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.