Seasonal Sentiments

As you will have seen from the other blog posts on this site, the Graham Family Archive encompasses a wide variety of material.  One very personal item is an illustrated scrapbook which was created as a Christmas gift for Sophy Stobart (1824-1895), the great-grandmother of Lady Katherine Graham, née Stobart who was wife to Sir Guy Graham, 9th Baronet. It is enscribed ‘ To Dear Mother, from Frank, Fred, Willie, Sophie, Harry, Xmas 1877’.


Sophy Stobart (1824-1895) to whom the Scrapbook is dedicated. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office


The Stobart family had rented Norton Conyers Hall from Viscount Downe, who owned the estate between 1865-1879; the only time in its six hundred year history when outside Graham family ownership – having been sold to alleviate the debts incurred by Sir Bellingham Graham, 7th Bt.


The first page of the Scrapbook. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office


The volume provides a portrait and accompanying personal verse for each family member plus visiting friends and relations and also depicts some of their activities whilst in residence – playing tennis, reading by the fireside and exploring the surrounding parkland. The children had help in creating the album; family friend Katie Dean Mann wrote much of the verse and young Sophie’s governess, Miss Laing, provided the illustrations.  We have used elements of these beautiful botanical drawings on items such as bookmarks to help publicise the project.


A painting of the main staircase. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

The Scrapbook also includes photographs of the interior of Norton Conyers Hall plus images of the Stobart family’s Canadian connections.  In an accompanying letter to the volume, Harry writes of his having to go to Wath Village School to learn his ‘3 r’s’ by riding his pony there. The volume, bound in brown leather with gold tooling, is a long-treasured gift which has, and will, continue to delight its reader.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with the Attics and Acres Project for their generous help and support and to wish you Season’s Greetings and all the best for the year ahead!


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Celebrating project volunteers!

One of the pleasures of working on the Attics and Acres project has been meeting and working alongside all the wonderful volunteers who have contributed their valuable time to work on the archive of the Graham Family of Norton Conyers.

There are over forty people involved, who come in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or work remotely from their own home; the furthest based volunteer actually lives in Somerset, but his family is from North Yorkshire.

The papers not only relate to the North Yorkshire estates of Norton Conyers (including Wath and Melmerby) and Nunnington, but also further afield in Kippax, West Yorkshire plus Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Lincolnshire and London amongst others. The types of records range from letters and financial papers, such as vouchers, to medieval court rolls and deeds with some intriguing seals, one of which dates to the short five year reign of Bloody Mary (1553-1558), together with diaries and photographs as well as small square packets containing locks of hair and baby teeth and a fragment of Charlotte Brontë’s dress!

Barrie and Ann transcribe an inventory of Temple Newsam. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

The volunteers have been involved in a variety of tasks such as document cleaning, arranging, listing, seal-pocket making, re-housing, digitisation, leaflet dropping and transcribing as well as one volunteer dressing up as Mrs Elizabeth Cage of Kippax Hall for the Archives at Dusk event. Since starting in September 2015, the number of hours accrued to the end of August 2016 is 2092 which equates to 56½ working weeks – a phenomenal achievement, which highlights how valuable their contribution is.

Denise and Moira making seal pockets. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

During that time we have been able to clean, re-house and catalogue the personal papers of the Grahams and associated families (Musgrave, Baronets Esk, Baildon, Slingsby and Cage) as well as make good inroads into cleaning, listing and re-housing title deeds and estate papers.


Lizzie and Sarah reading an 18th century deed. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

The project launch takes place on the 28th October, featuring a talk by Stephen Moorhouse, a landscape historian with over ten years knowledge of the Norton Conyers Estate, with an opportunity to see the travelling exhibition plus a few items from the collection itself, which will be on display until mid-December. An online version of the travelling exhibition is available to view here. Or you can view specially selected items on Flickr.

NYCRO should like to take this opportunity to extend a huge thank you to everyone involved with this project and for the most generous support of all concerned.

