Michael Lipman MBE

Engineer and committed Socialist who ran the secret ‘war factory’ of radar innovators at Cowbridge House, Michael Lipman, studied engineering at Bradford Technical College from 1918.

Michael Isaac Lipman was born into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants in Leeds in 1902. He grew up in anarchist-socialist household that regularly played host to visiting revolutionaries including Emma Goldman. When he was only 14 he was arrested for handing out anti-war leaflets in Leeds but he continued to keep a vigil outside the army barracks and Town Hall. Mick waited for conscientious objectors being despatched for incarceration, ensuring they left with sandwiches, books and The Red Flag ringing in their ears.

Following WWI Mick studied Engineering at Bradford Technical College before completing his training at Leeds University, where he was frustrated by the lack of political consciousness of the students and class divisions. In 1924, Lipman started a successful electrical contracting firm with a friend, assembling and supplying wireless radio sets. Difficult trading conditions following the General Strike led him to liquidate the stock and move to London, to be with his future wife. He found success in the growing radio industry working for the firm Ecko.

In 1939 Ecko was commandeered by the RAF and Mick was instructed to find a top secret factory base to house 200 workers to manufacture radio aircraft-detection systems for RAF aircraft to find bombers, ships and submarines at night and in bad visibility. Mick found Cowbridge House near Malmesbury and managed the factory throughout the war. Although the location remained classified, he arranged for social anthropology group Mass Observation to chronicle the daily lives of the workers there. In 1943 this was published as War Factory. The innovative radar production at Cowbridge House was a crucial factor in the war effort.

Despite Mick receiving an MBE in 1944 in recognition of his contribution, he was rejected for a Civil Service role due to his political convictions. He then ran an export company trading with the Eastern bloc until the early 1960s when he sought to escape the constant travel and pressure of international business. Despite having no prior experience, Mick made a great success of running a dairy and cattle farm in the Kent countryside until 1972 when a leukaemia diagnosis promoted the sale of the farm.

In 1974, fearing that complacency and the television age was leading to neglect of the political education of young people, he gave £50,000 to found the Lipman Educational Trust to promote Socialist and educational research and debate, with Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband as its first director. Mick died in 1978.