Cecil Jackson-Cole

Jessica Field, Lecturer in Humanitarian Studies in the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, tells us about accessing the personal papers of businessman-turned-charity-founder Cecil Jackson-Cole.

Tell us a little about one archive collection you have used as part of your research? At the West Sussex Record Office, I was fortunate enough to review the personal papers of Cecil Jackson-Cole (CJC), co-founder of Oxfam, ActionAid, Help the Aged, HelpAge International, the Andrews Charitable Trust and a range of other charity organisations across the twentieth century. CJC was a successful businessman and a ‘trailblazer’ – as his colleagues called him – of many methods of charity fundraising we are familiar with today. He is perhaps most famously associated with transforming the Oxfam charity shop into an organisational priority and well-known landmark of the British high streets.

What was significant about the collection? How did it benefit your research? The rich set of papers in the West Sussex Record Office contain CJC’s personal correspondence between friends, relatives and colleagues, as well as organisational literature from his many charities. It gave me real insight into CJC’s drive and character, as well as detailed information about the running of these charity enterprises over the course of his working life.

The research I undertook there was for my PhD thesis, which examined the professionalisation of charity fundraising over the mid-to-late twentieth century – focusing particularly on CJC’s role in Oxfam, other UK gift shop franchises, and HelpAge India. But there is a lot more in the archive, including papers about CJC’s commercial businesses (estate agents and a second hand furniture shop), and the faith institutions he had close associations with.

Do you have any top tips for other researchers accessing this collection? At the time when I was researching, accessing these papers required permission from CJC’s family, they were kind enough to facilitate my access even before the papers had been properly catalogued. This was some years ago, so I would recommend that other researchers enquire with the Record Office itself about the process today: record.office@westsussex.gov.uk.

Some connected files are searchable on the record office’s catalogue – particularly those relating to Raymond Andrews, a long-time friend and colleague who worked with CJC on both the business and charity side.

Is there any other information you’d like to provide? You can also learn about CJC and his role in Oxfam at the Oxfam archives now held at the Bodleian Library.

Further reading

Building on this research and other work in Oxfam and HelpAge India’s own archives, I have published an academic article about CJC and the role of his personal faith in his charity endeavours and another about the early days of Oxfam’s first permanent charity shop.  

Jessica Field, ‘Serving ‘the Cause’: Cecil Jackson-Cole and the professionalization of charity in post-war Britain’, Historical Research, Vol. 93, Issue 260, (May 2020), pp. 379–397.

Jessica Field, ‘Consumption in lieu of Membership: Reconfiguring Popular Charitable Action in Post-World War II Britain’, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, Vol. 27, No. 2 (April 2016), pp. 979-997.

Jessica Field also advised the Andrews Charitable Trust on CJC: ‘The Salesman Who Made Charity Work. This is a good summary of CJC’s wider impact on the charity sector and you can access that here: https://issuu.com/andrewsonline/docs/cecil_jackson_cole

About Georgina Brewis

Associate Professor in the History of Education, UCL
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