Ever since the foundation of the National Library of Wales in 1909, the Department of Manuscripts and Records has acted as a national archival repository, and has acquired and preserved the papers of a number of prominent Welsh Liberal politicians.
Many of the generation of distinguished Liberal politicians who had been closely associated with the movement to set up a National Library in the late nineteenth century were themselves professional men, often barristers, solicitors or academics, or else they came from a commercial background, and were thus archivally minded, fully sensitive to the historical significance of their papers, and thus to the necessity of preserving them in good order.
By the 1970s, however, there was a growing awareness that many politicians and political activists were simply unaware of the historical importance of the papers which they acquired, and so too the officials of local political parties and pressure groups.
Many significant groups of political papers and the records of local parties had ceased to exist. During the whole of the 1970s, not a single significant Liberal archive had come to hand. It was in order to rectify these deficiencies that the Welsh Political Archive was established at the NLW in the spring of 1983.
Its original remit was wide-ranging: “to co-ordinate the collection of all materials – manuscript, printed and audio-visual – concerning politics in Wales”. So hard-hitting has been the impact of the Archive that the intervening seventeen years have witnessed a sharp upsurge in the inflow of political archives, including those of the Liberal Party.
This account is confined to archives and collections of papers dating from about 1885. Only significant archives and groups of records are listed. A comprehensive guide to small archives and stray items relevant to the history of the Liberal Party would have led to a list of inordinate length.
David Lloyd George papers
In any consideration of the personal papers of Liberal politicians, precedence must be given to those of David Lloyd George, Liberal MP for the Caernarfon Boroughs, 1890-1945, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1908-15, and Prime Minister, 1916-22. The most extensive group of his political papers, those which he bequeathed to his second wife Frances, and which she subsequently sold to Lord Beaverbrook in 1949 (and hence originally held at the Beaverbrook Library) are now in the custody of the Parliamentary Archive (the Record Office at the House of Lords).
But the National Library of Wales now holds no fewer than seven important Lloyd George archives, six of them acquired during the last twenty years. At the beginning of 1910, after Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had agreed to a government grant of £4,000 to the embryonic National Library of Wales (as well as a special grant of £500 a year for two years for cataloguing manuscripts), his close political associate Sir John Herbert Lewis, Liberal MP for Flintshire (then parliamentary secretary to the Local Government Board), wrote to thank him effusively for this “courageous act”, proceeding, “The Library will be at, I hope, a very distant date your literary mausoleum”.
This hope has by now been largely fulfilled. The seven Lloyd George archives may be enumerated as follows:
- Brynawelon group (NLW MSS 20,403-93): Purchase 1969
- Earl Lloyd-George Papers (NLW MSS 21,787-92, NLW MSS 22,514-37, and NLW ex 1069): Purchase 1982 and 1987
- William George Papers: Purchase 1989
- Olwen Carey-Evans Papers (NLW MSS 22,823-37): Purchase 1990
- A. J. Sylvester Papers: Purchase 1990
- Viscount Tenby Papers (NLW MSS 23,657-71): Purchase 1996
- Frances Stevenson Family Papers: Purchase 2000
Among these archives, two groups of papers are quite outstanding – Lloyd George’s letters to his first wife Dame Margaret within the Brynawelon group, and those to his brother William in the William George Papers.
Lloyd George was at no time a prolific correspondent, writing very sparingly to both personal friends and political associates. But he did write regularly, often daily, to his wife Margaret, who (at least during the early years of their marriage) much preferred the domestic tranquillity of Cricieth to the political bustle of Westminster, and to his younger brother William, who conscientiously ran the Cricieth-based family legal practice Lloyd George & George, and who acted as Lloyd George’s election agent and ever-loyal political lieutenant within the Caernarfon Boroughs. Lloyd George wrote secure in the knowledge that both groups of letters would be perused anxiously and proudly by his revered uncle and mentor Richard Lloyd (“Uncle Lloyd”). Many of the series of some 2,000 letters from Lloyd George to Dame Margaret, 1885-1936 (NLW MSS 20403-42) have been edited and published by Professor Kenneth O. Morgan.
