An introduction to the Lyttelton project and the Manorial Documents Register project

  • 8th November 2013

Two new projects have recently been launched in Worcestershire Archive Service thanks to the securing of external funding. Maggie Tohill will be leading the project on the Lyttelton collection and Bethany Hamblen will be leading the Manorial Documents Register project. Here they both introduce you to their respective projects:

An introduction to the Lyttelton collection

 ‘The Lytteltons of Hagley: history makers and empire builders’ is a twelve month National Cataloguing Grants project to catalogue the archives of one of the significant landowning families from the north of Worcestershire.  The Lyttelton collection came into public ownership in 2010 as part of the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme whereby the nation accepts valuable assets such as archives against tax liabilities and in 2012 Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service became the collection’s permanent home.

The collection comprises some 100 boxes of records ranging from the 17th- 20th centuries covering both the family and the estate.  There are four distinct elements.

1. The Lytteltons have had a long association with Worcestershire and have been based in Hagley since 1564.  The family held land in the north of Worcestershire, but also had interests in Canada, Africa and New Zealand, so the estate records include material both from the Hagley Estate and material from these more global interests.

2. There are letter books and accounts from the eighteenth century, chiefly relating to politics.  This includes exchanges of letters with significant political figures and families of the time such as the Pitts, the Temples and the Grenvilles and also literary figures such as Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope and Voltaire.  There is also material relating to the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the Lytteltons’ involvement in South Carolina and Jamaica.

3. The family papers, mostly letters and diaries from the 17th to the 20th centuries, chart the family’s history through successive generations.  The family was very well-connected, having been active in local and national politics and in the royal court, so the collection includes correspondence with notable people such Victoria, the Princess Royal, Queen Alexandra, as William Gladstone, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Francis Brett Young.

4. The collection also includes the autograph manuscript of Thomas Habington’s History of Worcestershire written between 1606 and 1647, one of the first county histories.

Work is currently underway to sort and arrange the collection prior to cataloguing.  The project archivist, Maggie Tohill, said “Much of the collection is in a random order at the moment so one of my first tasks has been to simply look through every box to see what is there.  From that initial survey I am now working out in what order to arrange the material so that it is easy for researchers to find what they want and get the best use out of the collection. It is a fascinating collection and I am looking forward to sharing any interesting discoveries I make as I work through the archives.”

Introduction to Manorial Documents Register Project for Blog

 The manor was an institution that touched the lives of people of many walks of life from before the Norman Conquest all the way up to the twentieth century.  Many archives in the UK hold thousands of documents arising from the administration of manors and manorial courts, and Worcestershire Archives is no exception.    

These documents, including court rolls, accounts and surveys, survive from the thirteenth to twentieth centuries, and may be used for a wide variety of purposes, only a few of which are mentioned here.  Local and family historians will find the names of manorial inhabitants, often with details of occupations and family relations.  The records can shed light on economic and demographic development, including markets, changing land values and the ability and willingness of some tenants to pay the various rents and fines they owed to the lord.  They reveal a great deal about social and community relations, particularly disputes.   They can tell us about the history of petty crime and public order, such as gaming in ale houses or brawling, and the punishments meted out.  They also help us decipher the historic environment, particularly the way the land was farmed, the exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, and the presence of mills and fishponds, ditches fences and roads.

Because of the way landholding developed over the centuries, manorial documents relating to any one county are held not only in the county archives, but in repositories across England, Wales and elsewhere.  For example, records for some Worcestershire manors may be found in Kent, Gloucestershire, Oxford colleges, The National Archives (TNA), and private collections.

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR), the official register of manorial documents for England and Wales, contains information about the nature and location of surviving manorial documents, and is therefore very useful for tracking down these widely scattered records. 

TNA runs a long-term project to update and computerise the MDR for each county, and Worcestershire Archives has just begun working jointly with Herefordshire Archives to complete the sections for the two counties.  The registers are currently held in card index format at TNA and are only available to those visiting Kew or writing in with an enquiry, but by the end of this project will be available to search on the MDR online database:

The project will generate opportunities for voluntary work, including data inputting, précising secondary sources for the historical background of individual manors, and checking long runs of documents to ensure that the dates recorded in our catalogues are accurate. 

Please watch this space as the project develops for more information on volunteer opportunities, as well as for information about manorial history, highlights from the documents and upcoming events.

Keep checking back on the blog as for the duration of their projects both Maggie and Bethany will be giving monthly updates to report on their progress and talk about any highlights they have come across in the collections.

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