From 1923 until 1978, the Conservative Party maintained its own national centre to which trainee Agents and local activists could come for short residential courses:
Philip Stott College [1923-1929]
Bonar Law Memorial College [1929-1954]
Swinton College [1948-1978]
PHILIP STOTT COLLEGE, Overstone, Northampton, [1923-1929]
The first of the Conservative training colleges was was the Philip Stott College, established at Overstone, near Northampon, in September 1923:
It having been decided to accept the generous offer of Sir Philip Stott, Bt., of the use of Overstone Park, Northampton, for the purposes of a permanent school for the study of Economics and Constitutional History, the first Session for Students commenced there on the 28th April last, and fortnightly courses have continued until the 29th September. During that period over 500 Students attended the College. They have been drawn from all classes, and from all parts of Great Britain, the majority being working men and Trade Unionists. Very encouraging reports have been received of the working of the College, and of the results achieved, the splendid efforts of the Lecturers and Tutors being greatly appreciated. Gifts of books from supporters of the Party and donations to be utilised in the purchase of books for the College Library have been thankfully received and acknowledged. The College was officially opened by the Prime Minister on the 27th September last.
[Source: CPA shelfmark NUA 2/1/39].
He [Chairman of the Central Council, Sir Herbert Nield] also referred to the work of the Labour Committee and the establishment of the Sir Philip Stott College, which had put into the hands of the party a weapon the value of which it was impossible to overrate. For many years Socialists of all grades had promoted what they called education, but he drew this distinction between their movement and the movement of the Unionist Party: 'Whereas they teach young men a number of idealist views, Sir Philip Stott's College takes the man of mature age with the experience of the world and then educates him into the real principles of Constitutional history and political economy.' It would create men and women of ability and eloquence and personal magnetism who would be a force amongst the people with whom they worked.
[Source: CPA shelfmark NUA 2/1/39].
The College was replaced by the more ambitious Bonar Law Memorial College, which opened at Ashridge near Berkhamsted in 1930. Unfortunately there is no information as to why it ceased being used as a college by the Party. In the report to the annual conference in September 1928, it is clear that the Philip Stott College was very much still in use:
With regard to the Philip Stott College, the instruction during the present Session has been made of a still more practical nature in view of the coming General Election. Special Courses have been held for Agents, Women Secretaries and Organisers, Trade Unionists, and members of the Junior Imperial League. A special departure this year has been the arrangement of a Course for Junior Imperial League officials.
[Source: CPA shelfmark NUA 2/1/44].
However, the annual report to the 1929 Party conference contained no mention of the Philip Stott College, which by then seems to have been superseded by the new Bonar Law Memorial College at Ashridge, Hertfordshire.
Records held: No records held
BONAR LAW MEMORIAL COLLEGE, Ashridge, Hertfordshire, [1929-1954]
Ashridge House was purchased by Mr Urban Broughton in 1928 who established the Bonar Law Memorial Trust to commemorate the Conservative Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law (who served from 1922-1923 and died shortly after leaving office). In addition to honouring Bonar Law, the trust was established to preserve the building and to ensure that Ashridge be used 'for the purposes of an Educational Centre or College for educating persons in Economics, in Political and Social Science, in Political History, with special reference to the development of the British Constitution and the growth and expansion of the British Empire, and in such other subjects as the Governing Body may from time to time deem desirable'.
During the present year, the educational work of the Party has been reorganised in order to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the late Mr Urban Broughton's gift of Ashridge as a Conservative College. The gift was made in memory of Mr Bonar Law and for the benefit of Conservative students of every age, class and calling. The General Election, and the structural alterations necessary to convert a country house into a residential college capable of accommodating a hundred and fifty students, delayed the opening of Ashridge till July, when Mr Baldwin, in the presence of a large gathering, received the title deeds from Lord Fairhaven, the son and heir of the donor, whose death had, in the meantime, taken place. During August and September the first four fortnightly Courses (three open to all members of the Party and one reserved for members of the Junior Imperial League) were held and were attended by between three and four hundred students, drawn from Constituencies from every part of the country. [Source: CPA shelfmark NUA 2/1/45].
Ashridge ceased to function as a college during the second World War when it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Health as an emergency wing of Charing Cross Road Hospital. When it re-opened as a college in 1946 its financial situation was acute, and it continued to let certain outbuildings formerly in use by the hospital to the Public Record Office until 1978. It also played host to the Ashridge House of Citizenship, a ladies' finishing school between 1949-1958.
Although closely associated with the Conservative Party, and Party representatives held positions on its governing body [The Trust Deed provided for both the Party Leader and Party Chairman for the time being to be ex officio Governors plus two additional Governors to be nominated annually by the Executive Committee of the National Union of Conservative & Unionist Associations], the college was not intended to be a 'Party' college and held a wider educational brief. However, it was not until 1947 that the Governing Body stipulated that all Party bias should cease, in an attempt to broaden the potential funding base of the college and save it from closure.
However, financial problems still dogged the College and it was finally agreed at the meeting of its Governing Body on 9th February 1951 that it should seek to vary the terms of the Trust in order to become a charity which would enable it to accept covenanted subscriptions, and that the political appointments under the Trust Deed resulted in an unjustified belief that Ashridge was a Conservative Party College, which prejudiced enrolments from students with trade union backgrounds, as well as potential funding. The Ashridge (Bonar Law Memorial) Trust was duly incorporated as an educational charity by the Ashridge (Bonar Law Memorial) Trust Act 1954 and political affiliation ended.
Records held: Minutes and papers, 1928-1957[Uncatalogued]
SWINTON COLLEGE, Masham, Yorkshire, [1948-1978]
Swinton College near Masham in Yorkshire, was the third and final Conservative College, a national, residential centre of education for Party workers established in 1948, which held over 50 courses and conferences each year in conjunction with the Area and national sections of the Party. It was financed partly from Party funds but its Board of Directors was independent of Conservative Central Office. It was closed in 1977.
Its papers deal in the main with the administration of the college and include correspondence between the Principal and the Governors, various committee meetings, course scholarships, and copies of its published journal.
Records held: Minutes and papers, 1948-1978 [Uncatalogued] [Swinton College]
Conservative Party Archive
Last updated: 07 March 2012, Jeremy McIlwaine