This despatch box is remarkable in that it is a rare survivor from Winston’s short tenure as Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was moved to that Ministry, early in 1921, from his position in the War Office by Lloyd George. His twenty months in the Colonial office were dominated by the reconstruction of the Middle East and the independence of Southern Ireland.
The pinnacle of his involvement in the Middle East was the Cairo Conference at the Semiramis Hotel on the 12-22 of March 1921 (in all likelihood the offered lot may have travelled to Cairo too). British Military Leaders and civil administrators were called to attend and were joined by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who was appointed special adviser by Winston.
This was also a period where his own strongly held opinions diverged from that of the Prime Minister and coalition government. Roy Jenkins writes ‘towards the end of this period [Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for the Colonies], the Coalition moved towards its downfall, Churchill’s private expressions of view became increasingly detached about both its record and the Prime Minister’s individual performance. But he nonetheless thought that his own record made in the 1921-2 parliamentary session the most successful of his career’ (Roy Jenkins, Churchill, London, 2001, p. 353).
Government Despatch Boxes
The distinctive red boxes used by Royalty and Government have been used to hold and transport State documents safely since the 1840’s. William Gladstone’s battered box is still, famously, used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and held aloft by him on Budget Day. The colour red of the leather, reputedly comes from the scarlet used in the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family armorials and was introduced by Prince Albert as a distinctive colour for these boxes. They were conceived to be durable and are still made from ram’s leather laid on pine with a distinctive handle placed to the top, to ensure they were safely locked when picked up.
John Peck & Son
The firm of John Peck & Son, despatch box makers, was established in the early 1840s by William Peck (1820-1865). He was born in Clerkenwell, the son of John Peck, a dyer, and his wife, Harriet. The 1841 Census lists him as an apprentice, living at 26 Noble Street, City of London, the house of Joseph Summerfield, a pocket book maker. The latter's female servant was Maria Capon (b. 1820) who at St. John, Hackney, on 4 February 1843 was married to William Peck, pocket book maker. They had six children, the eldest being John Peck (1843-1922) who succeeded to the business upon his father's death in 1865, by which time the Pecks had been makers of dressing cases for several years and had moved from Clerkenwell to Nelson Square, Southwark. From about 1870 Peck's was known for its manufacture of writing desks and despatch boxes. John Peck was married at St. Saviour's, Southwark, on 14 March 1868 to Victoria Louisa Hunter (c.1845-1928). Their second son, George Frederick William Peck (1872-1953) joined the family business in the 1890s after which it was styled John Peck & Son. George F.W. Peck, who was married in 1901 to Florence Mary Watson (1874-1956) and was subsequently (1911) described as a fancy leather goods manufacturer, continued to run Peck's until his retirement and the firm's closure about 1930.
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