Scholars rejoice in $20 million deal

CHURCHILL PAPERS SOLD

April 27, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- In life, Winston Churchill's words stirred a nation. In death, they have caused a small controversy.

Yesterday, 1.5 million pages of Churchill's letters, official documents and speeches from childhood to the end of World War II were purchased for $20 million.

It took the combined purchasing power of Britain's National Lottery and American billionaire philanthropist John Paul Getty to obtain the papers from the Churchill Archive Settlement, a private family trust.

The National Heritage Lottery Fund will pay $18.4 million, while Mr. Getty, a British resident, will contribute $1.6 million.

The transaction ended five years of legal wrangling, and an implied threat by Churchill's heirs to sell off some of the most valued pages of British history to the highest bidder.

Instead, the papers will remain at the Churchill Archives Center in Cambridge, where a catalog of them will be available within five years. Churchill's post-1945 papers have already been donated to the center. The newly-formed Sir Winston Churchill Archive Trust will be the official holder of the papers.

The papers include everything from tearstained schoolboy notes that young Winston sent to his American-born mother to drafts of his famous wartime speeches.

Letters from every British sovereign from Edward VII to Queen Elizabeth II are included. The archive contains a note from George VI, Elizabeth's father, describing how he and Queen Mary witnessed the bombing of Buckingham Palace during the Blitz.

The king wrote: "We saw flashes and heard the detonations as they burst about 30 yards away."

"Could you imagine what the New York auction house Sotheby's would have fetched for the 'We shall fight them on the beaches speech?' " said Andrew Roberts, author of a book about the Churchill family. "The British people got a fantastic deal."

But not everyone agrees. Churchill, a symbol of the British Conservative Party, remains a thorn in the side of leftist Labor Party politicians. "It's a thorough disgrace," said Bernie Grant, a Labor member of Parliament who objected to money being taken from the National Lottery for "a load of words."

Jeremy Corbyn, another Labor MP, said, "These papers are only the product of the fact that he was a prime minister during the war years and they should be part of the national archive anyway."

Peregrine Churchill, nephew of the British wartime leader, said the British people got a good deal. He said the papers include details of the lives of Winston's father, Randolph, and Winston's grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough, both members of British Cabinets.

"The fact is this: The papers cover 100 years of English history and a very vital period in the history of Europe," Mr. Churchill said.

"You get a fantastic picture of why England is the only country in Europe that made the change to democracy without revolution."

One big winner in the deal is apparently Winston Churchill, the prime minister's eldest grandson and the son of Randolph Churchill and Pamela Harriman. According to Mr. Roberts, Mr. Churchill stands to receive several million dollars from the sale. But Mr. Roberts said the biggest winners of all, are a legion of historians who have made the study of Churchill a lifetime occupation.

"Until now we haven't had the cash to get these documents," he said. "Now, with this amazing National Lottery, with money squirting out of the sky, we've been able to buy them [the Churchill family] out as a nation. Every Churchill scholar is rejoicing."

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