Skip to main content

Archive of Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison


  • How to

The papers in this collection give a wide insight into the work and private life of Christopher Addison, from celebrated anatomist, to Minister of Munitions during the 1914-1918 War, to first Minister of Health. They show the change of political direction from Liberal MP to Labour MP and Peer, including evidence of the close relationships which Addison developed both with David Lloyd George and Clement Attlee.

Of particular interest is the large number of boxes relating to Addison's work in the Ministry of Munitions, 1915-1917 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 22-104). They show how Addison helped to introduce a more organised approach to the production and supply of desperately needed munitions. Factories were rearranged so they could be administered by the State, care was taken to ensure the welfare of munitions workers, and there is much about women workers (particularly in MS. Addison dep. c. 100). Correspondence exists from individuals such as Lloyd George, Churchill, Douglas Haig, Jan Smuts, and Lord Derby, and there are many official files. Also of interest are diaries (MSS. Addison dep. c. 1-7, d. 1-4) and scrap books (MSS. Addison dep. b. 1-5, c. 226, d. 14-15) relating to the period.

Addison's earlier work on the introduction of national health insurance (MSS. Addison dep. c. 8-16, d. 5) and at the Board of Education on the welfare of children (MSS. Addison dep. c. 18-21), show Addison's deep-seated desire to improve the health of the population. Of particular interest are papers relating to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (MSS. Addison dep. c. 19-20). This theme is continued with Addison's work at the Ministry of Reconstruction from 1917 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 105-124, d. 6). These papers show how much work took place to ensure that post-war Britain was well prepared. Much time was concerned with the supply of raw materials, industrial relations, the Post-War Priority Council, and agriculture and housing.

From January 1919 with his appointment as President of the Local Government Board (MSS. Addison dep. c. 125-126), to April 1921 when he left his position as first Minister of Health (MSS. Addison dep. c. 58, d. 7) Addison was closely interested in the provision of housing (MSS. Addison dep. c. 146-158), and other health issues. These papers show the attention he paid to legislation, and his close working relationship with Robert Morant, Sir George Newman, and Waldorf Astor. Addison was also a prime mover in the establishment of the Medical Research Committee (later Council) (MSS. Addison dep. c. 138-140, d. 7), and in forging links with the League of Nations health organisation (MS. Addison dep. c. 145). MSS. Addison dep. c. 159-161 show the ignominious position that Addison found himself in as Minister without Portfolio, Apr.-July 1921, with no support from Lloyd George and little from the rest of the Coalition Government. This period is also covered in diary form (MS. Addison dep. c. 4, fols. 328-364) and scrap-books (MSS. Addison dep. b. 7, c. 229). Papers relating to the work of the Coalition Government can be found in MSS. Addison dep. c. 202, d. 11.

After Addison's resignation from the Government, and the loss of his Shoreditch seat, he began campaigning for the Labour Party in 1923 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 203-206) and stood as a candidate for Hammersmith South. During the wilderness years Addison wrote several books to illustrate his ideas (MSS. Addison dep. c. 219-225, d. 12-13). He was elected MP for Swindon in 1929, and appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture, first as Parliamentary Secretary, and later as Minister. These papers (MSS. Addison dep. c. 162-182, d. 8/1-10) give an interesting insight into work on marketing legislation, Labour Party policy, and the failure of the Labour administration in 1931.

There are not many papers relating to Addison's later career as elder Labour Statesman (MSS. Addison dep. c. 183-194, e. 1) but those which exist show his close relationship with Clement Attlee and Lord Salisbury. They show him to be a well-liked man, who took great satisfaction in his work as Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs, 1945-1947, and who often corresponded with Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada. There are also interesting papers relating to his work as Chairman of the Buckinghamshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, and in campaigning over the welfare of the Spanish population during the Spanish Civil War (MS. Addison dep. c. 207).

Among the more general papers in the collection there is a group of political and personal correspondence, 1906-1951 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 208-216). There are also speeches (MSS. Addison dep. c. 216-218), publications (MSS. Addison dep. c. 219-225, d. 12-13), and press cuttings (MSS. Addison dep. b. 1-11, c. 226-235, d. 14-15) relating to Addison's political and medical careers. Addison's work with his constituents in Hoxton/Shoreditch and Swindon, is covered in MSS. Addison dep. c. 195-201, e. 2, which also include election material. There is a fine selection of original cartoons and photographs from throughout Addison's life (MSS. Addison dep. a. 1, b. 12-14). On a more personal front there are papers relating to both of Addison's wives, Isobel (MSS. Addison dep. c. 236-237), and Dorothy (MSS. Addison dep. c. 238-239). Scattered throughout the papers there is correspondence from Addison's children. Also of interest are papers relating to Addison's business affairs (MSS. Addison dep. c. 242-243), the family properties (MSS. Addison dep. c. 240-241) and Addison's medical career (MSS. Addison dep. c. 245-246, d. 16). MS. Addison dep. c. 248 contains papers relating to Addison's death, and the production of a biography by R.J. Minney, in 1958. Additional papers (MSS. Addison dep. c. 249-251) contain correspondence between Christopher Addison and his second wife Dorothy, 1932-1951; papers relating to the publication of Minney's biography; and a copy of Dorothy Addison's unpublished memoirs 'Looking Glass Land'.