The even longer series of 3,292 letters from Lloyd George to William, 1886-1917 – often fuller, more revealing and more intensely political than his epistles to Margaret – have been used by only a small number of writers and researchers. The William George Papers also include ten pocket diaries kept by the young Lloyd George from 1878 (when he was only fifteen years of age) until 1888.
The papers of Lloyd George’s devoted principal private secretary from 1923, Albert James Sylvester (1889-1989) include many files of correspondence and papers potently illuminating his employer’s activities and aspirations after his fall from power in 1922. There is also a long series of very detailed typescript diaries which include much important material beyond that published by Colin Cross in 1975.
Among the Viscount Tenby Papers purchased in 1996 is much material concerning Major Gwilym Lloyd-George, first Viscount Tenby (1894-1967), the Liberal (later National Liberal) MP for Pembrokeshire, 1922-24 and 1929-50, who later served from 1951-57 as the National Liberal and Conservative MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne North, and who became Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs under Prime Ministers Churchill and Eden.
A more recent acquisition is a small “residue” of the papers of Frances Stevenson, the Dowager Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor (1888-1972), which Ruth Longford used as the basis of her graphic and vivid study of her grandmother published in 1996.
The Brynawelon group also includes a few of the papers of Lady Megan Lloyd George (1902-66), the youngest of the five children of David and Margaret Lloyd George, who was the Liberal MP for Anglesey, 1929-51 (in the former year becoming the first-ever woman MP in the history of Wales), and, who, having formally embraced socialism in April 1955, served as the Labour MP for Carmarthenshire, 1957-66.
A notoriously lax correspondent, Megan was woefully negligent of her personal papers, and rarely kept a diary of any kind. The National Library was, therefore, delighted in 1993 to succeed in acquiring a long sequence of more than 700 letters, 1940-57, from the Labour MP Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982) to Megan with whom she shared a very close, if intermittent, relationship from 1936 until 1956. Mervyn Jones’ highly acclaimed biography of Lady Megan is largely founded on this substantial series of letters.
Although small groups of correspondence and papers and stray items will undoubtedly come to light in future, it may be noted with confidence that no major Lloyd George archive now remains in private hands.
Contemporaries of Lloyd George
The National Library also holds substantial archives of the papers of many of the distinguished Liberal politicians who were Lloyd George’s early contemporaries at Westminster. Among them are:
David Davies, Llandinam (1880-1944). MP for Montgomeryshire, 1906-29; parliamentary private secretary to D. Lloyd George when he was Minister of Munitions and Prime Minister, 1916-17; founder of the New Commonwealth Association; created the first Baron Davies of Llandinam, 1932.
Sir Owen M. Edwards (1858-1920). MP for Merionethshire, 1899-1900; first chief inspector of schools in Wales under the new Welsh Education Department, 1907.
Thomas Edward Ellis (1859-99). MP for Merionethshire, 1886-99; second Liberal whip under Gladstone, 1892; chief whip under Rosebery, 1894. There is also a substantial group of papers relating to T. E. Ellis among those of his close friend and confidant D. R. Daniel (1859-1931), and among those of his son Dr T. I. Ellis (1899-1970).
Sir Samuel T. Evans (1859-1918). MP for Mid-Glamorgan, 1890-1910; Solicitor-General, 1908-10; President of the Divorce, Probate and Admiralty Court, 1910-18.
Thomas Gee (1815-98). Liberal journalist, author and publisher. Editor of the highly influential Baner ac Amserau Cymru.
Sir John Herbert Lewis (1858-1933). MP for Flint Boroughs, 1892-1906, Flintshire, 1906-18, and the University of Wales, 1918-22; Junior Lord of the Treasury and a Liberal Party Whip, 1905; parliamentary secretary to the Local Government Board, 1909-15; Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, 1915-22.
