Papers of Neville Chamberlain

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Neville Chamberlain remains the most famous member of his family because of the still controversial policy he pursued as prime minister to keep Europe from plunging into another war: the policy known as "appeasement". His collected letters and papers provide the best means to understand his motives in attempting to reach an understanding with Hitler. They also contain evidence of the outpouring of gratitude with which that attempt was initially greeted around the world.

The collection includes the extensive correspondence of Neville with other family members, principally his father, Joseph, his step mother, his sisters, his half sister, Beatrice and half brother, Austen; his wife Annie and their children; and other members of the extended Chamberlain family and associated families including members of the Kenrick, Maxwell, Nettlefold and Lloyd families. This correspondence relates not just to personal, family and domestic matters but also to contemporary domestic and foreign politics papers. The frequent and regular diary correspondence with his two younger sisters, Hilda and Ida, particularly from 1915 up to 1940 is a particularly important resource. There is also material relating to the Chamberlain family history, genealogies, and official documents.

The collection also includes Neville's journals, diaries and notebooks. These comprise his political diaries and journals, 1913-40; journals in which he recorded his activities and observations on his widespread travels in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, 1889-1939; a commonplace book in which he collected humorous anecdotes in the 1930s; other personal notebooks which document his private hobbies of gardening, fishing and nature. The collection also contains presscuttings, scrapbooks and photograph albums which include some of Neville's trips to meet Mussolini, and Hitler in 1938.

The collection contains material relating to Neville's business activities. This includes correspondence, a diary and other papers relating to his experience as a young man when he was placed in charge of his father's ill-fated venture growing sisal in the Bahamas, 1890-1901; and his notebooks relating to the business affairs of Elliotts Metal Company in Selly Oak, Birmingham, 1902-07

Other papers include a large section of correspondence with royalty, family members, and Chamberlain's are also documented by his own comprehensive notes

The archives relating to his public and political life include material relating to involvement in local Birmingham politics and activities and as a Birmingham MP. Material relating to national politics include pre war papers dealing with the Tariff Commission originally set up by Joseph Chamberlain, and with the canal system which drew traffic to Birmingham; papers from Neville's first stint in national office as Director General of National Service, including his correspondence with Lloyd George; papers from his first cabinet ministry, Health, and letters of congratulation on his first appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and later about the rating bill when he was back at the ministry of health; letters concerning the Conservative party in the early 1930s; a large collection of letters on his main term at the Exchequer charting Britain's recovery from the Depression including papers tracing his meetings with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, and his subsequent visits to Paris and Italy. Other papers relate to the early months of the war and Neville's preparation for the debate that precipitated his fall as prime minister, and on his subsequent responsibilities as Lord President.

In addition, the collection includes correspondence with royalty, with some parliamentary colleagues including Winston Churchill, and with constituents. There is also a series of correspondence of congratulation and support, 1937-1940 which he attracted as prime minister and following his conduct at Munich. The support came from all walks of life, from within Europe and around the world. Neville's gratitude is documented in his written responses to the gifts and testimonials.

The collection also includes some papers of his wife, Annie, which consists of notebooks and diaries, personal correspondence and scrap albums. These include notes she kept of house calls on constituents.

Reference: The Chamberlain Papers from University of Birmingham Library: The Papers of Neville Chamberlain (Primary Source Microfilm, Reading, 2000).

Administrative / Biographical History

Right Honourable Arthur Neville Chamberlain, 1869-1940, son of the Right Honourable Joseph and Florence [ne Kenrick] Chamberlain, married Anne Vere Cole in 1911; half brother of the Right Honourable Sir Austen Chamberlain; educated at Rugby and Mason College, Birmingham; unsuccessfully attempted to grow sisal on his father's estate in the Bahamas, 1890-1897. In 1911 he was elected to Birmingham City Council and became Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 1915; established the only municipal savings bank, 1916; was appointed director-general of National Service by Lloyd George in 1916 and resigned, 1917. From 1918-1940 he was Conservative MP for a Birmingham division; while in opposition (1920-1931), he reorganised Conservative Central Office; became postmaster general, 1922; Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1931-1937 and was Prime Minister, 1937-1940.

Reference: The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, 1901-1950 (Oxford, 1967).

Arrangement

The collection was presented as a gift by the family in 1974.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Access to all registered researchers. Restrictions apply to some correspondence. Please contact the Archivist for further information.

Acquisition Information

This collection was acquired in a series of deposits from 1975.

Other Finding Aids

A paper handlist to the collection, updated in 1988, is available in the Special Collections Department. The micropublication of the collection is accompanied by a paper catalogue to file and item level, with introduction (The Chamberlain Papers from University of Birmingham Library: The Papers of Neville Chamberlain, Primary Source Microfilm, Reading, 2000) and by a CDRom index. Both of these are available in the searchroom.

Alternative Form Available

The Papers of Neville Chamberlain have been microfilmed by Primary Source Media as part of an ongoing project to publish the entire Chamberlain collection in series arranged around the three statesmen: Neville, Austen and Joseph and other family members.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Accruals

Further deposits are not expected.

Related Material

The papers of Austen, Joseph, Beatrice, Ida, Hilda and Ethel Chamberlain and a general family collection are also held at Birmingham University Information Services, Special Collections Department. Further artificial series of additional correspondence exist for each family member in the 'Letters Additional' series.