|Administrative / biographical background:
The Brooke Papers were accumulated over 700 years and reflect the changing fortunes of a gentry family and their estates centred on Haughton Hall, Shifnal. The Brooke family itself, though ancient, only came into possession of the Haughton estates at the end of the 18th century. Their estates were earlier focussed on Bobbington, Staffordshire and the neighbouring parish of Claverley, Shropshire. Though there have been several discontinuities in the name of the family at Haughton due to lack of male heirs, it is possible to trace the history of the estate and its owners from the end of the 12th century.
The earliest reference to the ownership of Haughton is in a grant of c.1185 (surviving only in a 19th century copy) stating that Walter de Dunstanville I, lord of the manor of Shifnal and many other manors in Wiltshire, Sussex and Normandy, granted to his harpist Oliver and his wife Sybil land in the Shifnal hamlets of Haughton and Knowle which had belonged to Sybil's first husband, Roger de Haughton. The family continued at Haughton for several generations under the name of de Haughton, though little is known of their activities during this period other than a long-running dispute in the 13th century between Hugh de Haughton and the prior of Wombridge Priory about pasture rights in Haughton. (Documents relating to this dispute can be found in the Wombridge Cartulary.)
In the early 14th century the Haughton estate passed to Sir John Charlton of Apley Castle, Wellington, though whether by marriage or purchase is not clear. The Haughton lands stayed in the Charlton family until the early 16th century when they were settled on Cicely, daughter of William Charlton of Apley on her marriage to Richard Moreton of Haughton. The Moretons of Haughton were a younger branch of the Moretons of the township of Moreton in Gnosall, Staffordshire, and it seems that they were already settled in Haughton as Richard Moreton's father, Robert was accused by the commissioners enquiring into enclosures in 1517 of enclosing land for pasture in the neighbouring deserted hamlets of Knowle and Trilwardine. Robert was also steward of Lilleshall Abbey and understeward of Wenlock Priory.
The Moretons continued at Haughton during the 16th century, and appear to have profited, though in a relatively small way, from the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Robert Moreton had leased the tithes and advowson in the early 16th century from Battlefield College, and his son Richard later in the century bought them outright from Queen Elizabeth. Richard Moreton also leased and later bought Haughton and Patsford Mills in Shifnal which had belonged to Wombridge Priory from Francis 5th Earl of Shrewsbury who had initially acquired them from the Crown. In addition Richard purchased from the Crown various lands and burgages in and around Shifnal which had belonged to a religious gild in the town dissolved in 1548.
Robert Moreton had no sons so the family name changed again; in 1587 his daughter Anne married Humphrey Brigges of Ernestry on the Clee hills. Humphrey's father Oliver had purchased property at Ernestry and Abdon in the mid-16th century at the time of his marriage to Anne, daughter of Humphrey Coningsby of Neen Sollars. There is some evidence that Oliver had land in Westmoreland, though the family is said to have come from Norfolk, but little is known about their earlier history.
The Brigges' family history in the 17th and 18th centuries is almost a paradigm of the rise of the gentry and their role in English society. Succeeding generations filled the offices in county government on which central government so heavily depended. The first Humphrey Brigges was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1605, his grandson, also Humphrey, was M.P. for Wenlock in 1645 and 1656 and the fourth Humphrey was M.P. for Shropshire in 1714 and later for Wenlock. Sir Hugh, the last of the Brigges, was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1747, and he and all the Brigges were justices of the peace. Moreton Brigges, son of the first Humphrey, was created a baronet on the eve of the Civil War in reward for his financial assistance to Charles I, but in 1767 on the death of Sir Hugh this baronetcy became extinct. As the lords of the manor of Shifnal were always absentee landlords, the Brigges in some ways filled the role of squire in the local community. They were much the largest landholders in the parish after the lords of the manor, the Earls of Stafford, and the Hearth Tax returns of 1672 show that Haughton Hall was by far the largest house after the manor house of the Earl of Stafford. The Brigges derived their income principally from land, but also exploited the coal and iron mines on the Clee Hills, though there is little evidence for mining activity in the collection as this area passed to Earl Fitzwilliam on the partition of the Brigges' lands in 1800.
The third Humphrey Brigges died in 1698 leaving a large family of ten children including four sons, but his eldest son the fourth Humphrey died unmarried in 1734 and the baronetcy passed to the second son, Hugh. By the time Sir Hugh died in 1767 also unmarried, the younger sons had also died childless. The only heirs were the descendants of Sir Hugh's sisters Barbara and Elizabeth. The rights of Barbara were shared between Richard Huntley, heir of her daughter Catherine, and Richard, Viscount Fitzwilliam, heir of Barbara's other daughter, Barbara. Elizabeth married Leigh Brooke of Bobbington, and her grandson John eventually inherited all her title to half the estate. John also died without direct heirs and he willed his interest to his half-sister Frances and ultimately to her son George Townshend on condition he take the name Brooke. After the death of John, therefore, the profits of the estates in Shifnal, Sutton Maddock, Claverley and the Clee Hills were shared between Richard Huntley, Lord Fitzwilliam and George Townshend. Negotiations between three owners and three sets of agents inevitably caused problems, so in 1799 when George Townshend came of age, Richard Huntley suggested an amicable partition of the estate. Initially it was proposed that this partition be effected by a writ in Chancery, but it was eventually found necessary to pursue a private bill in Parliament.
George Townshend Brooke acquired Haughton Hall and the lands in and around Shifnal as his share. Between 1820 and 1830 he considerably enlarged the hall, and his descendants remained at Haughton until after the First World War. William John Brooke was killed in action in 1918 leaving only daughters, as his only son had died as a boy. The hall and lands therefore passed to his nephew, John who was only a child and whose family had estates elsewhere. Since 1920 the hall has been put to a variety of uses - for much of the time as a school. At present it has been converted to a centre for training in information technology.
Despite their prominent position in the local community, the Moretons, Brigges and Brookes were never lords of the manor, so that there is little manorial material in the collection. In the early 19th century, however, George Brooke bought the manor of Sutton Maddock and acquired with it a series of views of frankpledge and estreats produced by the courts held for the Hills of Attingham dating from 1729 to 1810.
Deeds concerning the transfer of land form the bulk of the collection, and fall into groups relating to land inherited or seeled on different branches of the family. Despite the changes in family name over the centuries Haughton remained the focus of the fluctuating estate. There is a long series of deeds relating to Haughton and other hamlets in Shifnal parish, particularly Upton, Knowle and Trilwardine, and a particularly long and full series for land in Brockton, Sutton Maddock which was acquired by the Brigges in the early 17th century. At the same time the Brigges also purchased considerable land in Aston and other Claverley hamlets, and other land in Claverley and in the neighbouring parish of Bobbington, Staffordshire came into the family by the marriage of Elizabeth Brigges to Leigh Brooke in the early 18th century. Other groups of deeds result from earlier Brooke marriages: there is a substantial group relating to Allspath, Warwickshire from the marriage of Ralph Brooke to one of the co-heirs of Thomas Boteler in the early 16th century and another large group concerning Enville near Bobbington from a marriage into the Spittull family of Enville in 1623.
There is also an interesting series of family wills and settlements which help to explain the flow of these estates in and out of the family's possession. Most interesting in this section is a long and full series of letters and papers through which the process of the partition of the estate can be traced from the time it was first suggested in January 1799 until the final mutual exchange of deeds for the allocated lands in 1802. As the partition was negotiated by act of parliament, the bill and associated collection of papers needed as evidence for the hearings was organised by lawyers in London, necessitating many letters to the various parties involved detailing every step of the process.
Papers which are likely to be of particular value to historians are those relating to the Earls of Bradford of the first creation. Sir Hugh Brigges was distantly related to the Newports and this relationship together with his legal training at Oxford and the Inns of Court meant that he was much in demand as trustee and executor. From 1730 Sir Hugh assumed the trusteeship of the will of Francis, 1st Earl of Bradford who had died in 1708. The major responsibility was the administration of South Sea stock left by Francis to his grandsons, Henry the third earl and Thomas the fourth earl. This trust was not finally wound up until 1763, and as it was administered by lawyers in London, and as after about 1740 Sir Hugh refused to go to London, many letters to and from Sir Hugh were necessary. Sir Hugh was also trustee for the will of Henry 3rd Earl who died in 1734. Henry did not marry and left only an illegitimate son, John Harrison, to whom he left a bequest of £10,000 and his real estate. The boy's mother, Ann Smyth, fought tenaciously in Chancery to establish the validity of the will and her son's right to the bequest. As Sir Henry's personal estate could not cover the bequest of £10,000, lands had to be mortgaged and were eventually transferred to the mortgagee, William, Earl of Bath in 1755. Vast Shropshire estates were thus lost to the Bridgemans, heirs of the Newport earls; they kept Weston only because Henry's right to it came through his mother, Mary wife of the second earl, whom he predeceased. Sir Hugh was also trustee of the will of Mary who died in 1737, and a fourteen year series of papers relating to this trusteeship show that this was also a troublesome burden, as the countess's estate was not sufficient to meet the bequests detailed in her will, necessitating an amicable bill in Chancery to determine the final settlement of her estate. Sir Hugh was also involved, though to a lesser extent, in administering the affairs of Thomas the fourth earl, known as the 'lunatic earl' until the earl's death in 1763.