Catalogue description The Family and Estate Papers of the Willoughby Family, Lords Middleton, of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, Middleton, Warwickshire and Birdsall, Yorkshire; c.1150-c.1986

This record is held by Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections

Details of GB 159 Mi
Reference: GB 159 Mi
Title: The Family and Estate Papers of the Willoughby Family, Lords Middleton, of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, Middleton, Warwickshire and Birdsall, Yorkshire; c.1150-c.1986

The collection comprises an extensive family and estate archive, which has been built up through a series of accruals.


It includes:


Title deeds from the 12th to the 20th centuries relating particularly to the main family estates in Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire, but also relating to many other counties. There are a particularly significant number of medieval deeds.


Family documents, including wills, marriage settlements, and other documents having an impact on the ownership and succession of Willoughby lands from the 12th century to the 20th century


Other family papers, including medieval literary manuscripts, correspondence from the 12th to 18th centuries, 17th-century natural history collections of Francis Willughby and his friend the scientist John Ray, and a volume of family history compiled by Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos, featuring transcripts and extracts from papers which have not survived, c.1150-1959


Personal papers and correspondence of family members, particularly Admiral Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby (1777-1849). 1803-c.1906 and Captain Francis D. Willoughby (d 1849), 1833-1848. Disappointingly little family correspondence and personal papers survive from earlier periods.


Estate papers, including accounts, estate correspondence, inventories, maps and plans, surveys and rentals. Given the size and scope of the estates, the maps and plans are relatively few in number.


Legal papers, including the working papers of the family solicitors Messrs. Purchase, Pollock and Treadwell, comprising correspondence, drafts and copies of accounts. Later papers include correspondence, settlement and estate papers relating to succession of the estate in 1926-1928 and the establishment of the Birdsall Estates Company, 1628-20th century


Other significant series in the Middleton archive include correspondence, manorial records and official papers. There is a substantial amount of material relating to the family's coal mining activities from the late middle ages and other business ventures.

Date: c.1150-c.1986

This very substantial family archive is divided into separate groups, with their own catalogues. These in general reflect the various parts at which the different part of the collection have been acquired.


The first catalogue, Mi 1/1-Mi 7/183, listing part of the main collection acquired in 1947, provides a brief description of every item. The items preserve the original arrangement in which they were received by the University.


The second catalogue, Mi A-X, listing the second part of the main collection acquired in 1947, provides varying levels of descriptions. Some items are very briefly described, but many of the series are served by bundle-level descriptions. The items have been arranged by document type into different sections.


The third catalogue, Mi 2C-S, listing some of the accruals to the collection primarily between 1947 and 1960, with related additions made in 2000, provides a description of every item, or of bundles where papers of the same type were gathered together. The catalogue is arranged into different sections according to document type or provenance.


The fourth catalogue, Mi 3E-G, listing the 19th and 20th-century deeds and settlement papers, provides a brief description of every item or bundles of items.. The items are divided into sections for general settlement documents (Mi 3G) and estate papers (Mi 3E). The estate papers are arranged by county and then by estate or document type.


The fifth catalogue, Mi 4, listing accruals to the collection between 1964 and 1974 provides a description of every item, or of bundles of similar documents. The items have been arranged into different sections according to document type or provenance.

Related material:

Related Collections in the same repository:


The 'Wollaton Antiphonal' containing a calendar of obituaries, including the Willoughby family; 15th century (Reference GB 159 MS 250)


Related Collections elsewhere:


National Archives:


Nottinghamshire manorial records including Wollaton, Willoughby on the Wolds and the Honour of Peverel; 16th century


Nottinghamshire Archives Office:


Copies of deeds, rentals, surveys and papers for Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, etc.; c.1568-1610 (Reference: M 475)


Willoughby letters c. 1521-1548, and militia papers 1512-1628 (Reference M 1205-1229)


Letter book of J N Martin, Lord Middleton's agent at Wollaton, 1808-1823 (reference M 11530)


The British Library:


Genealogical and other papers of Cassandra, Duchess of Chandos (Reference MS 656)


Centre for Kentish Studies:


Manorial, family and estate papers chiefly relating to the Willoughby family in Kent, 1258-1647 (Reference SC/2/196/76-91)

Held by: Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Copies held at:

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email

Language: English, French, Latin

Willoughby Family, Barons Middleton, of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire

Physical description: 774 boxes & 130 volumes & 38 files
Physical condition: Title deeds, literary and artistic works, family and personal correspondence, manorial records, maps, surveys and financial papers.
Restrictions on use:

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on access conditions, the physical nature of the documents, or other relevant constraints.