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Viva Villiers : Archival research throws new light on an old story

I’m delighted to present a guest blog, written by researcher and author Midi Berry concerning papers relating to the Villiers family found amongst the Graham Archive – thanks Midi for sharing your knowledge, passion and expertise!

I’ve long been researching the story of a family entangled four centuries ago with the ambitious and unscrupulous George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and lover to King James 1st. When Sir Edward Coke, England’s chief lawyer, fought his way out of a political hole by forcing his teenage daughter Frances to marry Buckingham’s brother John, Viscount Purbeck, a train of events began that would blight the young bride’s life and leave an unhappy Villiers stamp upon generations of descendants.


Portrait of Frances Coke, Viscountess Purbeck (oil on canvas) by Michiel Janszoon van Miereveldt  (1567-1641)

Despite a weak constitution, including bouts of manic depression during which he was banished from court, Viscount Purbeck outlived Frances. After her death in 1645, he remarried the widow of a soldier, Elizabeth Fortescue, née Slingsby. This second Purbeck union lasted only a few years before John Villiers died and the Dowager Viscountess secured a match for the daughter of her first marriage, which would enable her to spend the last 35 years of her life as mother-in-law to Sir Richard Graham of Norton Conyers.

Viscountess Purbeck

Elizabeth Slingsby, Viscountess Purbeck. Copyright : Francis Crick Collection

On learning about the Norton Conyers connection, I hoped North Yorkshire County Record Office’s exciting Graham family archives project might help me answer some questions about Lord Purbeck’s second marriage. I was eager to learn anything new about the relationship between John Villiers, Elizabeth and his ‘son’ Robert Villiers.

I knew that Robert had fought for King Charles as a teenager but changed sides after his mother’s death. Unrelated to Lord Purbeck (his father was Frances’s lover), he was still officially recognized by the Viscount as his son and heir for many years. I also knew that Elizabeth was executrix and sole beneficiary of Purbeck’s will, but that it was actually Robert who inherited the vast English estates and domains that his famous grandmother and grandfather had inherited and amassed. Lord Purbeck was only allowed to ‘quietly enjoy’ their lifetime use, and Elizabeth inherited no property at his death.

Papers have been found in the archives covering the years 1651-1652, relating to Elizabeth, Viscount Purbeck and Robert Villiers. Most are indentures describing a complex series of land exchanges and transactions involving manors and domains in the vast Hatton and Cook estates in Norfolk, Buckinghamshire and Essex. Lord Purbeck, and Robert Villiers cut many deals over these lands with each other and with a succession of men out to profit from the troubled years of land sequestration and reassignment following the Civil War. As a former Royalist, Robert Villiers asked leave to compound for his delinquency in 1646 but did not complete until 1653, when he paid fines of 2,650l (i.e libra = pound).

The Norton Conyers documents give some hint that Robert acted quite flexibly even kindly, in seeking to accommodate Lord Purbeck’s interests, by offering several alternatives and assurances in their dealings. One also may infer some understandable kindness to one who had been ready to accept his wife’s lover’s child as son and heir, from a paper offering evidence on non- and late payment of rents and bonds on the manors of Stoke, Cippenham and Baylis. One witness asked Robert Villiers “that if there should be any slip or mistake by reason of hast if he would consent to amend all rents according to agreement and he did promise he would.” The same witness reported hearing from a third party that, although Villiers had said there was a mistake, “no advantage should be taken.”