A. C. Humphreys-Owen (1836-1905). MP for Montgomeryshire, 1894-1906; close confidant of Stuart Rendel.
Stuart Rendel (1834-1913). MP for Montgomeryshire, 1880-94, first chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Party from 1888; close friend to W. E. Gladstone.
J. Bryn Roberts (1847-1931). MP for the Eifion division of Caernarfonshire, 1906-18.
D. A. Thomas (1856-1918). MP for Merthyr Tydfil, 1888 – January 1910, and for Cardiff, January-December 1910; Baron Rhondda, January 1916; Viscount Rhondda, June 1918; President of the Local Government Board, 1916-17; Food Controller, 1917-18.
Also in the custody of the National Library are groups of papers of the following Liberal politicians and public figures:
A. H. D. Acland (1847-1926). MP for Rotherham, 1885-99, and for the Chiltern Hundreds, 1899-1919; created 13th Baronet in 1919.
Sir Alfred T. Davies (1861-1949). Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Department of the Board of Education, 1907-25.
Ellis W. Davies (1871-1939). MP for the Eifion division of Caernarfonshire, 1906-18; unsuccessfully contested Caernarfonshire in 1918; MP for the Denbigh division of Denbighshire, 1923-29.
Sir Joseph Davies. Commercial statistician; close associate of D. Lloyd George; member of the “garden suburb” during World War One.
Matthew L. Vaughan Davies (1840-1935). Unsuccessfully contested Cardiganshire as a Conservative in 1885; MP for Cardiganshire, 1895-1921; created Baron Ystwyth, 1921.
Sir E. Vincent Evans (1851-1934). Prominent London Welshman, notable eisteddfodwr, and president of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.
J. Victor Evans (1895-1957). Liberal candidate for Pontypridd, 1929, and Merthyr Tydfil in the 1934 by-election.
Sir Ellis Jones Ellis-Griffith (1860-1926). Unsuccessfully contested the Toxteth division of Liverpool, 1892; MP for Anglesey, 1895-1918; chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Liberal Party, 1912; Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Office, 1912-15; unsuccessfully contested the University of Wales, 1922; MP for the Carmarthen District, 1923-24.
Professor W. J. Gruffydd (1881-1954). MP for the University of Wales, 1943-48; prominent Welsh poet and literary critic.
E. Morgan Humphreys (1882-1955). Prominent Liberal journalist and author; corresponded regularly with many Liberal politicians.
E. T. John (1857-1931). MP for East Denbighshire, 1910-18; introduced the Government of Wales Bill in the House of Commons in 1914; joined the Labour Party, 1918, and was defeated in East Denbighshire in the “coupon” general election; stood in Brecon & Radnor in the general elections of 1922 and 1924, and in Anglesey at a by-election in April 1923.
Sir Henry Haydn Jones (1863-1950). MP for Merionethshire, 1910-45; generally antagonistic to D. Lloyd George.
Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris (1888-1956). Independent Liberal MP for Cardiganshire, 1923-32; arch-opponent of Lloyd George; first regional director of the BBC in Wales, 1936-45; MP for Carmarthenshire, 1945-56. There is no party political material among these papers.
J. Herbert Roberts, Baron Clwyd (1863-1951). MP for West Denbighshire, 1892-1918. “Some Memories of my Life” (1937 typescript) (NLW MS 16861C).
The diaries of John William Morris, the Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest (1896-1979), the distinguished judge, also include many revealing references to David Lloyd George. There is some material relating to Lloyd George among the papers of his early biographer W. Watkin Davies (1895-1973) and in the papers of T. J. Evans (1863-1932), who corresponded with many prominent Liberal politicians of his generation.
There are some papers relating to the history of the Liberal Party in Wales in the following personal archives: Charles E. Breese, Rev. Gwilym Davies, Alderman R. J. Ellis, Aberystwyth, Dr T. I. Ellis, H. Tobit Evans, Alderman J. M. Howell, Aberaeron, T. Mervyn Jones, R. Silyn Roberts and Sir Daniel Lleufer Thomas.
