The Conservative Party Archive: an introduction

With many thanks to Elizabeth McCarthy, Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, who wrote this guest blog.

Electrion address from a young Margaret Thatcher [CPA: PUB 229/9]

The Conservative Party Archive (CPA), held in the Bodleian Library, is the official archive of the Conservative Party; the papers it holds date back to 1867 and the first conference of the Conservative & Unionist Association (in a London pub!). The archive was established in 1978, and it is currently one of the biggest archives in the Bodleian, with more material arriving all the time.

What’s in it?

The CPA can be divided into a number of main sections, representing the primary areas of Conservative Party organisation.

It holds the papers of the ‘elected’ or ‘parliamentary’ party – for example, the papers of the 1922 Committee and the Shadow Cabinet.

It also includes the Party’s ‘voluntary’ organisations, from the National Union of Conservative & Unionist Associations to think tanks around the nation.

Finally, it holds the material of what can be called the ‘professional’ Party – Conservative Central Office, the Conservative Research Department and high level committees.

Heath’s election address for the 1950 General Election, 23 February 1950 [CPA: PUB 229/9/3]

The CPA also holds large collections of published material and ephemera, including over 100 years of election posters.

What subjects are covered?

CPA material is particularly strong in the following areas:

  • Conservative policy on foreign, colonial and commonwealth affairs, 1930s-present
  • All areas of domestic policy – health, education, social security, transport, trade and industry, etc., 1930s-present
  • General Election planning and strategies, 1929-2010
  • Development of parliamentary democracy in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, c 1945-present
  • Debates during annual Conservative Party conferences, 1867-1977

The CPA collections are growing all the time, and the archive is in the process of making available a number of sections that have not been used for research before.

If you are keen to get your hands on an ‘untapped’ collection, just get in touch!

Election poster 1929 Lighthouse of Conservatism [CPA Poster Collection]

How do I use it?

Start by taking a look at the CPA’s online catalogue. You can also take a look at the Guide to the CPA for guidance on subjects and sections.

CPA material is read in Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Old Bodleian, and you’ll need to make an appointment to see it. To do so, email or phone 01865 277181. You’ll need to have a category A reader’s card (more on Admissions); get in touch with the CPA or with the Admissions office if you have any questions about this.

 Get in touch


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New online collection tells story of British women’s struggle for the vote

Poster by Hilda Dallas, c 1912

A unique collection relating to British women’s fight for the vote 100 years ago has been revealed online yesterday through the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS).

The digitised material represents a selection of the vast collections housed at the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University, and includes posters, photographs, postcards, badges, and other memorabilia relating to the British suffrage movement.

Particularly remarkable and moving items from the online collection include a photograph of a crowd attacking suffragettes, and the purse that was held by Emily Wilding Davison at the Epsom Derby in 1913, when she stepped in front of the horse of King George V, which resulted in her death four days later.

The Women’s Library is the oldest and largest collection of women’s history in the UK and was founded in 1926 as the Library of the London Society for Women’s Service, a non-militant organisation led by leading suffragist, Millicent Fawcett. It is now held by the London Metropolitan University and is an internationally acclaimed specialist library, archive, and museum with collections that have broadened since its inception to include a wide range of subjects which focus on the lives of women in Britain. The collection now consists of 60,000 books and pamphlets, 3500 periodical titles, over 450 archives, and 5000 museum objects.

The collection of valuable documents, from the Women’s Library and the Parliamentary Archives, which tell the story of the women’s suffrage movement has also recently been selected as one of twenty collections to represent the outstanding heritage of the United Kingdom on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

The online selection provides a taster of these extensive collections, and adds to the national repository of over 120,000 digitised images available through VADS from a range of collections across the UK. In particular, this latest addition complements the existing online collection of Women’s Library Suffrage Banners, which includes almost 250 banners and associated artworks which have been made available online for free use in education and research.

To view the new Women’s Library Suffrage Collection, see