About this Archive
Chris Birch was born on the small Caribbean Island of St Kitts on 26 April 1928. Having been born, raised and educated on the Island, he moved to Bristol to attend university in 1946, where he read philosophy, botany and chemistry. While at university, he joined the Communist Party and became an active member, even running as the Communist Party Candidate in the 1968 Borough Council Elections for Parsons Green Ward. While at Bristol University, he also met his wife Betty, they married in 1950, and have now been married for over half a century. Chris and Betty shared similar interests, both being Communist Party members and being involved with organisations such as the Aid to Spanish Youth Committee. As a result they have often attended campaigns and protests together such as the ‘Release Lopez Raimundo’ demonstration outside the Spanish embassy in 1952.
After university, Chris worked for the pharmaceuticals manufacturer Abbotts. While doing this he was also National Treasurer of the Young Communist League and in 1955 was asked to go to Warsaw to help organise a world youth festival. Having helped to organise a successful festival, both Chris and Betty were asked to go to Budapest to work at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth. It was while doing this job that the Birch’s were caught up in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Betty and their two children managed to escape almost immediately and eventually make it back to London. Chris stayed in Hungary, at the centre of the hostility, and was captured and held prisoner by the Red Army before managing to escape.
On Chris’ return to the UK, Chris and Betty once again settled in London. Betty got a job as a teacher at Hurlingham School, where she would stay for the next 27 years. Chris worked in a variety of journalism jobs at; the Iron and Steel Institute, Cement Lime and Gravel, Municipal Engineering, Morning Star, and Scientific World, along with many other freelancing jobs.
In 1990, Chris decided to retire in order to have more time to get involved in projects that were important to him. Having witnessed his friend Mark Ashton die of HIV in 1987, Chris became heavily involved in the HIV/Aids pandemic. He helped to produce the Communist Party’s policy on HIV/Aids, and volunteered at London Lighthouse, the Terence Higgins Trust and Kobler Clinic at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. As a result of his work at London Lighthouse, he was chosen as one of five volunteers from the organisation to walk behind the coffin at the funeral of Princess Diana. In 1992, after successfully campaigning to get a memorial plaque for the Countess of Pembroke installed at Westminster Abbey, Chris also began to volunteer there in his spare time. Throughout their retirement, Chris and Betty have continued to get involved with campaigns and demonstrations, for example, in 2002 Betty attended the huge ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ demonstration.
Scope and content
Papers of political and LGBTQ+ activist and journalist Chris Birch, and his wife Betty Birch. Includes: Political memorabilia from Rothwell and Bristol, the Spanish Youth Committee and International Brigade, the Communist Party in London and the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1945-1997; memorials of various individuals, 1986-2010; papers relating to London Lighthouse and the funeral of Princess Diana, 1996-1998; papers and ephemera relating to HIV/AIDS charities and research, 1976-2005; papers and a CD relating to the NAMES Project and AIDs Memorial Quilt, 1994-2014; obituaries and photographs of Mark Ashton, 1987; ephemera, correspondence and objects relating to the Mark Ashton Trust, 1987-1988; book and press cuttings relating to the film Pride, 2014; press cuttings, ephemera and correspondence relating to Chris Birch’s personal political interests; biographical scrapbooks created and kept by Chris Birch containing ephemera, correspondence, photographs and press cuttings relating to politics, journalism, family, campaigns and social events, 1928-2018; photographs of Chris and Betty at demonstrations, ; individual objects such as, a fan from 54 Dean Street HIV clinic, a china pot commemorating the 70th anniversary of the International Brigade and a truncheon taken from police by Mark Ashton during a protest, [1987-2006]; draft copies of Chris Birch’s book ‘Ten Generations: Looking backwards in time: Some glimpses of my family' and papers relating to its publication [1994-2003]; scrapbook made for Betty Birch by the Hurlingham and Chelsea School N.U.T. containing photographs of various demonstrations and campaigns [1979-1985]; newsletters from the International Brigade Memorial Trust and Socialist History Society, 2002-2007; and certificates belonging to Betty Birch and her family from the Greater London Fund for the Blind and the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, (1928-2018).
19 boxes, 3 oversized items.