Catalogue description The Theobald Papers (Steward of the Duke of Bedford's Streatham estates from 1711 to his death in 1738)

This record is held by Lambeth Archives

Details of IV/35
Reference: IV/35
Title: The Theobald Papers (Steward of the Duke of Bedford's Streatham estates from 1711 to his death in 1738)

The papers take their name from Edward Theobald, the steward of the Duke of Bedford's Streatham estates from 1711 to his death in 1738. His papers form the bulk of this collection but also included are a few items from his predecessor, Nathaniel Saltonstall, and of subsequent stewards at Streatham and elsewhere. The deeds, in particular, are often of a later date, but must have been part of the working papers of his successors.


The papers are important for students of eighteenth century social history, of Streatham local history, and of the Russell family and their estates. The bills are of particular interest not least because they show how carefully each item of expenditure was examined. Almost every bill bears the initials E.H. to signify the approval of Mrs Howland (usually known as Madam Howland or the Hon. Madam Howland, although she had no title) or her instructions to pay less than the amount demanded. Occasionally there were such caustic comments as 'you may ask if the person was not lightheaded that writ out this bill' (IV/35/6). Sometimes Theobald indicates that the tradesman is not prepared to accept less but usually they seem to have agreed to a reduction in their charges. At any rate, those consistently deprived of the odd penny or even shilling continue to supply the household over long periods. The Duchess sometimes initialled bills, but less frequently than her mother. Nevertheless, she still kept a close watch on household affairs as her letters to Theobald about re-tinning the kitchen pans and killing hogs show. It is tempting to speculate that the 3rd Duke's extravagance was a reaction to this careful scrutiny of every item of expenditure.


The bills are mainly for household supplies and such services as painting and plumbing. One of the men made regular shopping trips to London and his expenses often include a few pence to the poor, given on Mrs Howland's orders. She also paid for 'church bread' to be distributed to the poor of the parish at the church. (There used to be pigeon holes in St Leonard's in which this bread was placed). The bundles also include many receipts for the payment of teachers for the school founded by Mrs Howland, although judging by their writing the teachers cannot have been of very high quality. (An interesting study of literacy and standards of education could be made using these bills and receipts. A high proportion of the inhabitants could at least sign their names). The revenues of Tooting Bec Manor also contributed to an exhibition at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Prisoners received a regular bounty.


The receipts include many for land tax, made out in the tenant's name but among these papers because the landlord refunded the tax. These refer to Wandsworth and Rotherhithe and Covent Garden properties as well as Streatham, as do the bills for repairs and improvements, e.g. filling up the great ditch across Thames Street (IV/35/8) and work on the Three Doves, Southampton Street (IV/35/17).


A later set of accounts, those of Henry Goldsmith, who was steward at Streatham c.1760, show that by that date Streatham was more a supplier of produce than a main residence.


The letters concern personal as well as business matters. There are numerous correspondents, including the Duchess of Bedford, Thomas Holt who was the chief steward responsible for overseeing the work of all the others, from the tenant of the Rotherhithe Dock, and from friends and relations. Some of the most interesting are from the Reverend William Simmonds, Dean of Battle, and from Thomas Croft, Theobald's cousin. Theobald was born in Battle and still had property there. He must have kept an affection for the area for his gift to the parish church (probably of a barrel organ) is mentioned. Some of these letters are about his friends' attempts to sell his property for him, but the Dean's letters also unfold the story of his worthless son and his progress from a debtors' prison in Scotland back to Battle, while Croft describes the trouble caused by the village drunkard. We can see from these letters that Theobald's responsibilities extended beyond Streatham to Kent and London.


The letters to Robert Butcher (IV/35/28) cover the period 1744-1763. He was the steward at Bedford House and seems to have replaced Thomas Holt as chief steward to the family. A particularly interesting group of letters to him comes from John Becuda, who describes in some detail building work carried out at Streatham in 1752.


The deeds, while mainly concerned with Streatham, reflect the Russell holdings elsewhere. Some seem very remotely connected, e.g. the counterpart lease of a shop in Clerkenwell (IV/35/34) but others provide a useful picture of the gradual development of the estate. The ownership and development of a piece of ground on the north side of Streatham Common, for example, is traced from 1765-1927 (IV/35/32).


