The Conservative Party Archive (CPA) consists of the records of the Conservative Party’s central and national organisations, along with certain regional records, from 1867 to the present.
What we don't hold!
With few exceptions the CPA does not hold the private papers of individuals, although it will, naturally, hold papers created by them in the course of carrying out their official Party duties. For instance, the private papers of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill do not form part of the CPA (they are both held at the Churchill Archives Centre), but numerous papers by and relating to both are held. For papers of Conservative (and other) Prime Ministers, Ministers and MPs held by the Bodleian Library separately from the CPA, see here. Similarly, the CPA does not include the records of Government when the Conservatives are in power. For these you should contact The National Archives. Although the CPA holds some papers of the Conservatives in Government, it is naturally strongest during periods of Opposition.
Summary of main collections
Papers held in the CPA represent all three areas of Party organisation: elected, through the papers of the 1922 Committee, Conservative Backbench Parliamentary Committees, the Shadow Cabinet and Chief Whip's Office; voluntary, through the papers of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations (including its Provincial Councils), and its successor the National Conservative Convention; and professional, through the working files of the Conservative Research Department, Conservative Central Office (including its Area Offices) and its successor, Conservative Campaign Headquarters and their many departments and committees.
Although the parliamentary party constitutes the longest-established element of Conservative Party organisation, the papers of the National Union are by far the oldest in the Archive, with a virtually unbroken series of minutes dating back to 1867. Conservative Central Office was established in 1870, but many records were lost to salvage drives during the War, and a number of moves by Central Office since led to the destruction of still more, particularly from the period before 1939. As a result, the archive consists predominantly of post-Second World War material. The records of the Conservative Research Department, housed separately from Conservative Central Office until 1979, date back to its foundation in 1929.
Besides these main sections described above, the CPA also holds papers relating to the Conservative Party's training colleges for Party activists (1923-1978), and a growing collection of papers of Conservative-leaning think tanks (1954-present) and Conservative Party-affiliated groups (c1900s-present).
Apart from the Party's minutes and working papers the CPA also holds a large quantity of non-manuscript material:
Party newsletters, pamphlets, leaflets and advertisments, 1893-present
Press releases and speech transcripts, c1930s-2010
Conservative, Labour and Liberal election posters and handbills, 1886-present
Candidates' election addresses (all parties, all constituencies), 1922-1983
Photographs of senior Party figures and events, 1903-present
Party Election Broadcasts and Party Conference coverage, c1970s-present
Regional and Local Conservative Party records
The Conservative Party Archive is primarily the archive of the Conservative Party in England and Wales. The Scottish Unionist Party (founded in 1912), as the Party in Scotland was known until 1965, was constitutionally separate with its own finance and officers. Reforms in 1965 and 1977 brought the Party constitutionally wholly within the ambit of the overall UK Party organisation as a regional unit, at which point it was re-named the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party.
With the exception of the minutes and papers of the Scottish Unionist Members' Committee which represented all Scottish Unionist MPs at Westminster between 1932-1965, and Conservative Central Office correspondence with their counterparts in Edinburgh, the CPA holds no papers relating to the pre-1965 Scottish Unionist Party. Post-1965 papers of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party are held at the National Library of Scotland.
The voluntary wing of the Party in Scotland - the Scottish National Constitutional Association (SNCA) - was established in 1867 as the official central Conservative organisation in Scotland, mirroring the formation of the National Union in England and Wales in the same year. The SNCA operated from a head office in Edinburgh and was administratively sectioned into the Eastern and Western Divisions, to which local Conservative associations became affiliated. In 1882 the SNCA was re-constituted as the National Union of Conservative Associations for Scotland and, following the merger of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist Parties in 1912, it became the Scottish Unionist Association. In 1965 it was re-named the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Association (SCUA), which still exists today. Records of the SCUA and its predecessors dating back to 1882 are held at the National Library of Scotland.
In Northern Ireland the quite separate Ulster Unionist Party took the Conservative whip at Westminster until after the February 1974 general election. Some of its records have been deposited in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It also had representation on the Executive Committee of the National Union of Conservative & Unionist Associations. Following the UUP's rejection of the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement of 1973 formal links with the UK Conservative Party ceased.
The Conservative Party established itself in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s as Conservatives Northern Ireland. Since 2009, the Party has jointly fielded candidates for elections to the House of Commons and European Parliament with the Ulster Unionist Party. Papers of Conservatives Northern Ireland are yet to be deposited either in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library or in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Until the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1997 and the reorganisation of the National Union of Conservative & Unionist Associations in 1998, the Welsh Conservatives were fully integrated into the UK Party and their papers mostly to be found in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library. Since that date, papers from Conservative Central Office for Wales, in Cardiff, have been transferred to the National Library of Wales.
The voluntary Party in Wales, which previously formed the Wales and Monmouthshire Area of the National Union, was reorganised into 5 smaller Areas as part of the 1998 reorganisation. The records of some of these, including earlier papers dating back to the 1950s, are also to be found at the National Library of Wales, and none have so far been deposited in the CPA. Only a small quantity of papers for the pre-1998 Wales and Monmouthshire Area survive, mostly from the period c1920s-1930s, and are split between the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library and the National Library of Wales.
Local Conservative Associations
Papers from individual constituency associations - the lowest tier of Conservative Party organisation - are generally not held in the CPA but have been retained by association offices or transferred to local libraries and record offices, or in some cases, destroyed.
Please contact us if you would like advice on tracking down records of a particular constituency association.
Despite the absence of the local association records in the CPA, a surprising amount of information can be found on individual constituencies since 1945 through the records of Conservative Central Office, particularly amongst series of correspondence between Conservative Central Office and local associations and in various series of files relating to specific by-elections, 1949-1970, 1952-1963, 1965-1989, 1965-1973, and 1974-1989.