Witness testimony

Witness testimony. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

The most interesting and – for me – new evidence shows that Purbeck married Elizabeth much later than 1646, a date offered by some genealogical sources for their nuptials. On 7th October 1652, an indenture between Purbeck, Elizabeth, one John Urline and John and Humphrey Mitchell, recorded that “a marriage is intended to be had between my Lord and Elizabeth Fortescue in consideration whereof my lord hath agreed that 2000l shall be raised for a portion for the said Elizabeth out of the yearly sum of 300l, part of the said yearly rent of 600l, if my lord shall live so long that the sums may be raised. It is covenanted and agreed by all parties and my lord doth appoint John Urline and all other persons interested in the Manors and premises in trust for my lord for so swearing that the said yearly sums of 600l shall from henceforth be possessed and interested therein, that the said Mr. Mitchells shall from henceforth receive yearly out of the same 300l until they shall have raised 2000l as a portion for the said Elizabeth for a future livelihood and as a separate estate for her during jointures wherein my lord shall not nor will intermeddle, and shall make and execute estates to the said Mitchells accordingly”.

Purbeck Fortescue Indenture extract

Purbeck Fortescue Indenture extract, 1652. Copyright: North Yorkshire County Record Office

A sum of 2000l was generous, but did Elizabeth enjoy her full marriage portion? At best she would have received only 1,500 of the full 2,000l in the years available, since her husband died in February of 1658. Moreover, Chancery records held at the National Archives indicate that Purbeck’s appointment of John Urline may have been misplaced since, in 1653, the Viscount took out a lawsuit against him concerning those very Norfolk manors supposed to provide Elizabeth’s 300l a year.

Just as sad for the tenor of the relationship between Lord Purbeck and his ‘son’ is more Chancery proof, that in the next year Robert Villiers became plaintiff and Viscount Purbeck the defendant in another lawsuit concerning those same manors of Aylsham next Burgh, Little Dunham and Thornham.

Elizabeth Slingsby was not dealt the best of cards in her two marriages. Her first husband died in the Siege of Drogheda only three years after they wed, and she had to fight in the courts for that marriage settlement. Thereafter, she only spent five years married to Lord Purbeck and almost certainly never received her full promised portion, albeit through no fault of the Viscount. All the more valuable then if she found a haven in Norton Conyers for the second half of her life, where she could enjoy gentle domesticity in exploring her culinary interests, as already revealed from her recipes found in the Graham family papers.

I thank Maxine Willett and all at the Attics and Acres project, who have enabled me to piece together more of the Villiers family story through access to their Norton Conyers connection.

Midi Berry is a researcher and author, whose Nights of the Road (2015) tells the story of Frances Cook, her ill-fated marriage to Viscount Purbeck, and her touching love affair with Robert Howard. Her next novel will follow the fortunes and misfortunes of Frances’s son, Robert Villiers

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‘A Hand Bag!?’

A busy morning got this week off to a cracking start with the changeover of the travelling exhibition which I collected from Ripon Library and transferred to Norton Conyers Hall.

The new exhibition replaces the original three panel display and is located in the Summer House until the 4th September. It will then move to Nunnington Hall, remaining until the 19th September. Further future dates and venues can be found on the Events page. If you’re not able to make any of these venues, the exhibition can be seen on this site, by clicking on the Exhibition page. A separate online exhibition is available on Flickr

After all that physical exertion I was more than ready for a cup of tea.  Sir James and Halina Graham were already in the kitchen, poring over a new discovery they had recently made in one of the attic rooms.

Sir James and Halina Graham and new discovery small

Sir James and Halina Graham with their new discovery. Copyright : North Yorkshire County Record Office

As can be seen in the photograph above, they had found a brown, leather Gladstone bag containing a variety of letters, photos and legal documents.  From the contents it appears that the items belonged to Sir Reginald Guy Graham, 9th Bt (1878-1940), although some had belonged to his father, Sir Reginald Henry Graham (1835-1920).

Those which sparked our interest included a letter written by General Louis Botha regarding the Boer War, one of Sir Guy and Katherine’s wedding souvenirs complete with portrait images and a press report, plus an account of a ghostly encounter from a weekend visitor? There was also a letter of reprimand written to Sir Reginald Henry, concerning the conduct of one of his sons, who actually appears to have been an imposter given the nature of his behaviour.  The fact that the letter remains shows it was a likely source of amusement. The writer was particularly outraged by the non payment of borrowed monies and the use of notepaper from expensive hotels, whilst the gent in question stayed in much cheaper lodgings.

