Catalogue description ASHRIDGE II COLLECTION

This record is held by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Details of AH 1-AH 2821
Reference: AH 1-AH 2821

Comprising title deeds, estate papers, maps, family settlements, correspondence and miscellaneous papers of the Ashridge and Berkhamsted estates of the Egerton family, Earls and Dukes of Bridgewater and the Cust family, Barons Brownlow, 13th - 19th.


Although the collection is far from complete, there are few members of the family who are not represented.


Thomas, Lord Chancellor Egerton's holograph cartulary records his first investments in land, while the Great Settlement, damaged though it is, shows the wide estates acquired in thirty years of high office and by the dynastic marriage of himself as Lord Keeper and Alice, Countess of Derby, and of his son, John the first Earl, to Lady Frances Stanley, her daughter and co-heiress of Ferdinando, Lord Strange and Earl of Derby. The mid-seventeenth century estate correspondence shows the careful estate management necessary to control the Great Debt (incurred mainly through the collapse of the trading empire of the 1st Earl's son-in-law, Sir William Courteen junior, under the attack of the Dutch).


Of state papers there are few, but the copy mandate restoring the Norfolk lands to the brothers Howard in 1601, endorsed as expedited at the special request of Sir Robert Cecil, throws light on the negotiations of that stormy year and the building of the alliance which brought about the peaceful accession of James I.


The canal building 3rd Duke and his career as the first 'Manchester Man' and a great civil engineer is sketched in a brief series of papers which cover all his activities and include his later bank books.


The archives of the junior branch of the family, descended from the 1st Duke's brother, Henry, Bishop of Hereford, are even less complete:- A series of the Bishop's charges to his clergy and notes on Newton's later writings; a bundle of letters to his younger son, Henry, Archdeacon of Derby, a prebendary of Durham and a long correspondence between the next-of-kin of Francis Henry, 8th and last Earl, redrawing his will with its handsom charitable legacies, not least of which was the endowment of the British Museum with the Egerton MSS Fund, may be mentioned.


The activities of the long lived Bridgewater Trust, which managed the estates from the death of the 7th Earl of Bridgewater until the majority of Adelbert Wellington Hume-Cust, Earl Brownlow, are shown by an (unfortunately very small) series of account books, a model of their type.


The 7th Earl and his trustees bought up much surrounding land, including virtually the whole of Berkhamsted, and an ill-advised attempt to approve rather than inclose, the common there lead to the famous lawsuit and the Commons Act, 1860.


The break up of the estate came before the current interest in estate records and virtually nothing survives of these for the last hundred years.

Date: c1263-1860
Related material:

All papers formerly at Belton are now held at Lincolnshire Archives

Held by: Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, not available at The National Archives
Copies held at:

The microfilms PC 18 are not calendared in detail and consist of bundle of letters and papers containing material of the 2nd Duke and a bound volume of letters to the 8th Earl concerning his publications.

Language: English

Egerton family, Earls of Bridgewater

Cust family, Barons Brownlow

Physical description: 13 series
Immediate source of acquisition:

The estates of the Earls of Bridgewater were inherited by the Lords Brownlow in the nineteenth century and this collection comprises the surviving family papers, with deeds of land in the park at Ashridge and near Berkhamsted Common retained when Ashridge House itself and most of the estate was sold in 1927 (Accession 419). This accession Lord Brownlow has presented to the County Record Office to supplement his previous gift of deeds and estate records made in 1927 (Ashridge I Collection). A box of exhibits and papers relating to the famous Berkhamsted Common Case, which Nicholl Manisty & Co., the former trust lawyers, discovered when they moved office and sent to Lord Brownlow, was subsequently presented (Accession 715). Family letters remaining at Belton House near Grantham were microfilmed for the use of a student (Accession PC 18). To Lord Brownlow's gifts has been added a number of maps acquired through Mr. Vicars Bell from the old Ashridge estate office, having lain in an attic for thirty years (Accession 412). Lady Marianne Alford's pamphlet on the Berkhamsted Common Case was purchased (Accession 797) together with photostats of one or two Rentals which survive in the Brackley collection of Lord Ellesmere in the Northamptonshire Record Office (distinguished in the schedule as 'photostats').

Custodial history:

The descent of the property is somewhat complex and is best illustrated by the family tree. On the third Duke's death in 1803, the estate and archives were divided; the bulk of the latter passing to his nephew, ancestor of the Earl of Ellesmere, who, after the trust ended in 1908, sold them, with the Duke's famous picture gallery to Henry E. Huntingdon, founder of the Library at San Marino, California, where they remain. [See Archives Vol. 6, 1963 for brief description]


Documents relating to the estates devised to the Duke's cousin, the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, were returned to Ashridge and remained there until that estate was sold in 1927 by the late Lord Brownlow's trustees, whereupon those of the Salop estates were transferred to the estate office at Ellesmere and are now in the Salop County Record Office. Accession 419 went to the family seat of Belton and the remainder were divided between the Record Offices of Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.

  • Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
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