St Peter’s College has sold a double Victoria Cross belonging to the College to a controversial Tory peer without consulting the JCR.
Lord Ashcroft bought the double VC (or VC and Bar) from St Peter’s governing body for his private collection in November last year for a reported fee of £1.4m.
Won by Captain Noel Chavasse in 1916, the VC and Bar is one of only three awarded since the creation of the honour in 1856.
In a motion put to the College’s governing body at the end of last term, St Peter’s JCR expressed their concern that they first found out about the sale through the national press.
Penned by JCR members including the President, Dan Stone, and Secretary, Lily Mullen, the motion voiced displeasure about the lack of communication between College officials and students.
“We are concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the sale, including its details, necessity and implications for the future of this great medal,” the motion read.
In a subsequent meeting with the College’s Acting Master and Bursar, the administrators said that the sale was intended “to raise money for the college”.
The JCR questioned what this money would be used for.
Lord Ashcroft previously said that “superb academic purposes” behind the sale meant that he could be “uncommercial about the price”. At nearly £1.5m, the Tory donor’s acquisition is the most expensive VC ever bought.
College officials emphasised the public benefit brought about through Lord Ashcroft’s purchase. The VC and Bar will be displayed in the self-funded Lord Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum later this year. Permanently archiving the medal will be of benefit to the public, the administrators said.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, a spokesperson from the College said: “St Peter’s College welcomes the opportunity [the sale] will provide for the medals to be seen by the public in their proper context.”
The JCR motion said that the medal has been on permanent loan to the Museum since 1990.
St Peter’s was founded by Noel Chavasse’s father, the Rev Francis Chavasse, in 1929. Chavasse won his first VC in August 1916 for the “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” shown when aiding comrades under fire. The posthumous Bar was testament to “his extraordinary energy and inspiring example”.
Responding to questions from the JCR Committee, College officials admitted that consultation with the Chavasse family before the VC’s sale was not thorough. “Some members of the family were consulted, others weren’t,” officials stated in a JCR report.
Lord Ashcroft is the owner of the world’s largest collection of VCs, currently holding 162 of the 1,351 so far awarded.
Professor Stephen Hasselbo, Acting Master of St Peter’s, said that the sale of VC was “not linked to the recession”. He also denied that the decision was politically motivated.
“An opportunity arose for the realisation of these particular assets last year and the Governing Body of the College was of the view that the opportunity should be taken,” he said.
Hasselbo said that the majority of the proceeds have gone towards the College’s endowment, enabling the St Peter’s “to carry out its educational purposes in perpetuity”.
The destination of the remaining money is unknown.