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Empire & Commonwealth: top 10 archive collections

24th October 2019 in Archives Centre, Our Collections

Other than Churchill’s own archive, we have nearly 40 collections which relate in one way or another to the Empire and Commonwealth.  Some are the papers of Colonial Secretaries, or later we have Secretaries for Commonwealth Relations; others simply took a passionate interest in the affairs of the Empire (both pro and anti).  Some served in the Commonwealth Relations Office or were diplomats posted to Commonwealth countries, as in the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme, while others still were responsible for training military forces overseas.  We have just listed 10 of the most significant of them here, but there are many other smaller collections to explore!

Part of a series of subject guides to the Churchill Archives Centre’s collections, these lists are not exhaustive and provide a very subjective window onto some of our personal highlights. Please get in touch with the team if you have any questions about the collections the Archives Centre holds, or if you would like to make an appointment to consult any of these collections in the reading room.


10 Baron Noel-Baker MP (1889-1982)

Philip Noel-Baker enjoyed a long and very varied career as an athlete, academic, diplomat, politician and peace campaigner (frequently at the same time). Officially, he was only Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations between 1947 and 1950, but the largest section of his very large archive (over 1000 files) covers the area of International Affairs. This ranges from Abyssinia to Yugoslavia, over most of the 20th century, and includes a fair proportion of Commonwealth countries.


9 Baron Soames MP (1920-87)

Christopher Soames with Sir Winston and Clementine Churchill

Christopher with his mother and father-in-law, 1964. Clementine Churchill Papers, CSCT 5/9/30.

Although Christopher Soames really had more to do with Europe than the Commonwealth during his career, he still has a place in this list as the last Governor of Southern Rhodesia, when he oversaw the transition to an independent Zimbabwe. Soames’s governorship only lasted a few months, between late 1979 and early 1980, but his archive covers the first elections to the new Government and later projects for reconstruction and development.


8 Sir William Gorell Barnes (1909-87)

At no. 8 we have a civil servant, Sir William Gorell Barnes, who served as first Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office, 1948-59 and then Deputy Under-Secretary from 1959-63. Following his retirement from the Civil Service, he also became a member of the Conservative Commonwealth and Overseas Council, 1966-75, and chaired the Council for the last two years of this time.


7 Baron Duncan-Sandys MP (1908-1987)

Duncan Sandys began his career as a Foreign Office diplomat in 1930, but moved into politics instead, becoming an MP in 1935 (the same year as he married Churchill’s daughter Diana, which cannot have harmed his Conservative Party prospects). His archive is particularly strong for the 1950s-60s, covering his ministerial career in areas such as housing and defence, as well as a lot of material relating to Europe, as Sandys was the founder of the European Movement. There is also a large section from his time as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 1960-4, and the Colonies 1962-4, as well as many files on individual countries.


6 Baron Gordon-Walker MP (1907-1980)

The Labour Party politician Patrick Gordon-Walker came to Commonwealth affairs just a couple of years after becoming an MP when he joined the Commonwealth Relations Office as Under-Secretary in 1947. In the following three years he visited much of the Commonwealth, particularly India and Pakistan as one of the Prime Minister's emissaries on India’s independence and position in the Commonwealth. In 1950 he became Secretary of State, attaining Cabinet rank after less than five years in parliament. Walker represented Britain at the Victoria Falls Conference on the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland but returned to England for the 1951 General Election which Labour lost. Now out of office, he still led the United Kingdom delegation to the Karachi meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1957 and in 1962 published "The Commonwealth".


5 Baron Brockway MP (1888-1988)

Coming in firmly on the anti-Empire side is the politician and activist Fenner Brockway. Much like Philip Noel-Baker, with whom he helped found the World Disarmament Campaign, Brockway had a huge range of interests, from women’s suffrage, peace campaigning and nuclear disarmament to prison reform and the fight against racial discrimination. Brockway was also a lifelong anti-colonialist, travelling extensively in India between the wars and in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s. He helped to establish the People's Congress Against Imperialism, 1948, and was a founder and Chairman of Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom), 1954-67.


