An aggregation of records made by a family is necessarily a multiple archive and its diverse nature may therefore occasion differing interests and treatments by members of the family while it is still in their custody. This had occurred in the Desborough Papers. They had been worked over by many hands and several distinct arrangements had been begun and none completed. When work began on the papers, it soon became clear that the existing arrangement could not be maintained without providing a too complicated system of finding aids and of an inventory so unsystematic that the integrity of the archive, though preserved, would be difficult to discern. In view of all this, a new and simpler arrangement had to be imposed on the letters.
The arrangement of the letters
The letters have been rearranged under the names of their writers in alphabetical order. Writer-groups have been sub-divided further into recipient-groups, arranged hierarchically if members of the family and alphabetically if not. The inventory follows this arrangement and thus constitutes an index of writers arranged under surnames. Persons of title are also entered under surnames. Women are indexed under their last known married name and maiden names are cross-referenced. The one exception to this is Millicent Duchess of Sutherland who is entered under SUTHERLAND. Many of the letters are signed by Christian names or nick-names. Some of these have been identified, while some remain obscure. Where identification has been impossible the signed names have to appear in the index. Some of the identifications that have been made may well be questionable.
The names of recipients, especially titled ones, are quoted in a less formal manner than those of the writers of the letters. For Lord and Lady Desborough, whose titles were unique, those forms have been used. All others are given Christian names as well, e g Monica Lady Salmond, John Lord Revelstoke, Mary Lady Wemyss etc. For the sake of brevity, honourables and courtesy titles have been omitted, except where the person concerned did not succeed to any other (e g Hugo Lord Elcho and Anthony Lord Knebworth).
Baronesses suo jure are called "Baroness", all others "Lady".
Order of letters
Where possible the letters of individual writers have been placed in chronological order. At best, with so many letters undated and many envelopes not preserved, chronological arrangement is suggestive rather than certain. Even the franked date on envelopes cannot be taken as irrefutable evidence as in more than one case it is clear that a letter has been placed in the wrong envelope.
There is evidence that there had existed some system of letter bundles each concerned with one subject or event. In the main these had been dispersed before deposit. It is clear that there had been several bundles of letters of condolence on the death of Lord Desborough in 1945, of which fragments remained. There had probably been similar ones on the death of Katrine Lady Cowper (1913) and of Julian and Billy Grenfell (1915); possibly also there had been one relating to the great fancy dress ball at Taplow Court in 1912. Out of all that there had been, two original bundles remained complete, probably because they were of little interest to those who had access to the letters. They are (1) letters resulting from a letter which Lady Desborough wrote to The Times in 1947 concerning an earth tremor, and (2) letters received by Lady Salmond in 1939-1940 from mothers and children resident in Rotherhithe when Lady Salmond organised evacuation of the children to Eastbourne, presumably until Eastbourne proved more dangerous than Rotherhithe and Lady Salmond evacuated herself and her own children to Wales. The contents of these bundles, now redistributed alphabetically, were as follows.
Earth tremor letters: DE/Rv/C3187/1, C816/2m C831/1, C931/1, C949/1, C1424/1, C1467/1, C1654/1, C2267/1, C2521/1, C2602/1, C2716/1, C2729/1: A copy of Lady Desborough's originating letter to The Times is in DE/Rv/C1098/1-3.
Rotherhithe letters: DE/Rv/C283/1, C316/1-2, C1207/1, C1258/1, C1584/1, C1961/1-4, C2018/1-3, C2021/1, C2219/1, C2577/1-12, C2578/1, C2784/1-7, C1258/1 is from Edith M Haslam, Warden of The Alice Barlow House in Rotherhithe