This January marked fifty years since the death of Sir Winston Churchill and the grand state funeral which was held in his honour on 30th January 1965. Searching through the archives held at the Central library, I came across a great deal of material which sheds light on the early political life of this remarkable British figure. Most famous for his role as Prime Minister during the turbulent years of the Second World War, Churchill began his political career forty years earlier. In 1900 a young Winston stood in the General Election and became a Conservative Member of Parliament for the constituency of Oldham, having been defeated in a by-election there the previous year. No sooner was Churchill in Parliament than he quickly became an outspoken opponent of his party’s leadership stance on certain issues, particularly over free trade and tariff reform. In 1904 these disagreements led him to switch Party becoming a Liberal, and in 1906 he campaigned and won the Manchester Northwest constituency in the landslide election that brought the Liberal Party to power.

Winston Churchill at a Liberal garden party in 1907.
Winston Churchill at a Liberal garden party in 1907

Within the Central library archives there are a collection of personal correspondents between Churchill and William Royle of Rusholme, Chairman of Executive Committee of the Manchester Liberal Federation. These fascinating letters cover this period of his life and provide a real insight on his private feelings on a variety of topics. One noticeable feature that can be ascertained by these letters is Churchill’s impressive rise to prominence following the shift in allegiance to the Liberals. This is evident with the changing government ministry letter headings each successive year, from Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies to Home Secretary in space of five years.

Churchill addressing a meeting in Manchester 1910
Churchill addressing a meeting in Manchester 1910

Delving further into the archives provides a glimpse of a more familiar Churchill, the defiant war leader. Following the Manchester Blitz in December 1940, the Prime Minister visited Manchester in a show of solidarity and to counter Nazi propaganda which claimed to have completely destroyed the city.

Churchill visiting Manchester in 1941 to inspect the damage caused by Christmas Blitz
Churchill visiting Manchester in 1941 to inspect the damage caused by the Christmas Blitz

A few years later with the war still raging, a meeting was held by the Manchester City Council in July 1943. Chaired by the Lord Mayor J.S. Hill, the committee was convened to decide to symbolically reward the Prime Minister. The draft of the resolution can be found within the Central Library Archives.

It stated:

That this council hereby record that the powers accorded to them by the law of recognising persons of distinction and eminent services would be fittingly exercised by conferring the Freedom of the city upon the right honourable Winston Spencer Churchill.

It also stated:

Mr Churchill over a long period, has served his king and country with consistency, courage, ability and perspicacity in a variety of roles extending through the reigns of five sovereigns.

He is truly a person of distinction.

These and other documents relating to Churchill’s relationship with the City of Manchester are available through gmlives.org.uk

This blog post was written for Archives+ by one of our volunteers as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project.