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Archive of Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, 1893-1963


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The majority of the papers are political in content, with some material relating to the administration of The Times.


  • Creation: 1893-1963


6.00 Linear metres (94 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

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

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

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Dawson 1-93

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 12090


Papers of Geoffrey Dawson, civil servant, and editor of The Times.

Biographical / Historical

Geoffrey Dawson was born George Geoffrey Robinson in 1874 and educated at Eton, and Magdalen College, Oxford. He changed his name to Dawson in 1917 when he inherited the family estate in Yorkshire from his aunt, Margaret Dawson. In 1893 Dawson began to keep a diary, and a volume survives for almost every year until his death. This series of diaries (MSS. Dawson 1-49) provides an interesting overall view of his life.

Dawson began his career as a civil servant, transferring from the Post Office to the Colonial Office in 1898. In 1901 he went out to South Africa to become private secretary to Lord Milner. The section of special correspondence includes letters from Lord Milner, and Sir Dougal Malcolm, a fellow member of 'Milner's kindergarten' (MSS. Dawson 60-61). In 1905, on the recommendation of Lord Milner, Dawson was appointed editor of the Johannesburg Star. His association with The Times began in the following year when he became the paper's South African correspondent. The progress of Dawson's career was meteoric. A meeting with Lord Northcliffe in 1908 led to his appointment to the London Staff of The Times in 1911. In 1912 he succeeded to the editor's chair. For most of the next twenty-nine years of his life Dawson had considerable influence in official decision-making circles. Although this collection contains some material relating to the administration of The Times, including photographs (in MS. Dawson 92) the bulk of the papers are political in content.

Policy disagreements with Lord Northcliffe led to Dawson's resignation from The Times in 1919. After the death of Lord Northcliffe and the sale of The Times to John Jacob Astor in 1923, Dawson returned to edit the paper. The memorandum drawn up by Dawson, with the assistance of G.S. Freeman, to protect editorial independence and integrity affected the political direction of the paper, and formed the basis of the memorandum presented to Rupert Murdoch when he purchased The Times in 1981 (MS. Dawson 69).

Dawson kept notes of his conversations with major political and official figures. They include memoranda of conversations with Lord Stamfordham in 1928 on the appointment of Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister in 1923 (MS. Dawson 73), with Lord Reading, Neville Chamberlain and Clive Wigram on the financial crisis in August 1931 (MS. Dawson 76), and a large amount of material relating to the abdication of Edward VIII (MSS. Dawson 55, 79 and 90). There are also accounts of his tours of Canada and America in 1924, Ceylon and India in 1929 (in the wake of the Simon Commission), and his attendance at the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa in 1932 (MSS. Dawson 52-54).

The editorial style of Dawson, his friendship with Baldwin and Chamberlain and his support for the Government's policy of appeasement, were some of the factors that influenced the way in which The Times reported and discussed news from Germany (MSS. Dawson 78-80). Geoffrey Dawson intended to retire from The Times in 1939 but his plans were disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, and he continued as editor until 1941.

Dawson was an energetic, sociable man with many interests. He was a Fellow of Eton, an honorary Fellow of Magdalen College, and a Governor of Giggleswick Grammar School. From 1919-1923 he was Secretary to the Rhodes Trust and Estates Bursar of All Souls College, Oxford. He had been a Fellow of the college since 1900. In his retirement he again edited the Round Table magazine and attended meetings of the Rhodes Trust and Governing Bodies Association. He died in November 1944.

In 1919 Dawson married Cecilia Lawley, daughter of Sir Arthur Lawley (later 6th Baron Wenlock). The collection includes a small amount of Cecilia Dawson's correspondence, and the working papers of Sir Evelyn Wrench, Dawson's biographer, that were in her possession (MS. Dawson 93).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were given to the Library in August 1980 by Geoffrey Dawson's daughter, Mrs. Belinda Bell and his son-in-law, Mr. William Bell. (MSS. Dawson 1-93).

Catalogue of the archive of Geoffrey Dawson
Finding aid prepared by Helen Langley
1982; EAD version 2011
Language of description
Script of description
Conversion to EAD supported by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom