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The Papers of Reginald McKenna

Reference Code: GBR/0014/MCKN

Scope and Contents

The collection includes: personal papers, particularly on McKenna's property and financial affairs; a small amount of material on the 1907 Education Bill; a large amount of correspondence and papers from McKenna's tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty; some Home Office correspondence; speeches and correspondence from McKenna's time as Chancellor of the Exchequer; correspondence with Admiral of the Fleet 1st Lord Fisher; papers on McKenna's career following his departure from politics, particularly relating to his chairmanship of Midland Bank and of a war reparations committee; correspondence between the McKennas and their immediate family; personal and general correspondence between the McKennas and their friends and colleagues; a small amount of election material; photographs, political cartoons and press cuttings; Pamela McKenna's travel journals and diaries.


  • Creation: 1883 - 1994


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Reginald McKenna was born in London on 6 July 1863, youngest son of William Columban McKenna. After being educated privately, first at St Malo, France, until 1874, and then at Ebersdorf, Germany, until 1877, he studied at King’s College School, London, before going on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, taking a degree in Mathematics, and becoming an Honorary Fellow in 1916. In 1908 McKenna married Pamela, daughter of Sir Herbert Jekyll; they had two sons, Michael (who died in 1931) and David, who married Lady Cecilia Keppel in 1934.

Initially McKenna followed a legal career, being called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1887, and practising as a lawyer until his election to Parliament. He had unsuccessfully contested Clapham for the Liberal Party in 1892, then succeeded in becoming MP for North Monmouthshire in 1895, a seat which he was to hold for the rest of his political career, until 1918.

After ten years on the backbenches, where he took a particular interest in tariffs and Welsh affairs, McKenna became Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December 1905. His next post was as President of Board of Education, from January 1907, before becoming First Lord of the Admiralty in April 1908. At the Admiralty, McKenna worked closely with Sir John Fisher, the 1st Sea Lord, supporting him in his difficulties with Admiral Lord Charles Beresford and expanding the naval construction programme, but he was moved to the Home Office in October 1911, following a series of disputes with his fellow ministers. He then became Chancellor of the Exchequer in May 1915, presiding over two successful budgets, but resigned when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1916. McKenna lost his seat at the next General Election of 1918. He was offered the Chancellorship again in 1922 when the Conservatives regained power, but refused to take up the position, doubting whether the party would win the next Election, and although he accepted a similar offer in 1923, he was then unable to find a safe seat.

McKenna had become a director of Midland Bank Limited in 1917 and following the end of his political career, became chairman of the bank, from 1919 until the end of his life. He died in London on 6 September 1943 and was buried at Mells, Somerset, and this was followed two months later by the death of Pamela McKenna. His publications include "Post-War Banking Policy" (1928).


52 archive box(es)

Language of Materials



The first deposit was received in two official boxes (forming 17 archive boxes). One, McKenna's official despatch box, contained most of the Admiralty papers. The contents of this box had been listed, probably by the historical section of the Admiralty, in 1912, and a printed list (MCKN 3/1) was included (though this list is not entirely accurate). The other box was a tin one used by McKenna at the Home Office. It contained all the Fisher letters (MCKN 6), about five bundles of the Admiralty papers and the rest of the papers up to MCKN 7. Although the contents of this box had not been listed, the individual envelopes were marked quite clearly according to the contents. Any errors in the contents could usually be attributed to misplacement during the use made of these papers by scholars before they reached the College.

The most important part of McKenna's political career was confined to the nine years between April 1908, when he became First Lord of the Admiralty, and December 1916 when he resigned the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. These papers are only complete for the four years when he was First Lord, while including some papers from his time at the Board of Education, Home Office and Treasury. Many of the papers listed here seem to have been preserved at the request of Mrs. McKenna and, at the time of the initial deposit in 1966, it seemed unlikely that any other papers had survived.

The first deposit of McKenna’s papers was arranged in three main groups: Personal (MCKN 1) Public (MCKN 2 - 5) General (MCKN 6 - 7) Because the private correspondence of Admiral Lord Fisher with Mr. and Mrs. McKenna covers the entire period and a wide range of subjects, it was placed in the general group instead of the Admiralty papers. Otherwise the arrangement was chronological.

The second deposit of McKenna’s papers was very much larger than the first. These papers had been retained for many years by the historian Dr Martin Farr while he was working on a biography of McKenna, and it was difficult to see much original order remaining, particularly among the correspondence, much of which had to be reordered along chronological lines, with the exception of files of letters from particular individuals, such as Herbert Asquith. Some papers could be added to existing series, while new series were required for the correspondence, election material, photographs and Pamela McKenna’s journals, as MCKN 8-12. At the same time as these new papers were catalogued, the first deposit of the McKenna Papers was also given a more detailed listing.

Additions to existing series were made as follows: MCKN 1, Personal papers: files 1/4 - 1/27. MCKN 2, Education Board: file 2/2. MCKN 3, Admiralty: files 3/28 - 3/36. MCKN 4, Home Office: files 4/6 - 4/7. MCKN 5, Exchequer: files 5/11 - 5/14. MCKN 7, Later career: files 7/5 - 7/18.

Other Finding Aids

A copy of this finding aid is available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge and the National Register of Archives, London. A further online version is available from the National Archives' Access to Archives site (

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The first deposit of the papers of Reginald McKenna was deposited at Churchill College in 1966 by his son, Mr. David McKenna. A further deposit of 35 boxes of the papers of Reginald and Pamela McKenna's papers was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, 2006.


This finding aid was prepared by Katharine Thomson of Churchill Archives Centre from October 2005 to March 2006, with some information taken from the original catalogue to the earlier part of the collection, and a box-list to the rest of the collection. Biographical information was taken from Who Was Who 1897-1996 (A and C Black) and from D. M. Cregier's article, ‘McKenna, Reginald (1863-1943)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Date information

DateText: The majority of the collection dates from 1900 to 1943.


McKenna, Reginald, 1863-1943, politician


2005-09-28 10:53:15.013000+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087