a wave of cuts to temporary civil servant posts by the Conservative government. Using her redundancy money as security, she began to work as a freelance journalist. She also trained as a teacher and worked for a period in a secondary modern school in south London.

In 1958, at the age of 56, Sylvia married John Scaffardi and they lived together in Carshalton in Buckinghamshire. She was widowed in 1971. She wrote two autobiographical books, the first, an account of her work with Ronald Kidd during the 1930s, Fire under the carpet (Lawrence & Wishart, 1986) and the second, about her Brazilian childhood, Finding my way (Quartet Books, 1988). Sylvia died on 27 January 2001. She continued her association with and her support for the NCCL until her death.


This collection contains material gathered together by Scaffardi from several sources in the process of writing her autobiography, Fire Under the Carpet (Lawrence & Wishart, 1986); it includes papers of Ronald Kidd, research papers of Brian Cox and records of the National Council for Civil Liberties, as well as a range of publications. An artificial arrangement has been imposed on the collection, and there is a large amount of overlap between the sections.

National Council for Civil Liberties

This material complements, and in some instances duplicates, the main Liberty archive [U DCL]. There is a bound volume of early annual reports, dating from 1934 to 1957 [U DSF/1/1]; this is significant because there do not appear to be any annual reports before 1938 in the main archive [U DCL/73A]. The early minutes of the NCCL have been lost [a microfilm of minutes dating from 1944 onwards is the earliest survival at U DCL/102] and hence the few bundles in this collection which contain Executive Committee minutes from the 1930s and early 1940s, and some correspondence of Ronald Kidd as General Secretary, are valuable in piecing together the work of Kidd and other founder members [U DSF/1/7-9]. There are also examples of draft articles and speeches by Kidd and Crowther-Smith in these bundles, as well as material about Kidd having to give up the role of General Secretary and the question of who was to replace Henry Nevinson as President [related papers on these last two topics can also be found at U DSF/2/6]. The NCCL pamphlets in the collection span 1935 to 1995, but are concentrated in the 1930s and 1940s [U DSF/1/17-62]. A large proportion can also be found in the main Liberty archive, but this set has been kept together to illustrate the interests of Kidd and Crowther-Smith.

Ronald Kidd

There is very little surviving material on Ronald Kidd in the main Liberty archive and therefore, although these papers are far from extensive, they still comprise a useful source. There are two files relating to Kidd's tour of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria in 1938 [U DSF/2/2-3] and these contain a variety of material, ranging from letters of introduction and correspondence with those involved in the movement in defence of human rights and against anti-semitism in Czechoslovakia, to Kidd's itinerary and notes made during his journey. There is also a set of photographs of Jasina and other places in Sub Carpathian Russia and Slovakia, sent by Dr Maximilián Ryšánek in Brno, photographs of anti-semitic graffiti [possibly in London] and contemporary travel brochures and maps of the region. The only surviving example of a personal letter from Kidd to Crowther-Smith dates from this tour and was sent from Bratislava [see file U DSF/2/6]. After his return to England, Kidd travelled the country holding public meetings on Czechoslovakia and this is documented by correspondence, publicity leaflets and cuttings of reports in the press [U DSF/2/3].

Kidd's work for the NCCL in the early 1940s focussed on areas such as editing and writing articles for the journal Civil Liberty, and writing pamphlets. Examples of this can be found at U DSF/2/4-5, including drafts of his pamphlet on The fight for a free press (1942) [there is a printed copy at U DSF/1/34]. There are four surviving pocket diaries, detailing the meetings and appointments which Kidd attended in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1938 [U DSF/2/9], along with his passport, issued in 1936, and a number of undated photographs of Kidd [U DSF/2/10-11]. Unusual items include some photographs of political posters on display in wartime France, a publicity leaflet for the Soho Literary Group, organised by Kidd, and the annotated script of a play by Lennox Robinson, 'The lost leader', which Kidd must either have directed or played a part in [U DSF/2/14, 13, 12].

Sylvia Scaffardi

There is a small amount of material relating personally to Sylvia Scaffardi and her work, namely evidence submitted to Lord Justice Scott's Committee on Land Utilisation for Rural Areas in the early 1940s, which she gathered in her role as a civil servant in the Planning Division of the Ministry of Works [U DSF/3/1], and papers about her childhood in Brazil and her Brazilian grandparents [U DSF/3/3].

Barry Cox

Barry Cox was commissioned by the NCCL in the late 1960s to write a history of the organisation and this was published in 1975 as Civil liberties in Britain (Penguin). In the course of his research, he undertook a large number of interviews with founder members and contemporary figures in the NCCL, and the interviews were transcribed from tape by Sylvia Scaffardi. The annotated transcripts are included in this collection and include interviews with people such as Elizabeth Acland Allen, DN Pritt, Kingsley Martin, Claud Cockburn, Sylvia Scaffardi herself, Martin Ennals and Tony Smythe [U DSF/4/2-4].


This set of pamphlets and periodicals has been kept together within the collection (rather than being transferred to library stock), again as an illustration of the interests of Kidd and Scaffardi. There are a number of significant items in the fields of politics and literature, such as the August 1914 edition of the journal English Review containing part 5 of a serialised story by HG Wells, 'The world set free: a story of mankind' [U DSF/5/2]; a typescript on civil liberties in 1918 by Monica Ewer of the first National Council for Civil Liberties (founded in 1915 as the National Council Against Conscription) [U DSF/5/3]; two anti-semitic publications in German dating from 1937 and 1938, the second published by the National Socialist German Workers [Nazi] Party [U DSF/5/33 & 44]; two photographic compilations about the Spanish Civil War, issued by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937 and 1938 [U DSF/5/34-35]; and the classic 1949 pamphlet, The time of the toad, by Dalton Trumbo, about the anti-Communist blacklist of Hollywood writers [U DSF/5/72]. The vast majority of these publications date from the 1930s and 1940s.