The estate archive of the Graham family of Norton Conyers

Item date: chiefly 17th-19th cent.
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £59,500
Item date acquired: 2015
Item institution: North Yorkshire Record Office
Town/City: Northallerton
County: North Yorkshire

A portion of the Norton Conyers archive was sold to the British Library in 2003 but the Grahams retained family papers and those relating to their estates in Yorkshire. This archive, consisting of around 70 archive boxes and tin trunks of records, was purchased in 2015.

Eleven generations of the Graham family have lived at Norton Conyers since 1624 when Sir Richard Graham of Netherby purchased the estate from his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Musgrave, for £6,500.  Sir Richard was a Gentleman of the Horse to the Duke of Buckingham and fought at the battles of Edgehill and Marston Moor.   On his death in 1654, the estate passed to his younger son, also Richard, who was created a baronet by Charles II in 1662. Both Charles I and James II are said to have stayed at Norton Conyers.  Later, another notable visitor, Charlotte Bronte, is reputed to have taken inspiration from the house for Mrs Rochester’s room in Jane Eyre.

The records relate to the North Yorkshire estates of the family at Norton Conyers and Nunnington and there are also papers from estates at Kippax, West Yorkshire and Bowland, Lancashire.   The archive is therefore significant for the history of both North & West Yorkshire.  There are a small number of medieval deeds but the majority of the papers date from the sixteenth to the twentieth century and the collection is particularly rich in seventeenth and eighteenth century material.  Personal family papers and correspondence are well represented, giving a good picture of Graham family life through the ages and including a series of letters to Sir Richard Graham in the 1640s.  

Other notable records include papers relating to the sale of the estate in the 1620s, a fine Pickhill survey of 1765, early eighteenth century court rolls and the Grant of the Manor to Sir Simon Musgrave, 1574.  There are a number of household and estate account books including Sir Bellingham Graham’s account book of the 1770s-1780s which gives important details of his remodelling of the house at that time, naming many of the craftsmen involved.  An autograph album contains an unpublished autograph letter from Lord Byron to the Countess of Harrowby, 1812, a draft by Sir Joshua Reynolds on acquiring painterly skill and studying acknowledged masters and an autograph letter from Jefferson Davis stating a preference for returning from London to the South rather than New York in 1867.  Other notable manuscripts include a letter signed by Charles II in exile, January 1660, requesting a loan and a retained copy by Henry Slingsby of his petition to Charles II protesting at being suspended as Master of the Mint.

Nunnington, near Helmsley, another very important North Yorkshire house now a National Trust property, was transformed by the Netherby branch of the Graham family following Richard Graham, 1st Viscount Preston’s inheritance in 1685.  In the mid eighteenth century the house passed to the Norton Conyers branch of the family and remained in their ownership until 1839 when debts forced Sir Bellingham Reginald Graham to sell to William Rutson of Newby Wiske.  A bundle of seventeenth century papers includes rentals and accounts of work on the house and a list of dilapidations, dating from the 1680s, is also extant.  Other Nunnington records offered are court rolls of 1632 & 1639 and title deeds from late medieval times onwards. The Kippax records include court rolls from the time of Henry VIII, and many seventeenth century records, including a substantial number of late seventeenth century colliery accounts and Cage and Slingsby family correspondence.  For properties in Bowland there is an important group of rentals, accounts and letters from the earlier part of the 18th century.

The archive sheds new light on the history of two outstanding North Yorkshire houses and strengthens our holdings of estate records in an area of the county which is currently under represented in our collections.