This additional material will be added to the Graham Collection housed at North Yorkshire County Record Office in due course.

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Attics & Acres Roadshow

I’m very much looking forward to meeting those of you interested in the Graham family archive and the work of the project at our Roadshow event in Wath tomorrow. The drop-in event is open between 10-3pm. Entry is free with light refreshments and practical activities available too!

Further details are given below:

Roadshow Flyer-final JPEG

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Surrender the straw

Documents which have caused a fair amount of discussion of late are those which have a short length of straw woven through the paper. Being in a very crumpled and fragile state they required the expertise of in-house Conservator, Rachel Greenwood, to clean, humidify and flatten the documents to stablise them; some undergoing minor paper repairs too.

The documents are a record of a copyholder surrendering the use of land within a given manor to its Lord. Within the Graham archive there are five examples of Surrenders, all relating to the Manor of Kippax, located to the east of Leeds in West Yorkshire. As the exchange took place outside of the manorial court, the details would be entered into the court roll when the next court was held.

The inclusion of a piece of straw was symbolic and was used in a ritual to signify the exchange of the use of the land between the parties concerned. The example below, dated 1722, is the only one in the collection to feature three stalks.

Surrender, 1722. Copyright: North Yorkshire County Record Office

Surrender, 1722. Copyright: North Yorkshire County Record Office

The text of the document reads thus:

Maneriu[m] de Kippax                                         Twenty Sixth day of Aprill Anno Domini 1722

Memorandum that the day and year above written John

Barber of Kippax aforesaid Yeoman and Joseph How of

Kippax aforesaid Yeoman and Mary his wife the said Mary

being apart exami[n]yed by William Todd Steward of the Court for

the said Manor Have out of Court with a straw according to

the customes of the said Manor surrendered into the hands of

the Lord of the said Manor by the hands of the said Steward

All that halfe Acre of Arable land be it more or less lyeing and

being in Spartall Field at Kippax aforesaid in a certaine

place there called Short Toadholes between the lands of

John Harrison on the East and of John Havafor

on the West thereof And also one pasture gate in Kippax

oxe pasture or townclose together with all rights members

and appurtenances thereunto belonging or appertaining to the

use and behoofe of Samuel Dinsdaile of Kippax aforesaid

Gent his heires and assignes forever to be held according to the

customes of the said Mannor

John  Barber  (his marke)

Joseph How

Mary How (her marke)



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Attics and Acres Roadshow

Come and discover your local history by exploring the archive of the Graham Family of Norton Conyers, original home of the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.

Who was poisoned and who was the Black Sheep of the family?

Have fun playing a Victorian parlour game and learn how the Autograph album, which includes the signatures of Lord Byron and Thomas Jefferson has been restored to its former glory in a hands-on conservation workshop.

Roadshow Flyer-final JPEG

This one off Roadshow event will take place at :

Samwaies Hall, Main Street, Wath, HG4 5ET

less than a mile from Norton Conyers itself on

Saturday 16th July 10-3pm

Free entry and light refreshments

Several exhibitions and a range of archival material from the collection will be on display.

Further information is available from the County Record Office on 01609 777585 or


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Proverbial Phrases

Given the location of the correspondents discussed below, I feel I’ve struck a rich seam of coal recently.  Some of the letters exchanged between Elizabeth and Adlard Cage of Kippax Hall in West Yorkshire and the agent William Pearson include a few proverbs and idioms which I’ve found both charming and entertaining to see being used during this period. Pearson refers to the fact that Adlard is fond of such sayings and so they are used for his pleasure and amusement as much as anything.

In one letter, dated 12th January 1697, William Pearson writes from Kippax to Adlard Cage, working in London;

“as you are pleased to say, if I doe not play my cards well, this business will still fall hard upon me.”

