Turning the page on history

A letter from Nelson, 400-year-old estate maps and a document signed by Charles II…these are just some of the treasures recently acquired by the Ipswich branch of the Suffolk Records Office.

A letter from Nelson, 400-year-old estate maps and a document signed by Charles II…these are just some of the treasures recently acquired by the Ipswich branch of the Suffolk Records Office. Today JAMES MARSTON gets an exclusive preview of a collection of international importance.

FOR history buffs, it's a gem.

The Saumerez family from Shrubland Hall's magnificent collection of documents, watercolours, papers, letters and journals were handed to Suffolk Records Office in lieu of tax in 2006, and now they have officially donated they are expected to attract scholars from all over the world.

The collection has come under the charge of collections manager Bridget Hanley at the office in Gatacre Lane, Ipswich.

Bridget said: “The documents come from the Saumerez family but there are archives of other families in there as well. The collection was offered to the county council in lieu of inheritance tax. They specifically asked if the collection could be deposited here as much of the material relates to Suffolk.”

Worth more than £640,000 the collection has been hailed as a significant, particularly due to papers relating to Admiral Sir James Saumarez, who served in the Royal Navy under Nelson in the Mediterranean fleet.

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Bridget added: “There's a lot to see and I haven't been able to look at in any depth yet. There are thousands of naval dispatches, and log book from HMS Neptune.

“This is going to be a fascinating resource for schools to show youngsters what life was like in the Royal Navy at that time.”

Suffolk county councillor Lisa Chambers, who has responsibility for economic and cultural development, said: "This is a wonderful acquisition for the county's record office, and will be an important source of interest and information for local and other historians.

“I am pleased that the scheme in lieu of tax makes this heritage available to all of us, and I'm grateful to the family for nominating Suffolk County Record Office to house these papers."

Estate records, maps, plans and family papers

Relating to the Saumarez and other related families from the 12th century onwards, these are of great value to those studying the development of large estates like Broke Hall and Shrubland.

A series of medieval charters relate to the area around Ipswich, including Alnesbourn Priory, and Woodbridge Priory in the 15th century.

South Carolina papers

Business paperwork of the Middleton family between c1720-1860. They came to the Saumarez family through Jane Ann heiress of the Brokes of Nacton, who married James St Vincent 4th Baron de Saumarez in 1882. Edward Middleton, a wealthy Englishman settled in Barbados in the 17th century before migrating to South Carolina in 1678, where he and his son Arthur (1681-1737) took a prominent part in public affairs. Arthur administered the province between 1725 and 1729 during the absence of the governor at a time of civil unrest.

Naval papers

The naval papers of Admiral Sir James Saumarez (1st Baron de Saumarez 1757-1836) include a book of letters about his service under Nelson in the Mediterranean in 1798.

Of greatest importance is the series of almost 2,500 original dispatches, and five books of letters, relating to the Admiral's command of the Royal Navy's squadron in the Baltic between 1808 and 1812 - which is not only of great value to naval historians but contains much material on the political and diplomatic relations between Great Britain, Sweden and Russia during the Napoleonic period.

While Saumarez's career is not as well known as that of his contemporary Horatio Nelson it is arguably just as important to the British Navy.

He was second in command to Nelson at the battle of the Nile in 1798. He never caught the imagination of the British public but he is remembered in Sweden as a great hero for preserving them from the ambition of Napoleon and the domination of the Tsar.

Papers about the naval career of Admiral Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke (1st Baronet 1776-1841) include the enemy vessel's log and other documents relating to the action fought between his ship the Royal Navy's frigate 'Shannon' and the US frigate 'Chesapeake' captured on 1 June 1813.

The entire action lasted only 11 minutes, but its unequalled ferocity left 148 American and 83 English sailors killed or wounded. Three American sailors attacked Broke; he killed the first, but the second hit him with a musket and the third sliced open his skull before being overwhelmed. .

He returned to England where he received a hero's welcome for restoring the pride of the Royal Navy, but his wounds precluded further active service.

There are letter-books, dispatches and papers from the earlier phase of the war against the French and among Sir Philip's personal papers there is an extensive series of letters to his wife Sarah Louisa (daughter of Sir William Fowle Middleton of Shrubland Hall), written while at sea, conveying a serving officer's views both on the progress of the war and on the political situation of the time. .

The papers concerning the naval career of Sir Philip Broke (2nd baronet 1804-1855) include an eyewitness account of the battle of Navarino in 1827 during which a combined British, French and Russian naval force destroyed the Egyptian and Turkish fleet. This battle was fought during the Greek War of Independence ,1821-29, in the Ionian Sea is notable for being the last major naval battle to be fought entirely with sailing ships .

There are also papers relating to the career of Admiral Sir George Nathaniel Broke (3rd Baronet 1812-1887; later Broke-Middleton), who commanded the steam sloop 'Thunderbolt' during the early years of the use of steam power in the Royal Navy.

The surviving papers relating to the military career of Mayor-General Sir Charles Broke Vere (1779-1843, younger brother of Sir P.B.V. Broke) include general orders issued by Sir William Clinton to the army in Portugal, 1826-28.

Genealogical material

Bridget said: “This is a hugely significant collection because it covers such a wide period. It is very extensive and gives a complete picture of the family particularly from the 18th to 19th century.”

An account book from an Ipswich grocer, gives an insight into the everyday life of the aristocratic family.

There is also a pedigree of Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, tracing his descent from Adam, Lord of Leighton in the County Palatine of Chester in about 1200.

It was compiled by Sir George Nayler, Garter Principal King of Arms, illustrated with armorial bearings in full colour, and shows the heraldic quarterings of the families of Broke, Parker, Bowes, Thurland, Eliot, Skinner, Colcoke, Beaumont, Vesey, Harvey and Cutler. It dates from 1827 and is in amazing condition.

The Charles II document is a Letters patent of King Charles II, conferring a baronetcy on Robert Broke of Nacton, esquire on May 21 1661.

There is also a Christmas list, and Bridget said: “I really like this document. It shows ordinary life and it a list of men with their families who received gifts from Admiral Sir G.N. Broke-Middleton in December 1882.

“It includes the names of men, the numbers in the family, amounts of gifts of beef, bread and beer; names arranged according to farms on which employed. It's a gift for people tracing their family as it gives so much more than parochial records.”

There are cartoons illustrating the capture of 'Chesapeake', and Bridget said: “This is amazing document and is dated 1813.It tells the story of the famous action and will be of particular interest to American historians.”

There is a collection of maps, plans and surveys of all the lands and tenements belonging to Henry Harwood Esquire in Wetheringsett, dated 1656.

The Middletons were descended from Edward Middleton, a wealthy Englishman who had settled in Barbados in the 17th century.

In 1678 he migrated to South Carolina, where both he and his son Arthur (1681-1737) took a prominent part in public affairs.

In 1719 Arthur was president of the convention which overthrew the authority of the Lords Proprietors and brought the province directly under the Crown.

From 1721-1737 he was president of the council, and he administered the province between 1725 and 1729 during the absence of the governor at a time of civil unrest.

The Saumarez family has links with Shrubland Park, Suffolk and with the Island of Guernsey and dates back to the time of William the Conqueror.

The family traces its descent from the Norman family of St Hilaire du Harcuet, which held a castle on the borders of Brittany.

The name was derived from the Fief de Sausmares, i.e. salt marsh, situated in low-lying land by the sea in the parish of St Clement, Jersey, which is said to have been given to Ralph de St Hilaire by the English King William Rufus in 1096.

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