Spender Papers

Personal and political papers of Sir Wilfred Spender (1876-1960), Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, 1926-1944. Comprising correspondence, memoranda, diaries, press cuttings, and other documents, the Spender Papers are an essential resource in documenting the emergence and development of Northern Ireland as a political entity during the early 20th century. Reflecting the various facets and interests of his career, in particular his contribution to the Ulster Unionist movement against Home Rule and the early development of the state of Northern Ireland, the collection is divided into two principal deposits. D/1295 consists of some 700 documents, c.1900-60, and falls into three groups. Firstly, there are papers relating to his retirement from the Army in 1913 which he was compelled to do after signing the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant. Secondly, there is material pertaining to his activities between 1914 and 1919 as an administrator in the Ulster Volunteer Force during the period of the organised gun-running at Larne, Co. Antrim, and papers in 1914 dealing with the organisation of the Ulster Volunteer Force and, after the outbreak of the War, with the incorporation of the UVF into the British Army. Other papers relate to his resumed military career after August 1914 with the 36th (Ulster) Division in the 1st World War and later as Staff Officer at GHQ. Thirdly, there are papers and correspondence relating to his career in Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1944. Although quite miscellaneous, these papers are important for reflecting Spender’s role as Secretary to the Northern Ireland Cabinet and concern a diverse range of topics including the Imperial Economic Conference; Civil Service estimates; the organisation of the Great Northern Railway; the composition of the Privy Council for Northern Ireland; the Ulster Special Constabulary; and the Boundary Commission. Principal correspondents also include Rt. Hon. H.M.Pollock (Minister of Finance), Sir Ernest Clark (Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service) and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig. The other major constituent of the archive comprises Sir Wilfrid's diaries for the period from 1934 to 1944 during which time he was Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (D/715 and MIC/559). They are twenty-four in number, and taken in conjunction with the papers described above, they give a rounded picture of a remarkable man. In particular, they provide an interesting insight into attitudes and views on the island of Ireland concerning the Second World War.


The Spender Papers and Diaries constitute a major research tool for the Home Rule crisis in particular, and also for the formative years of the Northern Ireland state.

Physical characteristics

c.750 items, c.1900-1960, comprising a range of documents, volumes, photographs and newspaper cuttings and occupying 10 PRONI boxes.

Description or Catalogue

See PRONI references D/715 and D/1295 for catalogues of the papers. The catalogues are available for consultation in PRONI's Public Search Room.


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Added by PRONI | Last updated on: 09 February 2018