May 10: The Harold and Mary Wilson Collection - The Life of a British Prime Minister

Posted on 17/04/2019 in Press Coverage

Personal mementos belonging to former British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Lord Wilson of Rievaulx) and Lady Wilson are coming up for auction. Hundreds of their treasured items will be sold by Hansons Auctioneers at Bishton Hall, near Stafford, on Friday May 10.


Harold Wilson was Britain’s Prime Minister not once, but twice, leading our nation from 1964–70 and from 1974–76. He founded the Open University, and oversaw much pioneering legislation, including bills on equal opportunities, international aid, the abolition of hanging and of theatre censorship, and laws on abortion and homosexuality reform. During his second period of office he held a referendum on staying in Europe, achieving a resounding ‘yes’ by a margin of two to one.

Harold Wilson with Lyndon B Johnson, the 36th president of America from 1963 to 1969.

The son of Herbert and Ethel Wilson, he was born on March 11, 1916 in Milnsbridge on the outskirts of Huddersfield in Yorkshire. His father was an industrial chemist and his mother was a school teacher.

Harold nursed political dreams from a young age. When he was eight, he visited London where a well-known photograph was taken of him outside 10 Downing Street. At the age of 10 he went with his family to Australia, where he became fascinated with the pomp and glamour of politics. On the way home he told his mother, “I am going to be Prime Minister”.

He was a bright scholar. He became head boy of his school and one of his teachers recalled that “To Harold it was effortless. There was never anyone to touch him ... He was the sort of boy a teacher comes across only once or twice in a lifetime. He was more or less top in everything.” Outside the classroom, his activities centred around the Boy Scouts.

He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Jesus College, Oxford, from 1934 to 1938. His Oxford politics tutor considered him the best student he ever had, and he graduated with an outstanding first class Bachelor of Arts degree, having written the best paper on Economic Theory between the two World Wars.

Such was his brilliance, he became one of the youngest Oxford dons of the century at the age of 21. He was a Lecturer in Economic History at New College from 1937, and became a research fellow at University College, working with Lord Beveridge.

Harold Wilson volunteered for military service during the Second World War but was classed as a specialist and moved into the civil service, working for the Ministry of Fuel and Power.

As the war drew to an end, he searched for a seat to fight at the impending general election. He was selected for the constituency of Ormskirk and in 1945 won his seat in a Labour landslide.

Among his treasured personal papers was a notice from the Ormskirk Advertiser in 1945 declaring Wilson as the Labour Party victor with 30,126 votes - a majority of 7,022. This notice is included in the auction.

Lady Wilson, who died last year at the age of 102, was a remarkable woman. A great support to her husband throughout her life, she was renowned in her own right as a highly accomplished poet, and her books of poetry sold in the many thousands during the 1960s and 1970s. She also worked tirelessly as the supporter of many worthy causes and charities.

The auction

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “We are truly honoured to be handling this incredible collection which has both political and royal pedigree. There are photographs illustrating Wilson’s life as a politician, which saw him meeting world leaders such as former US Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, and several other world leaders including former Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev, who gave him a painting that also features in the sale.

The Wilsons’ close connection to the Royal Family becomes apparent through treasured photos of the couple with the Queen and Prince Philip, and there are many Christmas cards from them and from other members of the Royal Family; there is also a 100th birthday card to Lady Wilson from the Queen with a personal message.

Especially noteworthy is a watercolour painting by Prince Charles given to Lady Wilson and accompanied by a handwritten letter. Written on Highgrove House headed notepaper, and dated 1998, it reads:

Dear Lady Wilson,

You asked me for a watercolour. Here is one of a chateau in Burgundy – a sketch – which I did in 1990 in December.

I do hope it isn’t too dreary and amateur for you – but it comes with heartfelt good wishes and kindest regards from the apologetic artist. Charles.

This vast collection from his former London home includes everything from his pipes and his passport to his leather armchair and ashtray. He kept everything – including his Boy Scout badges, which he treasured until the end of his days, along with a multitude of other items, including personal letters and a school story that he penned in 1934 called ‘Perfectly Monstrous’.There is even a book about HP sauce together with a miniature bottle with his name emblazoned upon it.

In addition, the rich archive includes photographs of Lord Wilson with TV stars Bruce Forsyth, Penelope Keith, and Morecambe and Wise.

Mr Hanson says: “Hansons has the privilege of handling these precious mementos following instruction from the executors of the late Lady Wilson’s estate. The items paint a picture of an extraordinary life.

"Harold Wilson will never be forgotten. He was a man of the people who retained his Yorkshire accent, was Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1965, famously drowned his food in HP sauce, and supported Huddersfield Town Football Club. We are very proud to honour his memory.”

The Harold and Mary Wilson Collection will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge, Stafford ST17 0XN, on May 10.

To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.