State refused to pay £100,000 for Churchill archive

Two decades of wrangling by the heirs of Sir Winston Churchill in attempts to capitalise on his legacy have been laid bare in official papers made public yesterday.

Two decades of wrangling by the heirs of Sir Winston Churchill in attempts to capitalise on his legacy have been laid bare in official papers made public yesterday.

Files released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, reveal efforts by the wartime leader's grandson and principal beneficiary - also called Winston Churchill - to persuade the Conservative government to buy Sir Winston's archive of personal papers. The collection was eventually bought in 1995 with £12m of National Lottery money amid public controversy, not least because by that time Mr Churchill was himself a Tory MP.

However, the files show that the archive, which included Sir Winston's own copies of some of his greatest speeches, could have been acquired by the state 24 years earlier for £100,000.

The first attempt to sell the papers, which were held in trust on the younger Churchill's behalf, was made in 1971, six years after the death of the former prime minister.

The trustees were at the time trying to raise funds to build an archive centre at Churchill College, Cambridge, to provide a permanent home for the collection.

One of the trustees, Sir Winston's former private secretary Sir Jock Colville, wrote to the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, saying that the younger Churchill was anxious not to lose out financially as a result of the arrangement.

Sir Jock said: "He says that, although he sincerely wishes the papers to go to Churchill College, once they are there neither he nor his heirs could very easily reclaim them, and they are in fact the most valuable asset he possesses."

Sir Jock said that an attempt to persuade a wealthy American donor to buy the archive for $250,000 (£139,000) and then present it to Churchill College had failed and so he suggested the government could step in.

He said: "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?"

In response, Sir Burke pointed out that many of the documents in the collection were official papers and therefore already belonged to the state. He said: "Any question of trying to buy the Churchill papers would come up against insuperable difficulties."

That was the end of the matter until April 1989 when Pam Andrews, an official at the Cabinet Office historical section, learned that the trustees had appointed Sotheby's to value the collection. She had been tipped off by the historian Correlli Barnett, who was the keeper of the archive centre at Churchill College, where the collection had been held.

The trustees wanted to transfer ownership of the collection to the British Library in order, they said, to prevent it being broken up and sold abroad. In return, the government would be asked to pay a "fair sum", out of which the trustees would make an endowment to the archive centre at Churchill College, where the collection would remain. The "fair sum" that they were asking for was £15m.

Mark Blythe, a lawyer in the Treasury Solicitors Department, advised that there would be "nothing intrinsically difficult from a legal point of view" with such an arrangement.

The negotiations stalled, so the family enlisted the help of the former Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit, who wrote to the prime minister, John Major, in March 1991. He pointed out that the trustees had to sell the collection "in the interest of the beneficiary", but wanted the archive to remain intact. He said: "That would require a negotiated private sale with the state. I am told the sum would not be huge."

No further details of the negotiations are contained in the file. A final note from Mr Blythe states that "Mr Tebbit is simply the messenger" and that there would be further discussions with the trustees.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

£27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Customer Service Advisor

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading boiler ...

Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea