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1 July 2005 releases

Catalogue ref. Date Description
Records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, Empire Marketing Board, and related bodies
CO 554/731 1953-1954 Illegal mining and illicit traffic in Sierra Leone diamonds



Relates to investigations by the City of London police into the discovery of smuggled Sierra Leone diamonds. A British company had the monopoly on receiving and selling Sierra Leone diamonds, but had discovered that they were making their way to the market through other routes.

Records of the Boards of Customs, Excise, and Customs and Excise
CUST 148/132 1953 Papers relating to the Everest expedition



Papers relating to the 1953 expedition to scale Mount Everest by the Himalayan Joint Committee led by Sir Edmund Hilary. The file contains a series of memos and forms relating to applications for foreign currency, under the strictures of the 1947 Exchange Control Act, to purchase mountaineering equipment.

Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
FCO 13/719 1974 French pictures looted during World War II



Discussions about the Le Boudda Debout Press D'un Ambre (The Buddha) by the renowned French artist Odile Redon (1840-1916). The painting, which was stolen from its rightful owners in 1941, went up for sale at Sotheby's in September 1973 but the sale was contested and went to the High Court. The file includes deliberations by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as to whether the Government had the power under the Inter-Allied Declaration of 5 January 1943 to seize the painting by executive fiat and return it to the French.

FCO 13/746 1974 Honorary degrees for distinguished personalities from overseas



Papers relating to Helmut Schmidt, former Chancellor of the Federal Republic, who had indicated his willingness to accept an honorary degree from Oxford University. The file notes that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no influence on universities in this matter who 'jealously guard their independence' and refuse to bow to pressure to grant 'political degrees' after the Oxford and Cambridge Standing Joint Committee had some unpleasant experiences in the 1950s and 1960s (though the file does not indicate what these are). The file indicates that the FCO's Cultural Relations Department (a key tool in the Cold War) sought to persuade James Callaghan to have an informal chat with his friend, the Oxford historian Sir Alan Bullock, about the matter. Other key figures are also mentioned.

FCO 68/593 1974 Relationship between UK, Commonwealth nations, and the EEC.



Discussions about how to balance trade relations with the Commonwealth nations (particularly Singapore and countries in Africa) and the rest of Europe. The older Commonwealth countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) are concerned about getting a fair stake in agricultural trade relations. The debate focuses on whether they should be granted extra opportunities for trade, or trade under the British banner with the EEC.

Records of the Foreign Office
FO 371/60738 1946 Sir Oswald Mosley's relations with Mussolini



Text of letters between Mussolini and Count Grandi, a high-ranking official of Italy's Fascist regime who contributed to the downfall of the dictator Benito Mussolini. The file also includes various memoranda about how and when to publish the letters.

FO 371/77385 1949 Communist penetration of education



This file contains a note by MI5 on Communist attitudes towards education and the recruitment of teachers as part and parcel of 'a struggle against the mastery of capitalism.' It notes the way in which the Soviet Union has sought to penetrate the teaching profession across the globe and particularly in Britain. MI5 notes that the Communist Party of Great Britain attaches 'considerable importance' to recruiting teachers and that this is reflected in their having some 775 teachers amongst its 38,766 membership in the mid-1940s. The Foreign Office comments on the MI5 memorandum: 'that education is considered not only as an important field for exploitation but also as analogous to an industry, is not perhaps without significance.' The file also notes Communist Party activities amongst Commonwealth students.

Records of the Home Office concerning supervision of the internal affairs of Great Britain, with particular emphasis on law, order and regulation
HO 144/20120 1931-1932 CRIMINAL: Spiritualism and fortune telling: position in regard to the law



A series of cases from the 1930s involving the Home Office and fraudulent fortune tellers. The file includes memos from The Royal Mail, Scotland Yard and a copy of minutes from a Deposition with the Home Secretary and Spiritualist National Union Limited.

HO 144/22439 1936-1939 PARDONS: Jane Buckley convicted of fortune telling: granted remission of balance of sentence but free pardon refused after investigation of witnesses



A companion to the previous file, in which a Birmingham woman is given a sentence of three months' hard labour for fortune telling. She was charged under The Vagrancy Act of 1824. Her family and friends beg for a free pardon from the police.

HO 290/128 1979 -1980 Succession to the throne



Home Office comments on a document, written for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, about the title of Supreme Governor and the requirement for the Sovereign to be 'communicant' with the Church of England. Also includes responses to the Society's interpretation of the exclusion, from the succession to the throne, of any children from any marriage by the Prince of Wales to a Roman Catholic.

HO 338/138
HO 338/139

1967-1972 Detection of Biological Warfare Agents


Documents detailing biological warfare precautions for the civilian population. The file indicates that there were only enough respirators for one in five people in the United Kingdom. The government was reducing funds for civil defence and therefore sought cheaper precaution alternatives. Options included mass immunisation of the population by aerosols – spraying large groups together in large rooms, halls etc. A more bizarre idea was the 'open air factor' – apparently the polluted air of urban areas would, by itself, reduce the potency of biological attacks.


Despite the Home Office releasing £10,000 for development in 1969, the Ministry of Defence dominated the development of a detection system (largely focused on military personnel and base areas). Scientific tests, using E-Coli as the test agent, show that levels of ozone found in urban environments, combined with hot weather would reduce the effect of biological weapons to a certain extent. Unfortunately, there is a question mark about the effect of ozone on the integrity of respirators. Other ideas included a laser optical detector to pick up biological warfare droplets and radio-labelled anti-body identification systems.

Records of the Inland Revenue
IR 82/651 1964 - 1968 Ian Fleming: treatment for tax of copyrights assigned to family trust
Records of the Metropolitan Police Office
MEPO 3/1000 1933 - 1940 Malwina Bertler/Lady Howard of Effingham: alleged procuress and suspected of espionage.



An interesting story about a Malwina Bertler and a Mr Weisblatt, who were probably con artists. Included in the file are photos of Bertler (Polish born, from Austria; variously described as being of humble origins or the daughter of a chocolate manufacturer). Lord Howard was bankrupt and seems to have been bribed into marrying Bertler to prevent her being deported. Bertler was well known for staying in expensive hotels and running off without paying.


MI5 were contacted by the Metropolitan Police to investigate her, but there is scant information other than this. Weisblatt arranged to procure motorboats for the Spanish Bolsheviks but failed to deliver upon receipt of the money.

MEPO 38/107 1928-1973 Vengalil Krishnan MENON: appointed Indian High Commissioner in London, 1947: possible extremist associations; record file. With photographs



The Indian Foreign Minister in the late 1940s was suspected of espionage and extremist views on India and the British Empire.

Records of the Prime Minister's Office
PREM 11/2295 1957- 1958 Discussion with United States government on the threat to Hong Kong from Communist China



Highlights the tightrope that the UK had to walk between supporting the US in the Far East, and not antagonising China to the extent that Hong Kong would be threatened. The view was that US troops should not be stationed in Hong Kong, but US support must be strong enough to prevent China stepping up subversion or trying to undermine the colony.

PREM 16/49 1974 Petrodollar question



Highlights differences in Cabinet (largely between the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Harold Lever) over how to deal with the flooding of the international banking market with dollars from OPEC states who had benefited from recent oil price rises. This was causing considerable money market instability. Lever is in favour of the US position of trying to force the oil states to moderate (or index) their prices; Healey is less optimistic of the chances of this approach. The vulnerability of the UK to the massive withdrawal of Arab cash deposits from the UK banking market is noted, as is the possible use of this threat to prevent the UK limiting OPEC oil prices.

Records created and inherited by HM Treasury
T 231/667 1949 - 1958 Exchange control enforcement: payment of rewards to informers



Details decision in 1949 to have a policy for paying rewards at time when Sterling was devalued. After no money was paid in the first year the question of reversing the policy was raised and its possible implications. Legal advice was that the Exchange Control Act had given no authority to make any payments and the problem of getting Parliament to agree new legislation. Decision was to put policy "on ice" and it was then shelved in 1952. Views of Edward Bridges (Treasury permanent secretary) opposing the original decision and the Bank of England 'delight' at dropping of scheme.

T 354/275 1972 Floating of Sterling 23 June 1972



This document deals with the final stages of the decision to allow Sterling to float away from fixed margins as set out in the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944. The original plan for June 1972 was set to allow a float for a few months rather than have a fixed parity rate of around $2.40 and was agreed by Prime Minister Edward Heath on 22 June 1972. The reserves had started at $8.5 billion but the support of Sterling was estimated in the week to 23 June 1972 as $2.5 to 3 billion, $1.2 billion was spent on 22 June 1972 alone. The foreign exchange market was then closed the following day but floating became permanent.

Records created or inherited by the War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies
WO 352/58 1956 Subjective study of string vests under hot/dry conditions



Includes photos of three string vest types.