Open archives reveal Winnie's Turkish plot

February 7, 1997

Winston Churchill's plans for a military offensive in Turkey, the activities of an 18th-century government "spy", and new perspectives on the life of Philip Larkin, are among numerous gems unearthed in a nationwide scheme to make humanities collections more accessible.

Letters, manuscripts and other papers which have been gathering dust for years in university and college vaults have been rediscovered, catalogued and opened up to researchers, with much of the material to be made available on Web sites.

Many institutions have been able to create new archive posts to help them carry out the work, after successful bids to a special fund set up by funding councils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A total of Pounds 45 million has been ploughed into the initiative over four years, inviting proposals for the conservation, cataloguing, preservation, publicity and development of collections. The results were trumpeted in a publicity campaign launched at King's College, London, this week.

Discoveries which have caused a stir among researchers include a previously neglected letter to Sir Winston Churchill from Sir Mark Sykes, an amateur diplomat, advocating a military offensive in Turkey. The letter was among several significant finds in the archives at the University of Hull. Papers from Sidney Larkin, father of Philip Larkin, shed new light on the life of the poet and writer.

Brian Dyson, Hull University archivist, said it was unlikely this material would have come to light without funding council support.

"In many cases we knew of the existence of these papers, but we did not recognise the importance of them. Most scholars did not even know we had them," he said.

At Nottingham University, 37 letters written during the Jacobite uprising by a government informer have been properly catalogued and are now easily accessible to researchers for the first time.

Liz Archer, assistant archivist at Nottingham, said: "It would be almost impossible for a small department to release people to do this work without the support of this special project."

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