Archive of Margaret Thatcher acquired for the nation

Margaret Thatcher’s previously unpublished memoir of the Falklands War has been acquired for the nation - after Arts Council England today announced the acceptance in lieu of inheritance tax of papers from the estate of the former Prime Minister.

There is huge research interest in her as a political figure.
Allen Packwood

Written over Easter 1983, almost exactly a year after the Argentine invasion, the handwritten memoir gives profound insights into her handling of the war, particularly her relationships with colleagues and allies including the United States. Probably the single most significant historical document Thatcher ever wrote, her emotional reaction to events is also powerfully present.

The memoir, along with other personal papers, now complement and complete the rich materials already gifted to the Nation and held at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Centre Director Allen Packwood said: "The Churchill Archives Centre is delighted that this important material has been secured in perpetuity, and that it will form part of Lady Thatcher’s personal archive, sitting alongside the papers that she donated during her lifetime. As the reaction to this news shows, there is huge research interest in her as a political figure and in the events of her life and premiership, and the material accepted today will inform further study, discussion and debate. It is an important part of the story of our recent past."

The papers accepted complement and complete the rich materials already gifted to the Nation. In 1997, just over six years after leaving office, Baroness Thatcher generously gifted the bulk of her personal and political files to the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust, stressing that she had always wanted her archive to stay in the United Kingdom and to be a resource for students and scholars.

The collection deposited in Cambridge contains material from her earliest life right the way through her time as an MP (1959-92), Conservative party leader (1975-90), Prime Minister (1979-90), and beyond. She kept possession of some key personal papers and of much post 1990 material which is now accepted in lieu and which completes the archive.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair, Arts Council England, said: "Whatever our politics we have to recognise Margaret Thatcher as a major historical figure. Her papers will now join those of Churchill and be available to scholars of the 20th century." 

The collection accepted in lieu of tax contains her most personal papers relating to crucial episodes in her time as Prime Minister and include:A second previously unpublished memoir gives her personal account of the Fontainebleau European summit in June 1984 which finally settled the five year battle to reform the EC budget and "get her money back".

A third memoir tells of her visit to Moscow for the funeral of Soviet President Chernenko in March 1985, where she renewed her acquaintance with his successor - Mikhail Gorbachev. 

Other significant items include:

The final draft of her remarks in Downing Street when she became Prime Minister in May 1979 - it seems she had planned to talk of the ’song’ of St. Francis, perhaps because she herself was uneasy with the idea of a prayer.
The text from which she delivered her ’Not for turning’ speech at the Oct 1980 Conservative Party Conference.

Many other personal papers on the Falklands, most of which have already been released within the archive - including Lord Carrington’s letter explaining his decision to resign as Foreign Secretary; her handwritten notes on conversations with Harold Macmillan, US Secretary of State Al Haig; reports from the Chief Whip on Conservative backbench doubts about the war.

Her engagement diaries for 1952-59, 1961-62 & 1964. In addition there is a quantity of personal and political papers she collected between 1979 and 1990. 

Access to the papers accepted will follow existing arrangements for the core collection of Thatcher papers held by the Churchill Archives Centre. The papers already donated by Margaret Thatcher are generally being opened in parallel with official material held at the UK’s National Archives. Currently the majority of papers up to the end of 1984 are available, subject only to occasional closures recommended by the Cabinet Secretary for sensitive official material and any closures necessary to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Certain papers accepted (generally those dated before 1985) are already available at the Archives Centre and online at the Thatcher Foundation’s website. Further materials will continue to be added to the website on their release.

Later materials accepted are still being sorted and catalogued but include significant materials relating to the 1990 Conservative Leadership election.

The Churchill Archives Centre is open to researchers five days a week for about fifty weeks each year. The Centre provides free access for all potential visitors, subject only to prior booking of a space in its reading room.

The acceptance of Margaret Thatcher’s papers settled £1,013,250 of tax.

The relevant papers will be freely available at Churchill Archives Centre with selections online at , the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.