Understanding estate records
Estate Records can provide a wealth of information when looking at the lands and communities linked with some of the county’s great landowning families. As an archive source, however, they do require a considerable amount of time to search effectively. These were working documents compiled for specific purposes, with information recorded in ways which can be frustrating or unhelpful for the modern researcher.
Large landed estates in Staffordshire
Landed estates made up much of the English countryside until the 1920s, although large estates could include urban areas as well. Staffordshire had a particularly impressive concentration of country houses in the 19th century, although a number of factors led to the decline of these great estates, with land being sold off and houses demolished from the 1920s onwards. The influence of landed estates on both urban and rural localities was very extensive, especially as landlords.
The administration of landed estates generated large quantities of records and these are often extensive, covering such matters as the original purchase of the estate and subsequent additions, leasing of property to tenants and the surveying and valuation of lands and buildings.
The structure of the estate’s administration could be very complex, especially for those which were larger and more widespread, and this can be reflected in the estate’s archives. A large estate could also include land and property in a number of counties, so the records that were generated may relate to more than one county.
Estate collections are often deposited in the record office of the county in which the landowner held their main country seat. In some cases, the estate archive remains with the family, and in other cases the estate papers have been lost or destroyed.
Using estate records for research
There is a variety of useful material that can be found amongst estate records, although this varies from collection to collection.
Sale catalogues, created when an estate was being sold off, list properties to be sold, sometimes providing detailed descriptions of rooms, outbuildings and machinery; 20th century catalogues often contain photographs of the more substantial properties.
Estate building plans show elevations and plans for new buildings and renovations or improvements to existing structures. Estate accounts include details of rents received and expenditure on the estate, for example on building repairs.
Title deeds relate to the acquisition of property, whilst leases and tenancy agreements relate to the occupation of estate property by tenants for an agreed period. Agents’ correspondence can often be extensive and cover subjects relating to the daily running of the estate, such as building work and renovations.
What we hold
Estate records of local landed families, where they have been deposited, are held at Staffordshire Record Office. Records of former episcopal and prebendal estates and records of the estates of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, formerly held at Lichfield Record Office are now held by Staffordshire Record Office. An extensive series of sale catalogues is held at the William Salt Library, Stafford.