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Thursday, September 23, 2004
It looks as if future negotiations may be rather difficult in view of young Churchill's desire for money.-- referring to Winston Churchill Jr., the wartime prime minister's grandson.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Churchill papers file made public

THE government could have bought Winston Churchill's personal papers for a fraction of their price, records made public for the first time reveal.

Churchill's heirs spent two decades trying to sell the vast collection, which was eventually bought using £12m of National Lottery money in 1995.

But in 1971, the papers could have been bought for a mere £100,000, it emerged.

The collection of about 2,000 boxes of documents includes Churchill's own copy of the "Finest Hour" speech.

Files released to the National Archive in Kew on Wednesday shed some light on the lengthy negotiations that led to the government eventually paying a price seen by many as excessive for documents part of which were, by nature, "state documents".

The first attempt to sell the papers was made in 1971.

The statesman's grandson and heir, also called Winston, did not want to donate the collection of documents to the archive centre at the Churchill College in Cambridge without making any profit from it.

Sir Winston's former private secretary Sir Jock Colville, one of the papers' trustees, wrote a letter to the then Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend explaining the situation, trying to broker a deal.

Sir Jock said the papers were [Winston] Churchill Jr's "most valuable asset", and said Sotheby's had estimated they would fetch "something in the neighbourhood of £2m".

Winston's father [Randolph Churchill] had been "a very large spender" and it would have been "a bit rough" if he just had to surrender the papers without getting anything in return, he added.

"Would you like to think over the possibility of HMG making the offer of say, £100,000 or perhaps £120,000 to acquire the entire ownership of the Churchill papers, which are in fact a very important historical asset to this country?" he wrote.

But Trend replied that many of the papers were official documents which already belonged to the state anyway, and that there were no public funds to meet Mr Churchill's request.

Another 18 years passed before it emerged that Sotheby's had once again been asked to value the papers.

This time, a tip-off from the Churchill College in Cambridge revealed the trustees were considering transferring ownership of the collection to the British Library to allegedly prevent it being broken up and sold abroad.

They asked the government to pay a "fair sum" of £15m.

Former Tory chairman Norman Tebbit wrote to then Prime Minister John Major in 1991 on behalf of the Churchill family.

He explained the trustees had to sell the collection "in the interest of the beneficiary", and offered to act as intermediary. "I am told the sum would not be huge," he wrote.

The file does not contain any record of the following negotiations.

The documents, still kept at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, include his personal correspondence with kings, presidents and leaders, and can be consulted by appointment.

1965: Churchill dies and papers put in trust on behalf of grandson Winston Churchill
1971: Offer of £100,000 by trustees refused by government
1989: Government asked for £15m to transfer ownership of the collection to British Library, but negotiations stall
1995: Bought for £12m using National Lottery cash




London, Thursday 23 September 2004


Churchill files were offered to nation for a song

By Ben Fenton

CIVIL Service mandarins missed the opportunity to buy the million-page archive of Sir Winston Churchill for only £50,000 in 1971, according to papers released at the National Archives yesterday.

After some 25 years of wrangling with Sir Winston's family, the Government, under John Major, paid £12.5 million for records, which included the Battle of Britain speech.

Indeed, the sentiment that "never . . . was so much owed by so many to so few" went to the core of the argument between trustees of Sir Winston's estate and civil servants, who said half the papers were official documents and so state property.

Churchill at deskSir Winston's family was keen for the archives to be bought and placed permanently in Churchill College, Cambridge, which had been established to honour his life and works.

In a letter in May 1971, six years after Sir Winston died, Sir Jock Colville, his private secretary for more than 30 years, appealed to Sir Burke Trend, the Cabinet Secretary, to help Winston Churchill MP, the only son of the wartime leader's only son, Randolph. The papers were, he said, "the most valuable asset he possesses".

Sotheby's had valued the archive at £2 million, Sir Jock said. He went on:

"[Young] Winston therefore felt that since he has in fact very little money of his own (Randolph having been a very large spender!) it was a little bit rough if he just had to surrender the papers without any quid pro quo, and, it might well be that one of his successors would seek to repossess some of them and sell them."

Sir Jock raised the possibility that "HMG . . . might buy the papers and deposit them at the college . . . [so that] there would never again be any question of ownership".

Suggesting £100,000, he noted that the Treasury would get half of it back through inheritance tax, so the true cost would be £50,000.

A senior Cabinet Office bureaucrat advised Sir Burke that the answer should be "a flat 'no' ". But the Treasury Solicitor's department warned that "it looks as if future negotiations may be rather difficult in view of young Churchill's desire for money".

In the end, Sir Burke Trend wrote to Sir Jock saying that it would not be possible to pay as there was no public money available for such purchases.

There was silence on the issue for 18 years, but then, two years after Sir Jock died, subtle pressure began to be applied on the Government.

After another valuation by Sotheby's in December 1989, raising the estimated value of the papers to £15 million, Patricia Andrews, of the Cabinet Office's historical section, reported a conversation held with Correlli Barnett, then keeper of the archives at Churchill College.

He had told her "in absolute strictest confidence" that the Churchill trustees wanted the papers to go to the British Library on behalf of the Government "to guard against the possibility that future trustees might decide to dispose of the collection elsewhere". This veiled threat prompted a flurry of activity in Whitehall.

Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, asked the Government's lawyers to consider "should the Government be prepared to pay money for an archive of which at least part is by our assertion ours anyway".

The reply was guarded, but pointed out that the biggest problem would be the "excessively generous terms" likely to be sought by the trustees. Miss Andrews had already warned Sir Robin that "some of the official (and royal) papers are thought to be sensitive including correspondence and exchanges about the Duke of Windsor". She could not countenance buying the archive when so much of it already belonged to the state.

"There still seems to me to be something quite wrong about this," she wrote. Then Norman, now Lord, Tebbit, intervened, writing to John Major in March 1991 offering to mediate.

He sent a memo, apparently written by one of the trustees, that said:

"[We] . . . are conscious of the need to fulfil the original objective of Sir Winston Churchill . . . namely . . . to secure the financial independence of his lineal descendants by means of the only material asset obtained during his life, that is the papers he had written himself or created during his long political and literary career.

"The fulfilment of that original objective can only be carried out by the sale of the family papers."

The second half of the file, which deals with the Prime Minister's reaction to the lobbying and why it took another four years to buy the papers, remains secret.


© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.

The above material has been researched by David Irving for the third volume of his Churchill biography, "Churchill's War", vol. iii: "The Sundered Dream."

© Focal Point 2004 F Irving write to David Irving