In 1986 the National Library was able to purchase interesting groups of papers of a father and son, both of them Liberal MPs – Arthur John Williams (1830-1911), MP for South Glamorgan, 1885-95, who came to prominence as one of the primary founders of the National Liberal Club in 1881; and Eliot Crawshay-Williams (1879-1962), assistant private secretary to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office, 1906-08, and MP for Leicester, 1910-13, when he served as parliamentary private secretary to David Lloyd George who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Dr Thomas Jones CH papers
Also closely associated with Lloyd George was Thomas Jones (1870-1955), who was appointed Secretary to the National Health Insurance Commissioners in 1910, and, largely through Lloyd George’s influence, became Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet in 1916.
He served four successive prime ministers – Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald – until his retirement in 1930. A very large archive of Jones’ papers (amounting to 295 bound volumes and twenty-six boxes of papers and volumes) is held at the National Library, concerning many aspects of governmental activity and Welsh life, most of them superbly catalogued by the late Professor Gwyn A. Williams in the 1950s.
Class Z comprises a long series of Dr Jones’s diaries, 1899-1937, which he had privately printed in Switzerland, and which include material beyond that available in the published diaries.
Clement Davies papers
Lloyd George is not the only Liberal Party leader whose papers are held at the National Library for a substantial archive of the political and personal papers of E. Clement Davies (1884-1962) has also been deposited by his widow and son.
Davies, the Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire, 1929-62, and party leader, 1945-56, never kept a diary or penned his reminiscences. The papers, disappointingly thin for Davies’ “Simonite” period in the thirties, are much fuller for the years after 1945 and contain rich sources for the history of the Liberal Party, Welsh affairs and Montgomeryshire politics.
Among the many prominent Liberals who feature in the list of correspondents are Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Jo Grimond, Gilbert Murray, Philip Rea, Sir Herbert Samuel, Sir John Simon and Sir Archibald Sinclair (Lord Thurso). There are also important groups of the papers of Clement Davies wife Mrs Jano Clement Davies (1882-1969) and his son Mr Stanley Clement-Davies (b. 1920). The Clement Davies Papers remain under embargo; intending researchers must secure the prior written permission of Mr Stanley Clement-Davies, London.
An independent Welsh Liberal Party was established for the first time only in 1966. In the wake of the merger of the Liberals and the Social Democratic Party in 1988, a substantial group of records of the WLP was donated to the National Library.
These include an incomplete set of the minutes of the executive committee and the general council dating from 1967, the correspondence files of Lord Lloyd of Cilgerran, party treasurer and chairman of the Liberal Party’s Law Panels, and an array of subject files concerning local government, party organisation, conferences, campaigns and elections.
There is a further series of files relating to individual constituencies, and substantial groups of pamphlets, leaflets and minutes. Papers dating from the last ten years are subject to an embargo, and intending searchers must secure written permission to view them.
The WPA also received the minutes of the short-lived SDP Council for Wales when it was reconstituted in 1988. These are complemented by the records of numerous local SDP branches in Wales, among them Ceredigion & Pembroke North, and the Dyfed Area SDP (both donated by Professor Glanville Price of Aberystwyth), the West Glamorgan Area Party, the Vale of Glamorgan Party, and the Monmouth group.
Also in the custody of the Library is a small corpus of the papers of Mr Jeffrey Thomas (1933-89), Labour MP for Abertillery, 1970-83, who joined the SDP very early in its history in 1981. Mr Thomas subsequently stood as the SDP candidate for Cardiff West in the general election of 1983, and later rejoined the Labour Party in 1986.
Among local Liberal Party archives, outstanding sets of records have come to hand from (predictably) the two areas where the Liberal tradition has remained buoyant throughout the twentieth century – Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire. In both cases fascinating minute books date from the 1920s, providing vivid testimony to the sometimes tumultuous course of political life in these counties, and they are supplemented by correspondence files, financial records, subject files, press cuttings and political ephemera.