I was curious as to when this phrase had first been used. The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in P. Herbert’s Princess Cloria in 1661, in the sentence ‘I began quickly to play my Cards to the best advantage.’

In another letter, dated 30th March 1698, William writes to Adlard assuring him he has put right an untruth being circulated, using the term ” I sett the saddle on the other horse.”

The provenance of this phrase first appears in 1635, in Five Pious and Learned Discourses by R. Shelford. The lines in question areThe Papist and the Protestant strive about the seat of Antichrist; the one would have it to be at Rome, the other not. In my judgement the Protestant sets the saddle on the right horse.’

Lastly, on 16th Feb 1705 wife Elizabeth writes to husband Adlard;

“I find my Dearest is afeared I shall play to much and not work, but I remember that old saying that all work and noe play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It’s curious that Elizabeth refers to this saying as an old one. Its first recorded use is in 1660, when it was published in the Lexicon tetraglotton: an English-French-Italian-Spanish dictionary, by James Howell. A more recent use of this phrase with the later addition of ‘…and Jill a wealthy widow’ giving a rather ironic take on a well-known saying.

For me, the use of such language provides a sharper vision of a correspondent and imbue’s the letters with a warmth of character, which makes them a joy to read.


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The Brontë Connection

No doubt many of you are familiar with the Jane Eyre link to Norton Conyers, but for those of you who aren’t, and in recognition of the bi-centenary celebration of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, I shall endeavour to explain.

Charlotte Bronte by J H Thompson

Charlotte Bronte by J H Thompson

Charlotte, aged 23, and in want of a situation, undertook a temporary position as governess to the Sidgewick family who resided at a property called Stonnegappe, in Lothersdale, near Skipton. The family was comprised of John Benson Sidgewick (1800-1872), his wife Sarah Hannah (1803-1887) and their four children: Margaret, William, Matilda and John Benson.  Charlotte was employed during June and July 1839 and was not fond of the charges in her care, writing to her sister Emily on 8th June, ‘The children are constantly with me, and more riotous, peverse, unmanageable cubs, never grew.

Mrs Sidgewick’s father, John Greenwood (1763-1846), had a summer residence called Swarcliffe near Ripley which the family visited for several weeks.  Swarcliffe is 12 miles south-west of Ripon and Norton Conyers is yet a mere four miles further north. It is understood that Charlotte visited the property during this time and incorporated elements of the house in her portrayal of Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre, including the legend about a mad woman confined to the attic which dates from the eighteenth century.

Norton Conyers Hall, 1899. Copyright : North Yorkshire Country Record Office

Norton Conyers Hall, 1899. Copyright : North Yorkshire Country Record Office

Charlotte had a rather difficult time with the Sidgewick’s, proclaiming ‘a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil’, and was in serious need of a holiday, which she undertook during September and October of that same year, with one of her closest friends, Ellen Nussey who she had attended school with.  They stayed near Bridlington and Ellen later recalled that it was on this five week break that she learned more of Charlotte’s time with the Sidgewick’s and the marked impression the visit to Norton Conyers had made.

Charlotte commenced writing Jane Eyre in August 1846, finishing a year later.  The general description of Thornfield Hall ‘three stories high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor house, not a nobleman’s seat’,  together with more detailed descriptions within the novel, such as the library, the secret stair providing access to the attic rooms plus the relics stored on the third floor, makes Norton Conyers easily identifiable.  The furniture Jane Eyre recalls seeing in the attics had been removed from Nunnington Hall which had been sold earlier that year; whilst Stonnegappe morphs into Gateshead Hall.  Coincidentally, Frederick Greenwood, brother to John of Swarcliffe rented Norton Conyers in 1848.

Although no written declaration of Charlotte’s visit to Norton Conyers exists, there is an important verbal testimony and many clues which signifies this was the case. As such, its contribution to a well-loved classic helps to define its own heritage.

