Items from the Dickson, Archer & Thorp Records

Item date: 18th and 19th centuries
Grant Value: £4,330
Item cost: £8,330
Item date acquired: 2019
Item institution: Northumberland Archives Service
Town/City: Morpeth
County: Northumberland

In 2015-2016 Northumberland Archives (then under the management of Woodhorn Charitable Trust) raised £186,000 to purchase an important archive – the records of Dickson, Archer & Thorp, solicitors, of Alnwick, Northumberland. The practice 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. This purchase was generously supported in 2016 by a grant of £10,000 from The Friends of The National Libraries.

Since 2005, further items from the collection have been offered for sale piecemeal on the open market either via eBay or via auction houses in England & Scotland. It is our ambition to try to bring together as much of this material as possible. We have been able to acquire some material by deposit – a number of local people have purchased lots and subsequently deposited/donated them with Northumberland Archives. In 2019, we were offered by a reputable local bookseller, Keel Row Books, a total of 124 miscellaneous lots. Through the generous support of the Friends of The National Libraries and Alnmouth Local History Society we raised a total of £5,830 towards the total cost of £8,330. The balance has been found from Northumberland Archives reserves. The collection is now in our care.

The material, a combination of clients’ papers and papers reflecting the many public offices held by partners in the practice, are miscellaneous in that they bear little relationship to each other. However, they add greatly to the knowledge of Northumberland, particularly with regard to Alnwick town and some of the neighbouring rural communities. Of particular note are:

  • Alnmouth Turnpike Trust order book, 1752-1771. This is the first order book of the Trust and was presumed missing. 
  • Manuscript plan of Charlton Estate by T. Mordue, 1779. Charlton Hall was the ancestral home of the Thorp family and very little documentation about the estate survives.
  • Papers relating to the Freemen of Alnwick, 1842-1851. Records of the Freemen are retained in Alnwick with little public access to them.
  • Papers relating to the building of Otterburn church, Northumberland, including correspondence from important Newcastle architect, John Dobson, 1856-1857.
  • Letter from William Watson of North Seaton regarding the firing of a warning beacon in the event of a French invasion of the Northumberland coast, 1796.
Broadside regarding the rules of the Alnwick freemen, 1833.
Broadside regarding the rules of the Alnwick freemen, 1833.
Manuscript plan of the Charlton Estate, 1779.
Manuscript plan of the Charlton Estate, 1779. Images courtesy of Northumberland Archives.