4 Leopold Amery MP (1873-1955) and Julian Amery MP (Baron Amery of Lustleigh, 1919-1996)

Leo Amery

Leo Amery as a young man. Amery Papers, AMEL 10/1/1.

We have cheated here, and got two collections in for the price of one: arch-Imperialist Leo Amery, and his son Julian. Leo began his career as a war correspondent in South Africa in 1899, then after serving on the personal staff of the great colonial administrator Lord Milner towards the end of the First World War, secured his dream job in the Colonial Office as Under-Secretary for the Colonies, in 1919. He held this post until 1921, taking a particular interest in his pet subjects of overseas settlement and protectionism, then after a spell at the Admiralty, returned to his favourite office, this time as Colonial Secretary, from 1924-29, where much of his time was taken up with a great Empire Tour. Like his contemporary Churchill, Amery was out of office during the 1930s, though still taking a close interest in Imperial affairs, but Churchill brought him back to the Cabinet in 1940, this time as Secretary of State for India and Burma (where his arguments with Churchill over India’s future did not endear the two men to each other).

Leo’s son Julian, cut from the same cloth as his father, also served as Under-Secretary for the Colonies in 1958-60, but after that his ministerial career took a different turn, into aviation, housing and foreign affairs. Though more concerned with European affairs than Leo, Julian still took a keen interest in the Commonwealth, particularly the Empire Parliamentary Association, the Suez Group, African affairs (especially Rhodesia) and kept up many family links in the Middle East.


3 Philip Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Earl of Swinton MP (1884-1972)

Philip Cunliffe-Lister has the distinction of having been both Secretary of State for the Colonies (between 1931-35) and also for Commonwealth Relations, 1952-5, also serving as Cabinet Minister Resident in West Africa during the war (1942-4). Like Leo Amery before him, he went on a tour of the Commonwealth, this time in the early 1950s, and his archive contains plenty of material from this tour. There is also a fair amount on Africa, including a whole section on Rhodesia from Cunliffe-Lister’s time in the House of Lords from 1953-68 (besides being Commonwealth Secretary, Cunliffe-Lister, or Lord Swinton as he was by then, was Deputy Leader of the House from 1951-55).


2 Sir Percy James Grigg (1890-1964)

Although he was an MP for 3 years between 1942 and 1945, while serving as Churchill’s Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg spent most of his career in the Civil Service. Having worked in the Treasury 1913-30 (from 1921 as PPS to the Chancellor of the Exchequer), he was perfectly placed to become Finance Member for the Government of India in 1934, where he remained until the outbreak of war in 1939. Probably the key part of his archive are those sections relating to India, including questions about India which arose when Grigg was Permanent Under-Secretary of State for War (1939-42).


1 1st Baron Lloyd of Dolobran MP (1879-1941)

George and Blanche Lloyds’ passport photos

George and Blanche Lloyds’ passport photos. Lord Lloyd of Dolobran Papers, GLLD 1/12

George Lloyd comes in at no. 1 as an MP, intelligence officer and a successful diplomat. He had studied Eastern politics at Cambridge before travelling extensively in Burma, India, the Himalayas, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey as a young man. In 1905, Lloyd took on his first diplomatic posting at Constantinople, then in 1908 was appointed Special Commissioner on the future of British trade in Turkey, Iraq and the Persian Gulf. During the First World War he served as an intelligence officer, initially in the Dardanelles, then Russia, before returning to the Middle East in 1916, serving in Saudi Arabia, Palestine and the Arab Bureau. In 1918 he returned to diplomatic life as Governor of Bombay.

When his term as Governor ended in 1923, Lloyd returned briefly to Britain, becoming MP for Eastbourne, but his next diplomatic posting saw him returning to the Middle East in 1925 as High Commissioner for Egypt. Resigning in 1929 he returned home once more, and on the outbreak of war served as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1940, before his death in early 1941. Unsurprisingly, his papers include a great deal of material on Eastern and Indian affairs, including from Lloyd’s time in Constantinople and later from Egypt.


— Katharine Thomson, Archivist

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