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The Mint and a Master

Today’s interesting blog has been written by one of the wonderful Attics and Acres Project Volunteers: David Milner.  Thank you David!

The Mint

At the end of the thirteenth century, the Royal Mint was housed in a purpose-built facility in the Tower of London where, by the middle of the 14th century, nearly all minting was carried out.  The role of the Moneyer (a position in existence since the mid seventh century) evolved into the Company of Moneyers who claimed the sole right to strike coins, although the quantity of bullion to be coined was decided between the King and the Master of the Mint, a position created c.1472.


In 1696 the Royal Mint was charged with re-coining old silver coins, a huge task which necessitated branch mints to be established in Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich and York. The place of origin for the new coins was indicated by using the first letter of the town where they had been produced. Roses on the obverse indicated the silver was mined in the West of England, while plumes indicated it was sourced from Welsh mines.

Small change was struck in silver, such as the tiny farthing of Henry VIII, or were made by people cutting penny coins into halves or quarters. (1)  Merchants had their own tokens made and private individuals were sold a Royal patent allowing them to strike and circulate farthings.  In 1672 copper farthings and halfpennies were struck by the Royal Mint.

After the union with Scotland in 1707 the Royal Mint briefly joined with the Edinburgh Mint and produced coins for Great Britain; there was not enough work for both and so the Royal Mint continued alone.

In 1797, the steam-powered mills and presses of the Soho Mint were contracted to strike copper penny pieces and two pence coins as the Royal Mint was unable, and the Moneyers unwilling, to produce enough small change to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution.

The Master

Sir Henry Slingsby (1620 -1690) was the third son of Sir William Slingsby of Kippax, both of whose papers are held within the Graham Collection. Henry was educated at Oxford University and was appointed deputy Master of the Royal Mint to Sir Ralph Freeman in 1662. He was elected an original member of the Royal Society in 1663 (2) and in 1667 he became Master of the Mint. The idea of stamping the inscription “Decus et Tutamen” (Glory and Defence) around the edge of coins to prevent clipping is attributed to Slingsby, although the actual idea had come from his good friend John Evelyn.

decus et tutamen

References in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and of John Evelyn indicate that Henry Slingsby and his wife, Ann Cage, held a high position in London society and the Royal Court. However, this situation changed in 1675 when he was expelled from the Royal Society for ‘non- payment of dues’ and c.1677 the accounts of the Royal Mint were investigated. In June 1680 the accounts were found to be faulty and the King ordered Slingsby to be suspended as Master and Worker of the Royal Mint. The collection actually contains a letter written by Slingsby to King Charles II asking to be re-instated. The fact that he was dismissed from two august and venerable institutions indicates something amiss with Henry and/or his situation at that time.

In August 1680 Slingsby’s house and goods in London, Longstowe and Burrough Green were seized on behalf of the King in lieu of money missing from the accounts.  The duties of Master were carried out by a commission until Slingsby’s resignation in 1686. He eventually admitted that he had passed the accounts without having seen them.  Although he was probably not involved in embezzlement it did not absolve him from gross carelessness or avoid a sad conclusion to his life. He died, a debtor to the King and others, in 1690.

David Milner, April 2016

(1) Henry VIII reduced the silver content of his coins to pay for foreign wars and his extravagant life style. They contained more copper than silver and as the coins wore down the copper shone through his image, earning him the nickname of ‘Old Coppernose’.  Elizabeth I ordered all old coins to be remade using fine silver with the face value of the coin, equal to the value of the bullion it contained.  This was nominally the case until the 18th century when silver and gold were more valuable as bullion than as coin.

(2)The first ‘Learned Society’ was formed in 1660 following a lecture by Christopher Wren. It received Royal approval in 1663 and published its first journal, Philosophical Transactions as well as Hooke’s Micrographica, the first illustrated microscopic study to be published. (Hooke was a founder member of the Royal Society and a contemporary of Sir Henry Slingsby)

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