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Gaitskell Papers

UCL Library Services is pleased to announce that the Papers of Hugh Gaitskell, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1950 to 1951 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1955 until his death in 1963, are finally being opened for study.

The bulk of them emanates from Gaitskell’s various offices, and the large majority are official in nature, covering his political career and parliamentary engagements. Documents and correspondence relating to his work as Opposition Leader and a working MP account for most of it, while unsurprisingly only a few Ministry files remain. However, there are many highlights: from the earlier years, a file relating to the 1949 devaluation crisis, containing correspondence with Harold Wilson and Clement Attlee and a manuscript diary of events, and letters and papers relating to the 1951 re-armament budget. Post 1955 there is a wealth of more general political material covering Gaitskell’s major challenges as Labour Party Leader: Suez, Clause 4, Defence, and Europe.

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These include exchanges with other prominent politicians of the day such as Richard Crossman and Hugh Dalton, the latter spanning a twenty year period from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. A number of documents which illustrate the development of Labour Party policy along revisionist lines in the 1950s and early 1960s are unique to this collection.

Up until now the collection has remained officially closed due to both the wishes of the family and the need for a detailed catalogue of an archive which has undergone several different filing arrangements in its lifetime. After Gaitskell’s sudden death in January 1963 all his papers passed into Lady Gaitskell’s keeping and then in the early 1970s were lent to Nuffield College, Oxford, to facilitate work on the official biography by Philip Williams.

It is not known whether other scholars had access to them during this time. In 1980 they were deposited in the Library of University College London where Gaitskell had once been a lecturer in Political Economy. They have remained closed until now and thanks to the assistance of the Leverhulme Trust who awarded College a substantial grant in 1996, the task of cataloguing these important papers has now been completed.

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