Collections Development Policy

The purpose of this policy is to define the collecting priorities of Churchill Archives Centre and to ensure that its collecting activity is open and accountable.

History of collecting

Churchill College was founded in 1960 as a new College of the University of Cambridge intended to memorialise Winston Churchill in an academic institution whose members were largely engaged in the study of science and technology. In 1965, it began to collect archives, which were initially housed in the College Library under the curatorial care of the Librarian. Early acquisitions included the personal papers of a number of wartime contemporaries of Winston Churchill. In 1969, Winston Churchill’s post-1945 papers were given to the College by his widow, Clementine Churchill, and, in 1974, his pre-1945 papers were transferred on loan by his literary trust.

The College built a dedicated Archives Centre, which opened in 1973, to accommodate the expansion of its collections, staff and activities, which was largely supported by fundraising from private individuals and foundations. Winston Churchill’s pre-1945 papers were purchased with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund), in 1995. During this period, the Archives Centre increased the scope of its collecting priorities to include later twentieth century political, diplomatic, military and scientific personal papers, with a strong emphasis on the papers of contemporary politicians.

The Archives Centre’s collections were recognised under the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s Designation Scheme (now Arts Council England’s Designation Scheme), in 2005; Winston Churchill’s papers were included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, 2015; and the Archives Centre was awarded Archive Service Accreditation by the National Archives, 2015 (renewed 2018 and 2021). The Archives Centre continues to collect personal papers of individuals involved in modern British politics and public life for the purposes of research, teaching, learning and public engagement with a wide range of audiences.

Legal and ethical framework

The Archives Centre is part of Churchill College, Cambridge, which is itself a college of the University of Cambridge. Churchill College is a registered charity regulated by the Charity Commission (no: 1137476).

The Archives Centre manages acquisition and disposal of collections in accordance with the current legislation and codes of practice for the cultural heritage sector, including: Combating Illicit Trade: Due diligence guidelines for museums, libraries and archives on collecting and borrowing cultural material, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2005; the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, ratified in the UK in 2002; the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003; and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017.

The Archives Centre administers closures of documents or files within the collections in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and on grounds of privacy by negotiation and agreement with individual donors of collections. All access restrictions must be reasonable, clearly indicated, and of defined duration.

Our working practices, including collections development, are guided by the professional codes of ethics of the International Council on Archives, 1996, and the Archives and Records Association, 2020.

Priorities for collecting

Our collecting focuses on the personal papers of individuals who have been significantly involved in national life in the following areas:

  • Politics and public life
  • International relations
  • Science, science policy and debate
  • Social science, policy and observation
  • Journalism and the media

Our collections are national in scope, covering the whole of the United Kingdom, and date predominantly from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

We accept archives of personal papers in the following formats:

  • paper
  • photographic
  • audio-visual
  • born digital

We seek to acquire our archive collections by donation. Some collections may be accepted on loan, particularly if there is a stated intention to convert the loan into a gift in the future, for instance through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme or by a bequest. In rare circumstances, a collection may be acquired by purchase.

In conjunction with the collections themselves, where possible we seek to acquire the main copyrights from donors at the point of transfer or subsequent to the transfer of the physical collection, while recognising that some donors may wish to retain their copyrights and that archives of personal papers will also include many documents in official or third-party copyrights.

We have also collected rare editions of books written by Winston Churchill and a number of collections of books owned by him, which are treated as ‘closed stack’ special collections. In addition, we have selectively collected books by or about individuals whose archives we hold and these books are available to researchers for reference use and limited borrowing in the collection known as the Roskill Library in the Archives Centre’s reading room. Books are acquired as donations, with some purchases, and collecting decisions are made in consultation with the College Librarian, who catalogues and manages these collections in accordance with the Library Collection Policy and Library Donations Policy.

In addition, we have a collection of objects belonging to the individuals whose archives we hold. The objects are often closely connected with the archives, such as despatch boxes once containing documents, or with the individuals themselves, usually personal mementos or emblematic items. All objects are acquired by donation and most commonly as part of larger collections of related papers.

Finally, we collect the institutional archive of Churchill College, which is administered by the College Archivist and covered by a separate Collections Development Policy.

In future, we are committed to acquiring archives within the scope of our collecting priorities that will increase the diversity of individuals represented in our collections and more fully reflect contemporary British society.

Limitations of collecting

We do not collect the following categories of material:

  • The records of institutions, with the exception of the institutional archive of Churchill College.
  • The personal papers of Masters, Fellows and alumni of Churchill College on the basis of their membership of the College, but only if they fulfil the criteria of our current collecting priorities.
  • Copies of archival material held in other institutions or remaining in private hands, with the exception of born digital material copied for transfer into our digital repository.
  • Personal libraries or printed books unconnected with the individuals whose archives we hold.
  • Objects unconnected with the individuals whose archives we hold or objects related to individuals in our collections that would be better curated, conserved and displayed in a museum.

Acquisition, disposal and collections review

Decisions about acquisition are made by the Director of the Archives Centre, in consultation with members of the management team and relevant subject specialists on the staff. Advice may be sought from historians and other experts on the Archives Committee. Decisions about large new collections may be informed by a significance assessment and a collections impact statement. In such cases, the College Council, whose members are the charitable trustees of Churchill College, may seek a clear recommendation from the Director of the Archives Centre and the Archives Committee.

We intend to work collaboratively and to consult with colleagues in other cultural heritage institutions, particularly archive repositories collecting in the same or related subject areas, and with potential donors or depositors to identify the most appropriate home for a collection.

Potential new collections are appraised, usually by survey, in advance of acceptance and transfer. Small collections or additions to existing collections may not be surveyed in advance. When appraising collections, we aim to approach the archive of an individual’s life holistically and not reject parts of the collection that may fall outside the parameters of our collecting priorities. We also recognise that parts of an individual’s archive may come to light at a later date and we are committed to evaluating and accepting further accessions to collections.

On arrival in the Archives Centre, details of new accessions are recorded in the accession register, with deposit or donation agreements, correspondence and contextual information retained in collection files, and collection-level summaries are created to document and keep track of each collection’s status and key contacts.

We would only consider deaccessioning a collection or item within the context of a large-scale or focused collections review; following a specific reappraisal or retrospective appraisal process; and in accordance with the guidance on deaccessioning and disposal published by the National Archives. Our accepted methods of disposal are transfer to another archive, library or museum; return to a donor or depositor; and restitution or repatriation. We do not dispose of collections or items by sale, with the exception of printed books which may be sold and the funds returned to the Library’s book budget. We would only consider disposing of collections or items by destruction in clearly defined circumstances, such as exact duplication, obsolete or unusable formats, or unstable or hazardous materials. Items may be weeded from within archival collections in line with our appraisal guidelines during collection processing.

We use collection-level summaries as the basis for collections review, either large-scale or focused, and as a starting point for researching and understanding our collections more fully, particularly to identify gaps in our collections that may inform future collecting priorities and to rediscover overlooked or disregarded material that may be highlighted by improved cataloguing and other interpretation.


Signed: Allen Packwood, Director of the Archives Centre

Dated: 20 January 2022

Approved by: Churchill College Archives Committee

Review date: January 2025