These papers are important not only for those interested in some of Streatham's more illustrious inhabitants and for their influence on the history of the area, but also for their more general picture of life in the early eighteenth century. The combination of letters and bills gives the material a human interest that deeds alone cannot rival.

Date: 1598-1938

As received from the Society the material was in no particular order, although the letters to Theobald from William Simmonds and Thomas Croft had been put together in one bundle and letters to Robert Butcher, the steward at Bedford House in London, had been bound together and provided with an index of writers. This may reflect an original arrangement, so all letters have been kept in the bundles in which they were found, although rearranged in an orderly manner instead of at random. It should be noted that there were many letters originally in the possession of the Streatham Antiquarian Society which were not handed over to the archives department and whose present whereabouts are unknown. A note in the papers of the Streatham Antiquarian Society dated May 1938 refers to 762 letters and the unpublished thesis of B J Hampton of Furzedown Teacher Training College draws on many letters no longer extant, for example, a series from Mary Plummer, a relation of Theobald's whom he was helping in a long and complicated law suit. Only two letters from her are to be found here.


The receipts and bills that form so large a part of the papers have been divided into chronological order, usually one bundle per year, and within each bundle arranged as far as possible according to Theobald's original numbering. The deeds, which as received had clearly been boxed at random, have been sorted according to property. Separate sections have been made for the correspondence of Mr Yeats, the vestry clerk, and for miscellaneous wills, including a copy of that of the 3rd Duke of St. Alban's. Another interesting group is formed by papers concerning shrievalties held by members of the Howland family, among them letters patent of Richard Cromwell.


IV/35/1-24 Bills, receipts and accounts.


IV/35/25 Letters to Edward Theobald - various correspondents.


IV/35/26 Letters to Edward Theobald - various correspondents.


IV/35/27 Letters to Edward Theobald from William Simmonds and Thomas Croft.


IV/35/28 Letters to Robert Butcher - various correspondents.


IV/35/29 Letters patent and agreements concerning shrievalty.


IV/35/30 Land in Streatham including Manor of Tooting Bec.


IV/35/31 Land and houses in Deptford Stroud, Kent.


IV/35/32 Land on the north of Streatham Common (Hill House).


IV/35/33 Declaration of trust concerning premises in Islington.


IV/35/34 Counterpart lease of premises in Clerkenwell.


IV/35/35 Land and messuage in Balham.


IV/35/36 Messuage at Streatham.


IV/35/37 Assignment of lease of premises in Streatham.


IV/35/38 Land and messuages in Streatham, west of the London-Croydon road.


IV/35/39 The Cedars, Streatham Hill.


IV/35/40 Kate Street, Balham.


IV/35/41 Correspondence of William Yeats, vestry clerk at Streatham.


IV/35/42 Wills.


IV/35/43 Miscellaneous.

Related material:

Further notes on these papers will be found in IV/66.

Held by: Lambeth Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Theobald, Edward, d 1738

Physical description: 20 series
Custodial history:

These papers were donated to the Streatham Antiquarian Society by the 11th Duke of Bedford through Gladys Scott Thomson. After the winding up of the society they were deposited at the Minet Library.

  • Russell family, Dukes of Bedford
Administrative / biographical background:

The Russell family became connected with Streatham when the 2nd Duke, Wriothesley, married the Streatham heiress Elizabeth Howland in 1695. It is from this date that the Duke has also had the title Baron Howland of Streatham. After her husband's death from smallpox in 1711, the Duchess spent most of her time at Streatham, where her mother, Mrs Elizabeth Howland still lived, but her sons Wriothesley and John, the 3rd and 4th Dukes, were more often at Woburn. Francis, the 5th Duke, gave the manor house to his younger brother Lord William Russell who sold it to Viscount Deerhurst in 1798. The manor of Tooting Bec was sold to Maximilian Kymer and Richard Borradaile. The descent of Leigham Court, the other main Streatham manor, is somewhat obscure. As late as 1789 the Duke of Bedford (Francis, 5th Duke) is found leasing it to create a tenant to the precipe (IV/35/30/8) but it is generally thought to have passed to the Roberts family in about 1649. It was certainly among the property sold by the Trustees of the 3rd Duke of St. Alban's to Lord Thurlow in 1789, having come to the Duke through his wife Jane Roberts, whose great-great grandmother was a Howland.


The family interests in Covent Garden and in the East India Docks at Rotherhithe are also reflected in these papers although the main emphasis is on Streatham.

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