Collection of the records of Dickson, Archer & Thorp, solicitors, of Alnwick, Northumberland

Item date: 18th-20th centuries
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £150,000
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: Northumberland Archives Service
Town/City: Morpeth
County: Northumberland

Dickson, Archer & Thorp, solicitors of Alnwick, Northumberland was established in the late 18th century and continued until the death of the last managing partner in 2005. At this point there existed an unbroken series of business records and clients’ papers dating back to its establishment making the collection a unique resource. The collection is significant in that we are unaware of the mass survival of records of another extant solicitor’s collection that charts the history of a 200 year old practice from establishment to closure; the wide client base of the practice – from probate cases of families of relatively modest means to dealing with the business of many county families and the Duke of Northumberland and the involvement of practice partners in the governance of the county and more locally.

Since 2005 there has been some dissemination of the collection. A small proportion of it was offered for sale by auction in 2005. Via a benefactor Northumberland Archives was able to purchase the business records of the practice at this sale. Since then elements, believed to be about 15% of the total extent, have been sold in small lots via EBay and by public auction. Some of these lots have since been deposited with Northumberland Archives. This group represents the remainder of the collection and was purchased from a private seller.

It is difficult to describe the scale and scope of the collection.

Dickson, Archer & Thorp were the most prominent county solicitors in the 19th century and possibly early part of the 20th century. They had a wide client base across the county dealing with a wide range of cases from probate cases for families of relatively modest means to acting as solicitors for county families and The Duke of Northumberland.  Papers relating to Duke of Northumberland, Lord Crewe Charity and the Armstrong, Butler, Carr, Clavering, Craster, Fenwick, Ingham, Liddell (Ravensworth), Riddell, Salvin and Selby families were all identified during visit to Cockermouth. Records located complement those records relating to some of these families already held by our service. In some instances, notably, Liddell [Ravensworth] we do not hold any papers relating to the family. Many Ravensworth papers were lost in a fire and those remaining are in the custody of the family.  .

Papers chart the development of local businesses through a period of industrialisation. Papers noted at Cockermouth include those relating to Amble Timber & Saw Mill Company, Amble Stell Fishing, Broomhill Colliery, Hardy’s Fishing Company of Alnwick and Warkworth Harbour.

Practice/family members were also deeply involved in the governance of Alnwick. Generations sat on Local Boards overseeing the introduction/implementation of legislation that changed the character of the town and the lives of its residents. As an example, the Thorp family was involved with the Alnwick Working Men’s Dwelling Association – part of a wider 19th century movement to improve accommodation for the working class. These records and many others chart the history of the development of Alnwick in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is particularly important as the history of Alnwick is poorly represented in our collections – most of the extant archival sources form part of the collection of the Duke of Northumberland and are therefore not easily accessible to the majority of researchers.

The collection includes some manorial records – notably records of the Manors of Bamburgh and Bamburgh Castle – property of the Lord Crewe Charity – and those owned by the Liddell (Ravensworth) family were identified . We are currently running a project to update the Manorial Document Register for Northumberland - task is to locate and record details of all extant manorial records relating to the county.

For a period in the 19th century the practice ran the Alnwick Stamp Office.  From the late 17th century stamp duty was charged by government on officially issued documents.  In the 18th and 19th centuries stamp duties were extended to cover newspapers, pamphlets, lottery tickets, apprentices' indentures, advertisements, playing cards, dice, hats, gloves, patent medicines, perfumes, insurance policies, gold and silver plate, hair powder and armorial bearings. Local offices were established to administer the issuing of stamps. Northumberland Archives does not hold any records of local Stamp Offices and the papers relating to the Alnwick office would be an important addition to our collections.  

Several members of the practice held the role of Clerk of The Peace in the 19th century.  This was an important local appointment, the main function of which was to assist the justices assembled in quarter sessions, to hear and determine felonies and trespasses. These papers therefore complement the Quarter Sessions records in our custody.

The Thorp family had a long association with the Church of England. One of their members, Charles Thorp, Archdeacon of Durham (1783-1862), was particularly influential being an advocate of free education, an abolitionist, serving as a Trustee of the Lord Crewe Charity and a keen environmentalist – the Thorp family purchased the Farne Islands and employed a wildlife warden. The interests of Archdeacon Thorp and other family members are represented in the papers.  Charles Thorp was also the first Warden of Durham University.  A chest of papers of Charles Thorp has been located amongst the collection.