View the Chickens’ Lib Archive on our catalogue.
The History of Chickens’ Lib
In the early 1970s, Clare Druce and her mother Violet purchased four live ‘spent’ hens from an East London butcher’s shop. They took them, uninvited, to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Department in Surrey, along with a reporter and photographer from the Surrey Comet newspaper. The ‘invasion’ (as the press called it) earned them a front page spread in the Surrey Comet. Over the years, they took part in further campaigns and acquired the help of other animal rights campaigners, eventually naming their small pressure group Chickens’ Lib, which later evolved into the Farm Animal Welfare Network.
Their first national support came in 1975 when they were chosen as one of the candidates for the BBC’s Open Door programme, an initiative which saw them supplied with a professional producer and TV studio to make a short programme about the group. The programme came out live on BBC2 at peak viewing time and earned Chickens’ Lib more than 500 letters of support.
Over the years, the number of supporters grew and many well-known people in the arts, sciences and Church lent their names to their campaigns. At first Chickens’ Lib were unwelcome on the premises of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (now DEFRA), but their careful and in-depth research, and their strict adherence to non-violent activism, meant that they were often treated as experts in their field. For years they were invited to official meetings where farmed animals were being discussed.
When Violet died in 1999, aged 91, and as other members of the group were obliged to other commitments, Chickens’ Lib (now the Farm Animal Welfare Network) came to an end. Since then, many bigger pressure groups and animal charities have emerged and taken their place, but Chickens’ Lib were valuable in unearthing some of the worst aspects of animal abuse in the early days.
The Chickens’ Lib Archive was donated to Heritage Quay in 2021 by Clare Druce. It contains a substantial collection of letters and campaign materials covering the history of the group from the 1970s until 2017.
Some of the many campaign documents reveal how Chickens’ Lib petitioned the Prince of Wales and the Queen about game birds, specifically cruelty in pheasant shooting (item ref: CKL/CA/1/5) and the use of bird ‘specs’ (item ref: CKL/CA/1/4). The latter documentation includes an article issued by The People with headline “Queen Bans Bird Specs!,” showing the real-world changes influenced by Chickens’ Lib.
These campaign documents also include an expert witness personal statement written by Clare Druce, highlighting her qualifications as an expert in the McDonalds libel trial of 1996 (item ref: CKL/CA/5). These documents are supported by the government correspondence (item ref: CKL/CO/1) between Druce and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which reveal how the group were thought of in high standing and were later invited to official government meetings.
The wealth of correspondence available reveals the relationship between Chickens’ Lib and international organisations, asking for assistance or advice setting up their own campaign initiatives (item ref: CKL/CO/2) from groups in the USA, Australia, South Africa and beyond.
There are also many letters and cards from their supporters and patrons (CKL/CO/3). These include celebrity supporters such as Spike Milligan, Barbara Castle M.E.P, and Joanna Lumley, as well as various members of government and the Church. There are also a large variety of marketing materials (item ref: CKL/MK) including newsletters, factsheets, posters, postcards, badges, banners, and audio-visual media.
We hold a copy of their 1975 BBC2 Open Door programme (item ref: CKL/MK/5/1/2) for which they received their first national support, and their factsheets further support their reputation as an authority on bird farming. These sheets (item ref: CKL/MK/2) include a topic index for ease of access, and cover subjects such as animal diet, disease, antibiotics, foie gras, broiler chickens, the battery hen, turkey farming and the egg industry.
Their research included site visits to battery hen farms where photographs were taken to document their findings and record living conditions. The archive contains these photographs as well as images of demonstrations, hen rescues and the group’s first uninvited visit to Whitehall in 1973 (all items ref: CKL/MK/9). There are many newspaper cuttings (item ref: CKL/PR) included in the archive, covering the demonstrations, activities, and media appearances of Chickens’ Lib, as well as support from celebrities.
The Chickens’ Lib Archive tells the fascinating story of the relentless and challenging work involved in trying to achieve even the smallest of changes, and it is now live on our online catalogue:
The archive is open to everyone, and appointments can be made to view items using our online booking form.