The Cardiganshire records are complemented by correspondence and papers donated by Dr E. Roderic Bowen (b. 1913) (Liberal MP for the county, 1945-66) in 1984 (NLW MSS 22,015-18) and 1995. The latter deposit includes the papers of Harry Rees of Lampeter, the local party’s secretary and registration agent in the 1920s. Smaller groups of records derive from the Caernarfonshire and the Vale of Glamorgan constituencies.
The Library has also purchased from the Newport Library a photocopy of the minute book, 1886-89, of meetings of the Welsh Liberal MPs (NLW Fac 627). NLW MS 21,171D is the minute book, 1886-91, of the North Wales Liberal Federation. The Library also holds a small group of records deriving from the 1955 Liberal Party Conference held at Llandudno.
Modern personal papers
The National Library holds groups of papers of the following Liberal politicians and local activists:
- Emlyn Hooson (Lord Hooson). MP for Montgomeryshire, 1962-79. Lord Hooson’s written permission is required before access to his extensive papers may be granted.
- Emrys O. Roberts (1910-90). MP for Merionethshire, 1945-51.
- Lord Ogmore (1903-76) (formerly David Rees Rees-Williams). A former Labour MP, 1945-50, he joined the Liberal Party in 1959; Liberal Party President, 1963-64.
- Sir Alun Talfan Davies (b. 1913). Independent candidate in the famous University of Wales by-election in 1943; stood as a Liberal in the Carmarthenshire division in the general elections of 1959 and 1964, and Denbighshire in 1966; an activist within the Welsh Liberal Party.
- Dr Ben G. Jones (1914-89). Liberal candidate for Merionethshire, 1959.
- Mrs Mary Garbett-Edwards (1893-1986). Local Liberal agent in Montgomeryshire to Clement Davies and Emlyn Hooson.
- Dr George Morrison. An activist within the Welsh Liberal Party and the Ceredigion & Pembroke North constituency.
- Merfyn Jones. An activist within Aberystwyth, the Ceredigion & Pembroke North division, the WLP and the Liberal Party. His papers include four minute books, 1921-69, of the Aberystwyth Liberal Association.
The contemporary Liberal Democrats are represented in the papers of the following individuals:
- Mr Clive Betts. Welsh Affairs correspondent of the Western Mail.
- Mr Gwyn Griffiths. The last chairman of the Welsh Liberal Party before it merged with the SDP in 1988. A member of the WPA Consultative Committee.
- Mr Peter Sain ley Berry. A former Liberal who was a founder member of the SDP in 1981, and who stood as the party’s candidate at Swansea West in 1983, Pontypridd in 1987, and Pembroke in 1992.
- Rev. Roger Roberts. Stood as the Liberal candidate at Conwy in the general elections of 1987, 1992 and 1997.
W. E. Gladstone papers
This account began with a description of the extensive papers of David Lloyd George. It is perhaps fitting that it should close with a reference to holdings relevant to W. E. Gladstone (1809-98). Stray letters written by Gladstone may be found in a number of archives held by the National Library, among them the papers of Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn MP, Stuart Rendel MP, Henry Richard MP and Sir Henry Hussey Vivian MP.
The Library has also purchased complete microfilm copies of the most extensive archives of the Gladstone Papers in the custody of St Deiniols Library, Hawarden, and the British Library as published in the microfilm series The Papers of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, edited by the late Professor Colin Matthew of Oxford (MFL 54).
Among the extensive microform holdings of the National Library which are of political interest are:
- MFC 9-10 Archives of the British Liberal Party (Harvester Microfilms)
- MFC 9 Pamphlets and Leaflets Parts 1-4 1885-1974 4 boxes of microfiche
- MFC 10 National Liberal Federation Annual Reports, 1877-1936. 1 box of microfiche
- MFL 36 British Political Party General Election Addresses
The National Liberal Club Collection from Bristol University (Harvester Microfilms): Part 1: General Election Addresses, 1892-1922 (12 reels); Part 2: General Election Addresses, 1923-31 (16 reels)
Further election addresses and political leaflets deriving from parliamentary and by-elections after 1945 may be found among the papers of the Rev. Ivor T. Rees of Swansea, who has also donated an extensive collection of index cards bearing details of many of the candidates who stood in British parliamentary elections between 1910 and 1983.
