Emmeline Pethick and Frederick Lawrence met through their involvement in social work in London and became, as the Pethick-Lawrences, two of the best-known figures in the peace and suffrage movements of the early twentieth century. After the First World War Frederick embarked on a parliamentary career, which included two years as Secretary of State for India and for Burma in the period leading up to Indian independence. On his appointment to this office in 1945 he was created Baron Pethick-Lawrence of Peaslake. Emmeline died in 1954, and in 1957 her widower married Helen McCombie, whom he had known since she was a suffragette. Lord Pethick-Lawrence resigned as Secretary of State in 1947, but his involvement with politics continued until his death in 1961.
The Pethick-Lawrences were helped for many years in the organisation of their engagements and correspondence by two devoted secretaries, Esther Knowles and Gladys Groom (later Groom-Smith), and the efficiency and meticulousness of their system was well-known (see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The secretaries also sometimes replied to correspondence on their employers’ behalf (see, for instance, 2/41, 2/46). Lord Pethick-Lawrence left most of his official papers relating to India at the India Office, but a few additional items were deposited by him with the India Office Library in 1958 (see 2/67-72); these are now British Library Mss. Eur. D540. The papers in his possession at his death were mainly private. He left instructions with his secretaries regarding those he wished to be preserved, but unfortunately Lady Helen, his second wife, was unacquainted with his wishes, and one weekend she destroyed a large number of them before the secretaries were able to intervene.
When Lady Helen emigrated to North America the surviving papers passed to the secretaries—some to Miss Knowles’s house in Harrow, and some to the house of Mrs Groom-Smith at Solihull. The former included documents which Vera Brittain had used in writing her biography of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, published in 1963, and duly returned. In 1971 the secretaries jointly began to examine the papers with a view to finding a suitable home for those they thought worth keeping. Miss Knowles wrote to Trinity asking whether the college would be interested in having what they selected, and when a favourable reply was received, a parcel of papers chosen from those at Solihull was despatched (1/1-4/306). This deposit comprised papers from the Pethick-Lawrence’s main series of correspondence files, letters of condolence sent to Lady (Helen) Pethick-Lawrence on the death of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and one or two items probably added by the secretaries (4/302-3). It does not appear that, after this deposit, any significant material remained in the possession of Mrs Groom-Smith, who died in 1978. Miss Knowles was prevented by illness from transmitting any of the papers in her own house before her death on 8 May 1974, and it was not till 1980, after an exchange of letters between the college librarian and Nita M. Needham, Miss Knowles’s niece and executrix, that a second group of papers (5/1-9/124) came to Trinity. This accession comprised all the Pethick-Lawrence papers in Mrs Needham’s possession except some printed material. It also included some letters to Miss Knowles from the Pethick-Lawrences (6/201-224 and 8/101-16), presumably from Miss Knowles’s own papers, and some papers of Lady Constance Lytton (9/9-29). Four further items were presented by Naomi Lutyens in 1981 (9/125-8), and shortly afterwards a box-list of the papers was completed.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Esther Knowles and Gladys Groom-Smith