Organisation of the Collection
Individual family members do not seem to have maintained separate series of records, and the individual surveyor responsible for each plan is not always identified. Working papers, correspondence etc seems to have been organised into client/project files, which were in turn, grouped together into folders covering a particular geographical area. The notation of these files and folders is contemporary with the records and has therefore been preserved. As far as possible, papers which have lost their original folders have also been organised into files.
Many of the files of working papers include plans, but most of the firms plans have been organised into a separate series at some time, but there is no evidence to confirm that this was the original archival orders. Where there is an obvious connection between plans and a file, the plans have been listed with it. All other plans have been organised into a single series, organised geographically.
A few items relating to Thomas Bell's antiquarian interests are included in this collection Although not really business papers, the dividing line between what he used for purposes business and what for he retained for personal interest can not be established with any certainty, and so all the papers have been classified together
|Administrative / biographical background:
Four generations of the Bell family were involved in land surveying, but it was not until around 1844 that the company name makes an appearance in trades directories and on plans produced by members of the family. Prior to this date individual family members are listed separately in directories, although they clearly did work together, as the records show.
The founder of the firm was John Bell the elder, son of Richard Bell of High Park, Northumberland. He was apprenticed at the age of 15 (c1770) to John Fryer, land surveyor and mathematician, some of whose plans are included in this collection (see also DX717). However, John Bell did not remain long with Fryer and he went to work instead for Solomon Hodgson, a printer and bookseller in Union Street, Newcastle. He evidently did not give up surveying entirely, because, although he took over the stationery and bookselling areas of Hodgson's business in 1794, he continued to be listed in contemporary trades directories as a land surveyor in Westmorland Street, Newcastle. Amongst his other activities he was valuer and surveyor to the Duke of Northumberland. He lived at Bell's Court, Newgate Street (See DS/GA for title deeds). John Bell died in 1816, in middle of enclosure of buried N/CST John.
John Bell's two eldest sons, John Bell the younger and Thomas Bell were also trained as surveyors and booksellers, and assisted their father in his businesses. From 1805, the bookselling business traded as John Bell and Sons.
John Bell the younger, the eldest son, opened his own bookshop on Newcastle Quayside, C 1803. He was also a renowned collector of coins, antiquities and rate books and himself published collections of local tracts. Biographies of John Bell the younger speak in 1816/17 of a "disarrangement of his private affairs" which led to the abandonment of his Quayside shop. The baptismal entries of his children in the parish registers of Newcastle, St John at this period describe him as "Of Newgate Street, Stationer" until at least 1817, but by 1822 he is described as "Of Windmill Hills, Gateshead, land surveyor" What the disarrangement was is not stated, but it may have been connected with his father's death. John Bell was the founder of the Antiquarian Society of Newcastle and remained a collector of antiquarian printed material all his life.
From the early 1820's John Bell operated from Gateshead, firstly at Borough Bar Houses, Windmill Hills, but from about 1838, at 104/5 High Street. His two eldest sons John Thomas William Bell and George Grey Bell followed in the family business. John T.W. Bell is listed in a directory of 1847 as a civil engineer and land surveyor at 20 Sandhill, Newcastle, and George Grey Bell at is listed in Wards directory of 1861/2 as a land and mine surveyor at 2 Hardwicke Terrace, Gateshead.
Thomas Bell, after whom the firm is named, (second son of John Bell the elder) reputedly began assisting his father in surveying before he was 15, and it was the rather than his elder brother who took over his father's businesses at his death - half way through the Enclosure of Gateshead Town Fields! He also maintained the bookselling and stationery business until his own sons, William John Bell and John Grey Bell were old enough to take it on. His offices were at 17, Union Street, Newcastle until the mid 1820's when he moved his surveying office to 25-27, Great Market, Newcastle. His principal assistant was his eldest son, Thomas George Bell, but several of his other sons also assisted him at various times, as their names or initials are found as plans, or they are listed in directories as surveyors. They were William John, Christopher Seymour, John Grey, Septimus and Decimus Bell of these only Christopher Seymour Bell seems to have pursued surveying as a career full-time, and it was he who took over the business when his father died in 1860
Thomas like his brother John was an avoid collector of local literature which he systematically divided into subject areas, wrote notes about and then bound up. After his death his book collection (some 15,000 volumes) was sold off. So very few examples of his collected literature exist in this collection several hundred were donated to the Newcastle Society of Antiquanes but the remainder were dispersed. Thomas also succeeded his father as valuer and surveyor to the Duke of Northumberland. His other major clients were the Earl of Strathmore and the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway Company. He appointed Commissioner for many throughout the North of England.
Thomas had several residences throughout his lifetime, but most of his adult life was spent at 16, Cumberland Row, Newcastle
As stated earlier, Thomas changed the name of his business to Thomas Bell and Sons c 1844 and it continued under this title until c 1862 when it ceases to appear in trades directories. After this date, Christopher Seymour Bell traded under his own name, and Thomas other sons seem to have gone their separate ways
Most of the records in this collection date from before 1860, or just after when C S Bell was continuing to deal with his father's clients. However the bulk of C S. Bell's papers and those of his son, Seymour Thomas have been deposited at Newcastle Central Library, C S Bell inherited his father's role as agent to the Duke of Northumberland, though he lived in Carlton near Darlington, Co Durham.
The fourth generation member of this family to operate as a surveyor was Seymour Thomas Bell, C.S. Bell's son Few of his papers are included in this collection.