Papers of the Helyar Family of Coker Court, East Coker, Somerset.

Item date: 1608 – 1797
Grant Value: £7,500 [B H Breslauer Foundation Fund]
Item cost: £20,000
Item date acquired: 2019
Item institution: South West Heritage Trust
Town/City: Taunton
County: Somerset

The South West Heritage Trust is grateful for the support of the Friends of the National Libraries which has enabled us to reunite these papers with the main Helyar archive which is held at the Somerset Heritage Centre.  The papers were mounted, in a broadly chronological order, in three folio volumes by Theodora Helyar during the 19th century.

The collection includes correspondence relating to the purchase of Coker Court in 1616 and the lease of Staverton Manor, Devon, by Archdeacon Helyar in the 1630s, with correspondence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.

Of particular significance are papers relating to the 17th century political affairs in the West Country.  These include an acknowledgement of money ‘freely lent’ for the Royalist cause and papers relating to Exeter arising from Archdeacon Helyar’s connection with the cathedral during the Civil War.  A series of 15 documents relate to the arrest of William Strode of Barrington Court, Somerset, for refusal to supply horses, arms and men for the service of King Charles II in 1661.  Of special interest with respect to the Monmouth Rebellion is a letter from Edward Phelips to Colonel William Helyar in June 1685 describing the movements of the Duke of Monmouth in Somerset in the weeks prior to the Battle of Sedgemoor.

A considerable number of documents shed light on the family’s business interests in the West Indies, with correspondence and papers relating to Barbados and Jamaica from the 1650s onwards.  These describe aspects of life in the plantations as well as business issues, land management and unrest due to threats of attack by the French.  Several items relate to the unexpected death of Cary Helyar in 1672, shortly after he had arrived in Barbados.

Later correspondence concerns appointments to county positions, and land acquisitions and disputes in Somerset.  A more personal side of the life of a prominent county family can be seen in correspondence from several women, giving insight into the social calendar, health matters and family deaths.

The collection includes a detailed catalogue and index, which identifies each document, providing context for every item.  An initial index was compiled for volume one by Theodora Helyar, later augmented by a fuller typescript volume.  This may have been compiled by Isaac Jeayes, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum between 1912 and 1917, who catalogued much of the Helyar archive.

The papers form an integral part of the wider Helyar collection, and we are delighted that researchers will now be able to gain a more complete picture of the role of the Helyar family in West Country politics and governance during the turbulent period of the 17th century, and of their interests abroad, particularly in the West Indies.

Letter from Edward Phelips to Colonel William Helyar describing the movements of the Duke of Monmouth in Somerset prior to the Battle of Sedgemoor, 23 June 1685
Letter from Edward Phelips to Colonel William Helyar describing the movements of the Duke of Monmouth in Somerset prior to the Battle of Sedgemoor, 23 June 1685
Letter from John Helyar in Jamaica to his father concerning the state of their plantation and French attacks, 1690.
Letter from John Helyar in Jamaica to his father concerning the state of their plantation and French attacks, 1690.
The Helyar volumes, open to show a letter concerning the appointment of under-sheriffs for the county of Somerset, 1700. Courtesy of the South West Heritage Trust
The Helyar volumes, open to show a letter concerning the appointment of under-sheriffs for the county of Somerset, 1700. Courtesy of the South West Heritage Trust