'There is a mystery I know full well, Which to all, good and bad, I cannot tell....

Stories and tales used to circulate about a legendary, near mythical Despatch Box. Did it really exist? Was it an invention of the febrile imagination of Whips and Civil Servants, meant to keep MP’s and Ministers of State in line. What did it contain?

Jonathan Aitken gives a good eyewitness account of this renowned Despatch Box in his well-reviewed biography of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality. Mr. Aitken writes,



The red boxes of official papers sent up to the Prime Minister’s flat by her private office every evening included one of a noticeably different size and colour. It was known as ‘Old Stripey’, because it had a large blue stripe across its lid. Margaret Thatcher always opened this box first. Only she and her Principal Private Secretary had a key to it. This was because ‘Old Stripey’ contained daily top-secret reports from the intelligence services and other highly sensitive material deemed to be for the eyes only of the Prime Minister.’

Extract by kind permission of Jonathan Aitken



President Kennedy & Lord Harlech

A newly-discovered trove of papers in two Barrow Hepburn & Gale despatch boxes from the man at the heart of the Kennedy legend.


Matthew Haley, Director and Head of Books at Bonhams, comments exclusively for Barrow Hepburn & Gale on this important find and eventual sale.

‘David Ormsby Gore, Lord Harlech, locked his despatch boxes before he died in 1985. When Bonhams were instructed to sell the contents of Glyn Cywarch, the family home, in 2017, we found these boxes and heard rumours from the household staff that there might be letters from Jackie Kennedy inside them – certainly, a gentle shake of the boxes indicated something inside. Like in any country house, there were hundreds of keys tucked away in drawers and we tried key after key but none of them were right. As the auction deadline approached, I took the despatch boxes to a furniture restorer on an industrial estate near Oxford. While the restorer set to work on the locks, I sat nervously on the floor with his pet dachshund on my lap, trying to ignore the sound of drilling and sawing.


As the first lock sprang open, the restorer brought the box to me and said “you should be the one that opens it.” I slowly lifted the lid, and found piles of letters: White House stationery, John F. Kennedy’s angular signature, and letter after letter from Jacqueline Kennedy in her unmistakable loopy handwriting. It was a breath-taking moment, revealing intensely personal correspondence that had been locked out of sight for three decades. Bonhams eventually sold the despatch boxes and their contents for £100,000.’

Walter Annenberg


He was a one-off; that rare breed of person who viewed the world as it is and as it should be; a man who made a fortune and who used that fortune to improve the world. He was not a man who saw his wealth as an end. He said, ‘Just to pile up money for my own sake (he) could not view as good citizenship’.

The Annenbergs arrived in London in 1969, Walter as the US ambassador to London accompanied by Leonore (Lee) his wife.

They were generous hosts and acutely aware that the ‘Special Relationship’ can only be so when it is esteemed and cultivated. Walter established good, lasting friendships with HM The Queen and The Queen Mother, both visiting the Annenberg estate at Sunnylands. Prince Charles stayed often whilst on shore leave from naval duties. When he stepped down in 1975, The Queen appointed him an honorary KBE.

We soon discovered that Walter and Lee were anglophiles and unceasingly generous.

Walter lent the Tate thirty-two Impressionist paintings from his own collection. Our Prime Ministers are able to enjoy the indoor swimming pool at Chequers because Walter gave £40,000 for its construction. A lavish book on Westminster Abbey and donations of large sums of money to causes ranging from St Paul's Cathedral and the Royal Ballet to a satellitetracking project at Kettering Grammar School. Lee founded the American Friends of Covent Garden, which continues to this day.

Within the chapel of Henry VII at Westminster Abbey, a small stained glass window commemorates Walter’s benevolence. Below the American eagle and the Annenberg coat of arms, the inscription reads,

‘Walter H. Annenberg Ambassador to the Court of St.James’ 1969 – 1974 For the sacred cause of justice’

At the end of their tenure in London, the Annenbergs departed in style. Although they had left many of their treasures in the ambassador’s residence as a gift to later envoys; 180 crates and four private jets were still needed to bring their belongings home. The cargo included a jade tree, a silver door and one RED BOX!


More information about the Annenberg Foundation can be found at https://www.annenberg.org

Original Images by kind permission of The Annenberg Foundation at Sunnylands Copyright The Annenberg Foundation at Sunnlands.