Access conditions:

The majority of papers are accessible to all registered readers. Access is restricted to 20th-century personal correspondence in the archive. A considerable number of items within the collection are fragile and access to these is restricted pending full conservation treatment.

Custodial history:

The bulk of the collection was placed in the care of University College Nottingham (now The University of Nottingham) in 1947. Additional papers were received subsequently from the same source.

Publication note:

William Stevenson, 'Report to the Commissioners on the Manuscripts of Lord Middleton Preserved at Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire' (1911)


'Principal Family and Estate Collections: Family Names L-W', (The Stationary Office, 1999), pp 144-47

  • Wollaton, Nottinghamshire
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Kent
  • Warwickshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Derbyshire
  • Yorkshire
  • Estate management
  • Coal mining
Unpublished finding aids:

Copyright on all Finding Aids belongs to The University of Nottingham.


In the Reading Room at Nottingham University Library: 5 typescript Catalogues


In the Reading Room at Nottingham University Library: Card catalogue place name index to Mi 1/1-Mi 2/78.


In the Reading Room at Nottingham University Library: Searchable database for medieval deeds from East Midlands and Warwickshire areas, primarily within the Mi D series.


At the National Register of Archives: 5 typescript Catalogues

Administrative / biographical background:

The Willoughby family can trace its descent back to Ralph Bugge, a Nottingham merchant, who bought lands in Willoughby-on-the-Wolds, Nottinghamshire in the thirteenth century.


By the fourteenth century the family held lands in Derbyshire and Leicestershire and acquired further manors in Nottinghamshire (Wollaton and Cossall), Derbyshire (Risley and Mapperley) and Lincolnshire (Dunsby) through the marriage of Sir Richard Willoughby (d 1362) to the daughter of Sir Roger Morteyn. Most of this estate then passed down to Sir Edmund Willoughby (Sir Richard's son by his second marriage). Sir Edmund's grandson, Sir Hugh Willoughby (d 1448), added further lands in Nottinghamshire (Gunthorpe, Lowdham, etc.), Warwickshire (Middleton, etc.), Staffordshire and Herefordshire through marriage to Margaret, the sister and co-heir of Sir Baldwin de Freville of Tamworth, Staffordshire. Sir Henry Willoughby (grandson of Hugh and Margaret) bought land in Holborn, Middlesex. His son, Sir Edward Willoughby (d 1540), married Anne Filoll, daughter and co-heir of Sir William Filoll.


This brought the Woodlands estate in Dorset, as well as property in Hampshire, Hertfordshire (Standon) and Essex (Steeple Hall) to the Willoughbys.


Sir Francis Willoughby (grandson of Anne and Edward) built a new grander Hall at Wollaton but sold off land in Leicestershire and left the estate in considerable disarray on his death in 1596. This led to a division of lands between the husband of Sir Francis' second daughter (Henry Hastings) and his illegitimate brother, George Fox alias Willoughby. However, the Wollaton and Middleton estates passed to Sir Francis' eldest daughter's husband, Sir Percival Willoughby (d 1643) of Bore Place (Kent), a descendent of the Willoughby family of Eresby (Kent). He was forced to sell his own estates in Kent, Essex and Cheshire, as well as the Willoughby estate itself, in order to retain this new property which was highly mortgaged.


Sir Percival's grandson, Francis, was bequeathed further lands in Nottinghamshire (South Muskham and South Carlton) by Sir William Willoughby of Selston in 1671. His second son, Thomas Willoughby, was created Baron Middleton in 1712, having already acquired further lands in Nottinghamshire (Newark North Wheatley, etc.) and Lincolnshire (Stapleford, etc.) through his marriage to Elizabeth, daughter and co-heir of Sir Richard Rothwell. Their second son, Thomas (d 1742), married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Sir Thomas Sotheby of Birdsall (Yorkshire, East Riding). Henry, their son, became fifth Baron in 1789.


In 1833 an estate was bought in Wharram Percy (Yorkshire, East Riding) and lands, mainly in Gloucestershire, held jointly with the Colston family of Bristol were sold off in 1858. The eighth Baron bought the Applecross estate (Ross-shire) in 1862. In 1921, estates in East Nottinghamshire (Saundby and North Wheatley) were sold and, following the deaths of the ninth and tenth barons in 1922 and 1924, most of the estates outside Yorkshire were disposed of, including Wollaton, Middleton, Stapleford and Applecross.

Link to NRA Record:

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