Sinclair, Archibald (Viscount Thurso)

The papers of Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso of Ulbster (1890-1970) broadly consist of 214 boxes of constituency, parliamentary and Liberal Party correspondence of the 1920s and 1930s. Overall the papers date from 1908 to 1951.

Lord Thurso, or Archie Sinclair, as he was generally known, was born on 22 October 1890, the son of Clarence Granville Sinclair. After being educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he entered the Army in 1910, but began his political career in 1919, when he became Personal Military Secretary to Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War. When Churchill moved to the Colonial Office as Secretary of State for the Colonies, Thurso went with him, as his Private Secretary, from 1921-22, and in 1922 became the Liberal MP for Caithness and Sutherland, a seat which he was to hold until 1945. Later in the 1920s Thurso held the post of Temporary Chairman of Committees, House of Commons (1925-30) and also worked as a member of the Empire Marketing Board (1927-30).

Thurso’s growing standing in the Liberal Party was shown when he was made Liberal Chief Whip in 1930, and in 1931 he received his first ministerial position when he became Secretary of State for Scotland, a post which he held for just over a year. By 1935, Thurso had become Leader of the Liberal Parliamentary Party, and was to remain so for the next ten years until the end of the war.

During the war years, he also returned to government, serving as Secretary of State for Air from 1940-1945. Lord Thurso died on 15 June 1970.

Within the Thurso Papers, there is a considerable amount of official, political and constituency correspondence, also some speeches, and roughly twenty boxes of material on the Liberal Party and Scottish Liberal organisation. There is virtually no wartime material, but Section IV of the papers does contain correspondence (arranged alphabetically by correspondents’ names) and press cuttings from 1945 on into the 1950s. A section of papers transferred from the Scottish Record Office form a separate and coherent group, consisting of papers of 1923-37 relating to the Scottish Office, the Scottish Board of Health and Thurso’s period as Secretary of State for Scotland. The papers in the first box of Section I are also particularly noteworthy as they include Thurso’s correspondence with Winston Churchill from 1915 to 1920.

The papers came into the Churchill Archives Centre through the good offices of the 2nd Viscount, in several batches between April 1972 and September 1973. The collection had incurred two major misfortunes before its transfer to Cambridge. During the war, the bulk of the Thurso papers that were being stored in Liberal Party headquarters in London were destroyed by an incendiary bomb.

After the war, a large portion of the remaining papers were destroyed in a fire that broke out at Thurso East Mains where they were being kept in a room above the laundry. Most of the papers that were rescued from this second blaze were severely damaged both by the flames and by water from the firemen’s hoses.

Section VI of the collection contains the charred remains of this accident which are too fragile to handle, whilst those damaged files which have already been repaired by the Conservator have been placed in their appropriate places within the collection.

In Viscount Thurso’s own lifetime, he was asked by the Scottish Record Office (in 1966) if he would deposit there the papers relating to his tenure of the office of Secretary of State and these papers were consequently deposited in Edinburgh early in 1972. At the same time, Viscount Thurso’s son began the transfer of the residue of his late father’s papers (the 1st Viscount had died in June 1970) to Churchill College. These papers are now Sections I and II.

In January 1973, the Scottish Record Office agreed to transfer their Thurso papers, relating to his time as Secretary of State for Scotland, to Churchill College, having first xeroxed them. This collection was catalogued in the National Register of Archives (Scotland) Survey 189 (Additional) and comprises Section V of the Thurso collection.

By the spring of 1973, Viscount Thurso’s secretary, Miss Cynthia Metcalf, was sorting and listing the papers that were to be deposited at Churchill College in May and September that year as Sections III and IV.

An online catalogue to the Thurso Papers is available on the A2A web-site at The collection itself is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge: individual closures of files are indicated in the catalogue. Churchill Archives Centre is open from Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. A prior appointment and two forms of identification are required. Please see for further details, including a list of further collections relating to the Liberal Party, such as the papers of the Dilke family, Sir Dingle Foot, Lord Gladwyn, Reginald McKenna and Sir Edward Spears.

Contact Details

+44 (0)1223 336087