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The Memorabilia Club

A baby Caul with Winston Churchill interest

A baby Caul with Winston Churchill interest

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Sir Winston Churchill interest; a caul, laid on a folded piece of card once belonging to Philip J Cleife, chief shipwright born 1873. 

A caul is a piece of membrane that can cover a newborn's head and face. They are rare, occurring a fewer than 1:80,000 births, although they are completely harmless. Premature babies are more likely to be born in caul.

It was considered an omen that the child was destined for greatness.

Gathering the caul onto paper was considered an important tradition of childbirth: the midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby's head and face, pressing the material of the caul onto the paper.

The caul would then be presented to the mother, to be kept as an heirloom. Some Early Modern European traditions linked caul birth to the ability to defend fertility and the harvest against the forces of evil, particularly witches and sorcerer.

Sailors' have always believed cauls to be good luck charms preventing them from drowning and in past centuries would pay considerable sums for them.

If you were in possession of the caul, you would share the child’s immunity from drowning.

This meant that sailors would often go to great lengths to acquire one, with reports of one 19th Century sailor paying fifteen pounds for his protective talisman – approximately 20 weeks wages for a sailor at this time. The equivalent of £9,500 in today's money ($13,000). 

It is purported that this membrane was given by Sir Winston Churchill to his then friend Philip J. Cleife.

Cleife and Churchill were friends; having gone fishing together and corresponded frequently until Cleife left the Royal Navy to move to Liverpool.

The caul is contained with fragments of the envelope postmarked 1914 from the Prime Minister's Office when Churchill was first Lord of the Admiralty.

Philip Cleife passed the caul to his grandson when going to sea in the late 1950s.


The Russian phrase родился в рубашке (rodilsya v rubashke, literally ‘born in a shirt’) refers to caul birth and means ‘born lucky’. It is often applied to someone who is oblivious to an impending disaster that is avoided only through luck, as if the birth caul persists as supernatural armor.

In Literature:

Charles Dickens | David Copperfield

"I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was withdrawn at a dead loss ... and ten years afterwards, the caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of in that way. The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket.... It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two."

Famous Caul births include:

  • Lord Byron
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Gabriele d'Annuzio
  • Jonas Salk
  • Charles XII of Sweden

Editor's note: Further research required.  Churchill was reportedly born two months prematurely. 

Provenance: Adam Partridge Auctioneers.

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    We offer free worldwide shipping. Your package will be fully insured and a tracking number emailed to you. Our promise is: If you buy today we ship tomorrow.

  • Hassle-Free Exchanges

    If for any reason you are unhappy with your purchase we offer a no-quibble 14 day return policy. Simply return the item for a full refund.