Addison was a prolific writer, and his writings include: (with Major J. Willes Jennings) With the Abyssinians in Somaliland (London, 1905); The betrayal of the slums (London, 1922); Politics from within, 1911-1918, including some records of a great national effort (London, 1924); Why food is dear (1925); Practical socialism (London, 1926); Religion and politics: the social service lecture (London, 1931); Four and a half years: a personal diary from June 1914 to January 1919 (London, 1934); Labour's policy for our countryside (1937); A policy for British Agriculture (London, 1939); and How the Labour Party has saved agriculture (1951). Among the many works which have used these papers are, R.J. Minney, Viscount Addison: Leader of the Lords (London, 1958), and Kenneth and Jane Morgan, Portrait of a progressive: the political career of Christopher, Viscount Addison (Oxford, 1980). Morgan cites the original box numbers which have been recorded in the description of each shelfmark in this catalogue.


  • Creation: 1832-1980


31.35 Linear metres (286 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Addison dep. a. 1, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Addison dep. a. 1; b. 1-14; c. 1-251; d. 1-4; e. 1-2

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 14936


Archive of Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison (1869-1951), statesman, 1832-1980

Biographical / Historical

Christopher Addison was born on 19 June 1869, the youngest son of Robert Addison and Susan Fanthorpe, a farming family from Hogsthorpe in Lincolnshire. At thirteen he was sent to Trinity College, Harrogate, and from there to medical school at Sheffield, and later to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. His period of medical training was one of great financial stringency, and as the papers show, Addison insisted on paying back his father the cost of his studies.

On qualifying in 1892 Christopher Addison specialized in anatomy. Soon afterwards he returned to Sheffield to teach. In 1897 he was appointed Professor of Anatomy in the University College of Sheffield, and was also a member of the Volunteer Yeomanry. In 1901 he left Sheffield to become a lecturer in Anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital, London. During these years Addison carried out a large amount of research, published several works on anatomy, delivered the Hunterian Lectures, and gave his name to the Addison plane in the human body.

In 1902 Addison married Isobel Mackinnon Gray, the daughter of Archibald Gray, a Scotsman who had made a considerable fortune in trade with India. Isobel's financial support was to prove very useful in Addison's political career. The couple had five children, Kate (born 21 Dec. 1902), Christopher (born 8 Dec. 1904), Isobel (born 30 Jan. 1907), Paul (died 1912), and Michael (born 12 Apr. 1914). Addison's wife was very supportive of his work, and when she died in August 1934, many wrote to express sadness at her death.

Addison decided that he wished to enter politics, in order to improve the conditions of the poor, and in 1907 was adopted as the Liberal Candidate for Hoxton, in East London. He entered the Commons in January 1910, and soon made his mark, being asked by Lloyd George to help see through the passage of the 1911 National Insurance Bill. This was to prove controversial with the doctors and the British Medical Association, and Addison's medical background proved useful in negotiations. Addison was to serve Lloyd George loyally until 1921, and was concerned about his constituents as well as national affairs.

With the outbreak of the 1914-1918 War Addison became Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. When Lloyd George set up the Ministry of Munitions in May 1915, Addison was appointed Parliamentary Secretary, chiefly in charge of supply. However his job was to encompass much more than this as a new Department had to be set up from scratch, and it was vital to work as quickly as possible to eradicate the previous inadequacies, and produce munitions quickly. Addison made use of new methods of organisation known as 'War Socialism' to carry out increased munitions production. Private enterprise was brought under control of the Government, which erected its own factories, and great care was taken to improve the welfare of the munition workers, both men and women. Perhaps Addison's greatest achievement was to set up a costing system which by the end of the war had saved an estimated £440 million. Addison certainly proved himself capable of being an administrator, and of working on large ambitious schemes.

In June 1916 Addison was sworn into the Privy Council, and in July, following Lloyd George's move to the Ministry of War, became Minister of Munitions. He continued to be of great help to Lloyd George, when the Coalition Government was established in December 1916. In July 1917 Addison left the Ministry of Munitions to become Minister of Reconstruction, where he set about drawing up a new plan for post-war Britain, including many social reforms. However by 1918 Addison was no longer as close to Lloyd George as he had been, and so found it quite difficult to get legislation passed.

In January 1919 Addison became President of the Local Government Board, and set about laying the foundations for the establishment of the Ministry of Health. It was Addison who had to devise ways of implementing Lloyd George's 'homes fit for heroes', a task which proved immense. In June 1919, he became the first Minister of Health, and under the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act drew up the blueprint for housing schemes. This was to prove controversial as local authorities were expected to build low rent houses, using a Government subsidy which would cover any loss beyond that which could be recuperated from a penny local rate. During the next three years the State financed over 200,000 houses. Addison also managed to improve health services and National Insurance legislation. Conservative members of the Coalition began to protest at the increased expenditure, and Addison was labelled a 'squandermanic' by the Press. He moved to the post of Minister without Portfolio, which he occupied from April to July 1921. For various reasons Addison no longer identified with the Liberal Party, and when he lost his seat in the July 1922 Election, there was little he could do but rethink his career.

