Tuesday 16 May 2017

Politics and papers: our visit to the Churchill Archives Centre

The most recent Cambridge Library Group event was to the Churchill Archives Centre.  This visit had a greater significance for me, as the general election is not far away.

After refreshments the group were taken to the Centre’s search room and shown by the archivists, samples of the papers and artefacts from the various collections the Centre houses.
The Churchill Archives Centre housed in Churchill College opened in 1973, founded by donations from US citizens and later assistance from the National Lottery.
The Centre holds papers and artefacts relating to over 600 individuals.  Notable collections include:

The ‘average’ collection has 800 pieces of paper per box, with the amount estimated for the Winston Churchill collection being over 1 million pieces.  The Churchill collection is still growing.

In addition to Churchill’s school reports – “… Rebellious character unwilling to conform to school discipline (St. Georges School – Ascot – Berkshire – aged 9 ½), the collection includes his first ever letter to his son Randolph (who was 4 years old at the time).  The letter was written from the Western Front.  There are numerous artefacts – a bronze cast of Churchill’s right hand, cigar cutter and butts, and unusually, a whole cigar from a collector in America.  The story behind this item being that as a young child he took the train from New York to the harbour to see Churchill when he was visiting.  It was raining heavily and he didn’t get to see Churchill.  He tried again the next day but was still unlucky.  A member of Churchill’s staff felt sorry for the boy and gave him a cigar as a memento.
Non Churchill items which made a real impression on me are, photos from Neil Kinnocks pop video “My Guy” with Tracy Ullman (1984).  In an anecdote one of the archivists mentioned that Neil Kinnock had helped her to pack up his memoirs (this probably does not happen very often).
The collection also includes a volume from a German encyclopaedia set kept by Hitler in his bunker in the grounds of the Reich Chancellery Berlin.
Amongst the Thatcher memorabilia is one of the handbags with the contents.  Apparently Mrs T liked Clinique and Estée Lauder makeup.  An early election pamphlet, Stanley, a black toy cat who ‘guarded’ the front door of the No. 10 Downing Street flat throughput the Falklands Campaign (2nd April – 14th June 1982), a black and white photo of Thatcher in trousers and with smiling miners and analysis of polling research on the public image of Thatcher and Kinnock are in the archive.
Letters, memos and press cutting from and relating to Enid Russell Smith (civil servant – who participated in the formation of the NHS) form part of the collection.
Apparently Enoch Powell’s archives were covered in sawdust when they arrived as he was having his roof repaired.
Obviously some of the collections are bound by the “20 year rule”.  Presumably the future collection will also include digital memorabilia – emails etc.
The group were also allowed into one of the strong rooms – which has a constant temperature of 170  C.  A new wing was opened in 2002 by Margaret Thatcher.
The knowledge, anecdotes and thoughtful presentation by the archivists made this a really interesting, informative and unusual visit.  I am sure members of the group all had a favourite item.  I know I did!  When I asked the archivists, one replied that it changed weekly!
The Churchill Archives Centre is open to all.  However please contact the team in advance to make an appointment.  Contact details:
Telephone: (01223) 336087 / Email: archives@chu.cam.ac.uk
I would recommend a visit to this fascinating collection to anyone, whatever your political views and thoughts on some of the people whose collections have been preserved for us all.
- This post was contributed by our chair, Jo Milton. Read more on Jo's blog: www.librarianbetweenthelines.wordpress.com