The Welsh Political Archive, too, has accumulated a near complete set of the election addresses and leaflets issued by Liberal candidates in Welsh constituencies in the general elections of 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1997, parliamentary by-elections in Wales, elections to the European Parliament and the 1999 Welsh Assembly elections, together with some material deriving from local government elections in Wales.
These are in addition to the items held by the Library from earlier parliamentary and local election campaigns.
The Library’s Sound and Moving Image Collection, established in 1980, has built up a substantial archive of video and audio tapes of programmes of Welsh political interest, including news bulletins, discussion programmes and debates, and election broadcasts. The NLW is one of only five institutions in Britain permitted to record television and radio programmes off-air.
An agreement has been reached with the Local Elections Unit of the University of Plymouth for the exchange of data relating to Welsh local elections.
In recent years most of the web pages produced by the political parties have been printed out in hard copy and preserved; this is especially true of those relating to the 1997 general election and to the referenda on devolution in Scotland and Wales, and the 1999 Welsh Assembly elections.
As one of the six copyright (or legal deposit) libraries, the NLW can claim a free copy of almost every monograph or periodical number published within the United Kingdom. The bookstock of about 4.5 million volumes held by the Department of Printed Books includes many relating to British and Welsh politics, together with long runs of journals and newspapers, many of the last-named now on CD-ROM.
Finally, the Department of Pictures and Maps holds extensive archives of photographs and portraits, posters and cartoons, many of Liberal politicians.
Welsh Political Archive lectures
In 1987 the Archive instituted an annual public lecture, thirteen of which have been delivered to date. Each has subsequently been published in booklet form, and all remain in print and are available for purchase from the Library.
The following would be of particular interest to students of the history of the Liberal Party:
- John Grigg, Lloyd George and Wales (1988)
- Lord Blake, An incongruous partnership: Lloyd George and Bonar Law (1992)
- Lord Hooson, Rebirth or Death?: Liberalism in Wales in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century (1994)
- Lord Prys Davies, Welsh Political Developments in the Twentieth Century (2000)
In 1989 the Archive also produced a booklet entitled The 1987 General Election in Wales, giving the results of the 1983 and 1987 general elections in Wales, with an authoritative introduction by distinguished psephologist Dr Denis Balsom, now a political consultant with HTV and a member of the WPA Consultative Committee.
Access and availability
The reading rooms of the National Library are open to accredited readers. Admission (for a few days) is by a reader’s pass which may be issued upon production of an identification document such as a passport, bank card or driving licence.
Readers wishing to make more extensive use of the Library’s resources may make application for a five-year reader’s ticket.
Holders of readers’ tickets may consult the holdings of the Welsh Political Archive, but access to some records and papers of recent date is restricted by embargo. Readers are, therefore, advised to make appropriate enquiries before visiting the Library.
How are the holdings best approached?
Since 1985 the Welsh Political Archive at the National Liberal of Wales (Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, SY23 3BU, 01970 615 709) has published a biannual Newsletter, twenty-eight numbers of which have hitherto seen the light of day. Each issue contains details of the archives and items which have been accessioned during the course of the previous six months. This is probably the best starting point for the student of the history of the Liberal Party.
Earlier accessions may be traced through the Library’s Annual Reports which have been published ever since 1909, and which are now available for searching on a free-text data base.
The Guide to the Department of Manuscripts and Records (Aberystwyth, NLW, 1994) is a most helpful annotated survey of the archive groups and collections in the custody of the Department of Manuscripts.
Many have also been published commercially in The National Inventory of Documentary Sources (NIDS), a microform series produced by Chadwyck-Healey. All catalogues produced since the mid-1980s (and some earlier ones) may be searched on-line on ISYS-WEB. The Library’s web pages may be accessed at www.llgc.org.uk.