|Administrative / biographical background:
The Smalbroke family are first recorded in the Birmingham area in 1425/6, when William Smalbroke is recorded as a trustee of charitable property at Yardley [584318 = DV 860]. They appear to have remained yeomen in Yardley throughout the 15th century, and in the late 16th century built Blakesley Hall; the first reference to them in Birmingham is a record of Richard Smalbroke occupying a tenement and croft in Park Street at the time of the 1553 survey of Birmingham [569340 = 11R82, fol. 59]. From the late 16th century successive generations describe themselves as 'of Birmingham, mercer' and beginning in the mid 16th century, they steadily accumulated small pieces of freehold property in and around the town. The bulk of the collection described below consists of title deeds documenting the way this estate was built up. Not all of the key documents are present in the collection, and it is therefore helpful that Thomas Smalbroke (1585-1649) kept detailed accounts of his payments of tithes on agricultural property in the family's account book [569340=11R82]. These confirm the slow process by which his property grew between 1608 (when he inherited six fields from his father] and 1646 [when he owned some twenty properties].
Both Thomas Smalbroke and his son Richard married three times; and Richard continued the process of enlarging the estates in the difficult years of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Richard's third wife was Margaret Knight, widow of a successful London lawyer whose family owned an estate at Rowington (Warks). The family's ties with the Knights were strengthened in the next generation, when Samuel Smalbroke married successively Elizabeth Knight and Elizabeth Kine (née Knight), and by 1682 Samuel Smalbroke was styling himself 'of Rowington, gent'. It was Samuel Smalbroke's acquisition of the Rowington estate which completed the family's transition from burgesses to country gentlemen, and his son Richard (1672-1749) was not only educated as a gentleman but became a clergyman and successively bishop of St Davids and of Lichfield and Coventry. Bishop Smalbroke settled the family estate on his three sons Richard, William and Samuel shortly before his death in 1749. Richard Smalbroke (d. 1805) was the last surviving son of the bishop, and on his death at an advanced age the family property passed to the surviving children of his sister Catherine (who had married the Rev William Vyse in 1733), the Rev Dr William Vyse, rector of Lambeth (d. 1816) and General Richard Vyse (d. 1825). The estate then passed to General Vyse's successors, the Howard-Vyse family of Stoke Park, Stoke Poges. The latest documents in the collection relate to the late Victorian period, when some of the property was sold off for urban redevelopment.
The Smalbrokes' Birmingham estate did not form a compact block of property, but was scattered over a wide area. Plans of some of the pieces of land made in the 19th century give valuable insights into the exact locations of these plots [MS 1098/100]. The intermarriage of the Smalbroke and Vyse families added to the existing estate a substantial landholding in Staffordshire, which was thereafter administered as part of the Birmingham estate, as evidenced by the rentals, 1743-1873 described below [MS 1098/114], which reveal an annual estate income of around £1000 by the 1820s. The records of the Howard-Vyse family's estate at Stoke Place, Stoke Poges, are in the Buckinghamshire Record Office [D/HV].
Most of this archive concerns the development of the estate, and it contains only a few personal papers. These include a decorated list of pupils in the 4th, 5th and 6th forms at Winchester College, 1731; and the detailed accounts of William Smalbroke as executor of his father, the bishop, (1749)-53, which include payments for books and for the bishop's monument in Lichfield Cathedral. The Knight family are represented by a series of letters and accounts from the mid 17th century, which are of particular interest as representing the concerns of a middle-class family during the Civil War.