looks as if future negotiations may be
rather difficult in view of young
Churchill's desire for
referring to Winston Churchill Jr., the
wartime prime minister's grandson.|
Thursday, September 23,
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
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
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
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
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".
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,
"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
belonged to the state anyway, and
that there were no public funds to meet Mr
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
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
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.
Churchill dies and papers put in trust
on behalf of grandson Winston Churchill
Offer of £100,000 by trustees
refused by government
Government asked for £15m to
transfer ownership of the collection to
British Library, but negotiations stall
Bought for £12m using National
London, Thursday 23 September 2004
files were offered to nation for a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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