Friday, 30 April 2010

General Election Special 2: Political leaders in the Archives

In the previous post prompted by the upcoming general election we concentrated on the collections held by Archive Services containing information about some of the people who were MPs for Dundee. In this post, the second of our election specials, we’re going to focus on political leaders that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the Dundee including William Gladstone, Keir Hardie, George Robertson and Margaret Thatcher.

Although born in Liverpool, Gladstone had strong Scottish connections. As well as representing Midlothian in Parliament he was the son of a Scot; Sir John Gladstone, who would own the Fasque Estate in Kincardineshire. The ‘Grand Old Man’, as Gladstone was known, maintained his links with Scotland. As a staunch Anglican he was interested in the affairs of the Scottish Episcopal Church and in particular the Diocese of Brechin in which Fasque was to be found. Gladstone corresponded with Bishop of Brechin, Alexander Penrose Forbes, on religious matters on a number of occasions in the 1850s and 1860s and some of these letters, such as this one, can be found in Forbes’ correspondence (Br MS 1) which is part of the Brechin Diocesan Manuscripts.

Dundee soldier, artist and author Joseph Lee is now best known for his account of his time a prisoner of war and his war poetry. However, he also had a strong interest in politics and in his work as a journalist encountered many political figures. In the early twentieth century, Lee, already becoming well known for his contributions to local periodicals like The Piper O’Dundee, became involved with the labour movement. In 1909 he established a monthly Labour Periodical in the city called The Tocsin. Following its launch, Lee received letters of congratulation and commendation from several leading figures in the labour movement. Perhaps the most interesting letter he received came from James Keir Hardie, the father of the modern Labour Party. Hardie congratulated Lee on The Tocsin and told him that ‘we cannot have too much in the way of high class journalism in connection with our Socialist & Labour Movement'. Hardie’s and other letters were kept by Lee in a bound volume of The Tocsin which is now part of our collections (MS 88/11/5).

Hardie is not the only senior Labour politician to be found in the holdings of Archive Services. George Robertson, who became Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary General of NATO, began his political career as a student at Queen’s College, University of St Andrews, becoming a student of the independent University of Dundee in 1967 when Queens College Dundee and the University of St Andrews separated. In 1968 Robertson was one of the University of Dundee's first graduates. He was actively involved in student life in Dundee and was regular contributor to the student magazine Annasach. He was also involved in student protests memorably leading a 24-hour work-in in the Library in 1968 as part of a campaign against cuts to student grants. Copies of Annasach are held by Archive Services (RU 357). Lord Robertson is also featured in the Turner-McKinlay Photographic Collection (CMS).

Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, paid a visit to Don and Low’s textile works in Forfar in September 1982 as part of a well-publicised and, at times, turbulent visit to Scotland. Many Scots felt that Mrs Thatcher’s government was doing little to improve the troubled Scottish economy and she encountered protests and demonstrations at several of the places she visited on this trip. However, she seemed to enjoy her time in Forfar and Don and Low’s management seemed pleased with their famous guest. The company kept a photograph album of her visit (MS 100/17/2/8), which is now part of the Don and Low collection. This picture is taken from the album. The Don and Low collection also contains a file that includes a letter to William Low (Chairman and Chief Executive of the Don And Low Group) from Mrs Thatcher to thank him for the gift of a silver box and to state how interesting she found her visit and how impressed she was with all that she saw (MS 100/17/2/7). The letter from Mrs Thatcher sits alongside a handwritten letter to Low from her husband, Denis, who described the visit as ‘interesting and encouraging’. Denis Thatcher also thanked Mr Low for his gift of whiskey which he promised to use to toast the firm’s success.

The following list highlights some of our holdings that include material relating to major British political figures:
  • MS 84 Association of Jute Spinners and Manufacturers, includes a 1948 report of proceedings at a meeting of the British Jute Trade Federal Council addressed by the then President of the Board of Trade, Harold Wilson
  • MS 88 Joseph Lee’s papers include his bound volume of The Tocsin, which contains letters from Keir Hardie, Phillip Snowden and other early Labour luminaries
  • MS 100/17 Low Family Business and Personal Papers, include the material relating to Margaret Thatcher, as well as letters from Malcolm Rifkind and John McKay M.P, and photographs of Jennie Lee
  • MS 149 Miss Elizabeth McGill Clark Collection, includes a wide range of rare books by and about Labour politicians. This collection also includes a programme commemorating the Presentation of the Freedom of the City of Dundee to The Rt. Hon George M. Thomson, one of Britain’s first European Commissioners
  • MS 270 The Dundee Conservative and Unionist Association Collection, includes material relating to Britain’s first female Conservative cabinet minister, Florence Horsbrugh
  • THB 29 Murray Royal Asylum, includes photographs of Sir Alec Douglas Home
  • THB 31 Bridge of Earn Hospital, includes typed letters from Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee thanking all of the Department of Health for Scotland for their work during the Second World War
  • BrMS 1 Correspondence of Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin, and George Frederick Boyle, contains letters from William Gladstone
  • RU 293 Records relating to University of Dundee Rectors, includes material relating to Rectors such as Clement Freud, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Gordon Wilson, all of whom served in Parliament
  • RU 769 University of Dundee Press Office Photographic collection, includes images of several MPs including Tony Benn, Alex Salmond, John Reid, and Donald Dewar
The University’s records also contain material concerning alumni of the University who went on to become MPs including George Robertson, Brian Wilson, Malcolm Bruce and Christopher Chope. The University’s student newspapers such as Annasach (RU 357) and the earlier Aien (Recs A/820) are particularly useful when researching the early political lives of the University’s alumni.

In our final election special next week we’ll take a look at some of the political figures to be found in the Michael Peto Photographic Collection.

Dr Kenneth Baxter

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