Addison had already decided that the Labour Party was perhaps his more natural home, where he might be able to enact more social legislation. The papers show that Addison was soon speaking on behalf of Labour candidates, although he failed as a candidate for Hammersmith South in the 1924 election. This enforced exile from Parliament led him to write. Works such as The Betrayal of the Slums (London, 1922), on housing; Politics from within: 1911-18 (London, 1924); and Practical Socialism (London, 1926) allowed him to formulate his ideas, earn a living, and remind people that he could still be a viable force in politics.

In 1929 Addison became Labour MP for Swindon, and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, under Lord Noel-Buxton. In June 1930 he took over as Minister. Addison soon put together a large amount of legislation on marketing agricultural commodities, in which he was helped by Clement Attlee. When the financial crisis came to a head, on 23 August 1931, Addison was the only middle class member of the Cabinet to oppose MacDonald's and Snowden's cuts in unemployment benefit. He lost his seat in October 1931, and despite regaining Swindon in a 1934 by-election, he lost it again in 1935, and was unsuccessful in his efforts to find another seat.

Following the death of his first wife Isobel, in August 1934, Christopher married (Beatrice) Dorothy Low (born 1896), the daughter of Frederick Percy Low, in November 1937. They were close companions, with Dorothy providing great support to the elderly Addison. In May 1937 Attlee persuaded Addison to become a Baron. He continued to write, and his autobiographical account, Four and a half years, based on his 1914-1918 wartime diaries, was enthusiastically received. He also helped to provide medical aid to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During the 1939-1945 War Addison's main task was to serve as Chairman of the Buckinghamshire War Agricultural Executive Committee. He and Dorothy became mainstays of Radnage in Buckinghamshire, where they lived, and important work was carried out on liaising with the Women's Land Army. In 1940 Addison became Leader of the Labour Peers, and as the papers show, was well liked by his fellow peers. He was active in the House on issues such as the Japanese invasion of Singapore and Malaya, and defence of aerodromes and London.

With the Labour victory in 1945 Addison was elevated to Viscount and Leader of the House of Lords. He was already 76 years old but was a useful force to Attlee because of his diplomatic skills. Despite a large Conservative majority in the Lords he steered through much legislation, working closely with Lord Salisbury. From 1945 to 1947 Addison held the post of Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs. In this role he had to carry out arduous visits to Canada, Australia, India, and New Zealand, establishing good relations with the Prime Minister of Canada, William Mackenzie King. In 1946 Addison became the first Labour Knight of the Garter, and his standard now hangs in Radnage Church, where there is also a stained glass window in his honour. Addison was successively Lord Privy Seal, Paymaster General, and Lord President of the Council. From 1950 he suffered a series of illnesses, and had to stand down from some of his posts; he died on 11 December 1951.


It should be noted that the papers have been completely reorganised (by Ministry) as part of the cataloguing project. Some printed papers, and papers of a more ephemeral nature have been weeded, after consultation with the Addison family. The original box and file numbers are noted in the description of each shelfmark.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Most of the papers (137 boxes) were deposited by Dorothy, Lady Addison, in June 1973. Further papers were deposited by her sister, Mrs. Joel, in July 1981 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 186; c. 191, fol. 28; c. 238-239; c. 248, fols. 1-193, 232-316). This deposit also included some photographs which are held in MSS. Addison dep. b. 12-14, loose unframed cartoons and photographs (MS. Addison dep. a. 1) and press cuttings albums on the 1939-1945 War (MSS. Addison dep. c. 232-235)). Further papers were deposited in October 1982 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 237, fols. 442-487; c. 248, fols. 194-231). One box of papers was deposited by Miss E.F. Low on 10 October 1983 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 183, fols. 22-23, 28-29, 73-75; c. 247, fols. 135-278; c. 236, fols. 15-18; c. 238, fols. 1-7); together with a gramophone record of a 1950 speech by Addison (MS. Cons. Res. Object 3) - a tape recording is MS. Addison dep. e. 1. One box of papers was transferred from the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick in 1988 (MSS. Addison dep. c. 106, fols. 1-107; c. 114, fols. 170-263; c. 144, fols. 204-273; c. 204, fols. 1-158). (MSS. Addison dep. a. 1, b. 1-14, c. 1-251, d. 1-16, e. 1-2)

Related Materials

Other Addison papers are in the Bodleian: letters of condolence written to Dorothy, Lady Addison on Addison's death, in Dec. 1951 (MSS. Eng. lett. d. 332-333), and in the British Library, Department of Manuscripts: diaries of Dorothy, Lady Addison, 1938-1958, and her unfinished memoirs, 'Looking glass land' (British Library: Add. MSS. 71660-71686).

Catalogue of the archive of Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison (1869-1951)
Hannah Lowery
Language of description
Script of description
The cataloguing of these papers was made possible by a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom