Inside the Archives

Every stroke of their pen tells a different story, and it is extraordinary to read a letter they wrote so long ago and feel a connection through the paper to my family, whether through a turn of phrase or choice of word.

Lily Casson first visited the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge when she and her family gifted it with the personal papers and official souvenirs of David Maxwell Fyfe. Here she describes how she has grown to know her great grandparents through these materials.

A memorable part of getting to know my great grandparents was through their letters exchanged during the year of the Nuremberg Trials, which we gifted to Churchill Archives in 2010. Every stroke of their pen tells a different story, and it is extraordinary to read a letter they wrote so long ago and feel a connection through the paper to my family, whether through a turn of phrase or choice of word.

On our first visit, an ordinary grey day in 2009, when I was 12 and Robert 9, we felt very important, carrying historical artefacts in our tiny hands down the long path to the centre, through the grounds of Churchill College, Cambridge, feeling the responsibility for the care in our charge. Among them, Maxwell Fyfe’s red boxes of office, containing the letters, along with a copy of the Grand Seal of the United Kingdom.

Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre shows Lily and Robert how the documents are kept

Since then, we have regularly visited to dig deeper into his story. Early on, we filmed a behind the scenes tour of the archive with its director, Allen Packwood, for Under an English Heaven, and it was eye-opening to discover the care and attention each document gets to conserve them, from the mesh between the papers to the fire safe boxes and rolling doors, saving them for a new generation to discover.

More recently, photographing documents for the Dreams of Peace & Freedom performance I’ve grown increasingly aware of how primary source material brings history alive, as these letters and documents, though now preserved in protective tissue, were written by real people, not just historical figures.

Discover the Churchill Archives Centre at https://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/

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