Catalogue description The Wiston Archives

This record is held by West Sussex Record Office

Details of WISTON
Reference: WISTON
Title: The Wiston Archives

THE importance of this collection to the history of West Sussex is explained by the geographical position of Wiston Park. Full documentation is now available to a portion of Mid-Sussex between Storrington in the west, Steyning in the east, West Grinstead in the north and Findon in the south, an area which (apart from some small overlap) is not covered by another major collection.


The nature of the archives requires comment. The great wealth of the collection lies in the title-deeds, a class of documents too often dismissed, in favour of more visibly exciting records, as boring and fruitless; in fact they are often the key to relationships between families and give the history of a property, tracing continuity of ownership, changes in appellation or spelling, and variations in the physical size of an owner's land. The five thousand title-deeds which form the bulk of the collection were a joy to catalogue; they range from grants of land in the medieval deeds of Billingshurst in Sussex and Seal in Kent to the sale by exchange in 1869 of the town of Steyning. Most farms in the Wiston area are covered by original bundles of deeds in which every stage of their build-up can be traced. The estate plans form another strong feature of the collection; they are mainly early 19th century, before the medium and large scale Ordnance Survey maps made their production unnecessary. Other good features of the collection are the early wills, some late but useful inventories, important papers on Holland's Charity in Steyning and interesting military documents. The list of the content of this catalogue (pp. iii-vi) shows the wide topographical coverage of the collection and how it spreads out from the caput of the estate.


It is generally true that estate archives are valuable on two levels; as the records show the building-up of the estate they illustrate, at the same time, the history of the locality with which which the records are concerned. It has been shown that this, almost incidental, value has been well represented by the Wiston estate title-deeds, but on the debit side the records do not give as complete a picture of the management and administration of the estate as one might wish; nor do they give much hint of the personalities responsible for the build-up. For instance, there is little private correspondence of the Gorings and none of the Fagg(e)s or Shirleys. Nor are there estate accounts earlier than 1830 and the later ones which have survived are (as students are warned in the catalogue) largely unfit for use, or even illegible, because of damp. The estate correspondence has fared a little better and though some letter-books have obviously been lost, three remain more or less complete and there is a quantity of loose correspondence which has been pieced together in some order. This relatively small collection of letters has had the advantage of catalogue entries more detailed than would have been possible, perhaps, if a greater number had survived. Despite these shortcomings, enough remain of the Wiston estate papers to give a useful picture of 19th century estate administration in the matter of the relationship between landlord and tenant.


There are nearly 400 deeds of properties in Kent and their relevance to the Wiston Estate might not be apparent. They are in the collection because they are papers of the Fagg(e) family, who, from East Sussex and Kent origins, became the purchasers of Wiston following the sequestration of the estate.


Steyning title deeds provide us with full details of about 80 houses in the town during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, an unusually fine coverage. Furthermore, many of the Steyning deeds relate to property amassed by the Honywood family and by the 11th Duke of Norfolk in their struggle for parliamentary control of the Borough of Steyning in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Until 1832 Steyning sent two Members to Parliament, elected by the householders (occupiers) within the Borough paying the taxes known as Scot and Lot and not receiving alms, and the more houses a man owned the more votes could he control. The Honywoods ruled the Borough unchallenged until 1790, and their deeds appear as nos. WISTON/6013-6485 below. The Duke of Norfolk contested the elections of 1790 and 1791, and his deeds appear as nos. WISTON/6486-6614. Further deeds, abstracts of title, etc., relating to an apparent compromise between the two sides in 1794 are also preserved: see nos. WISTON/6618, 6619. The rest of the Steyning deeds (nos. WISTON/6620-6842) relate to other property acquired by the Duke after 1794. He later acquired the Honywood estates also, and all these deeds no doubt passed into the Wiston archives when his successor, the 15th Duke, sold Steyning to the Gorings in 1869.

Date: c1200-1967

The arrangement of my own catalogue calls for some explanation. When the final disposition was begun in 1966 much of the material had already been tentatively arranged with two draft, but incomplete, catalogues; this has meant that the final arrangement, having been inherited by me at a certain level of completion, has not been carried out in the light of a synoptic view of the whole collection, with the result that some sections of the private and estate papers have not been arranged entirely as one might have wished if this extensive preliminary work had not been done. It will be seen that the title-deeds are catalogued first, which is not the normal practice, but this arrangement was unavoidable. In the matter of the records themselves, there is some confusion, inevitably, over the spelling of surnames, particularly Fagg(e) and Gor(e)ing(e). Rather than impose an artificial orthography, which would mean, in some early and important documents, a deliberate mis-transcription, it was thought advisable to spell the surnames as they are written. The variations in spelling are collected in the index under the particular name.


The system of cataloguing among the title-deeds is as follows: deeds earlier than 1600 are calendered, that is to say every place and name (including witnesses), and every point of interest is recorded. Deeds between 1600 and 1700 are also individually listed, but with a little less detail. Deeds later than 1700 are catalogued in a purely narrative form if they are with related deeds of the same property. This may be an unusual departure from standard practice in a catalogue of this size but it represents an extension of recent experiments in cataloguing technique made in the West Sussex Record Office. The value of a narrative entry is hardly disputable. It is easier to understand a sentence than a vertical list which interrupts the eye with a variety of punctuation, gaps and legal formulae. It must also be recognised that even in an original bundle the archivist can be faced with discrepancies between deeds or a hiatus in the continuity of title. Under orthodox cataloguing method this must be explained by [sic], or a footnote, or even, in difficult cases, ignored in the rather self-righteous hope that the student will realise it is the deeds and not the archivist who is at fault. A narrative entry allows a simple statement of illogicalities to be included in the text and it is rarely that a footnote need be used, except in the drawing of a comparison. Furthermore, in a collection of title-deeds of this size it is difficult to see how any other more detailed form of catalogue entry could be justified.


The result of this system is that a few very big bundles, with deeds from say WISTON/1550 to WISTON/1850, will contain all three ways of cataloguing, with the bulk of the entries in narrative. But with the description of the property always at the head of each related group of deeds, and with short rules acting as divisions between properties which are unrelated, there seems no reason why confusion should arise.

Held by: West Sussex Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Shirley family of Wiston, Sussex

Sherley family of Wiston, Sussex

Fagg family of Wiston, Sussex

Fagge family of Wiston, Sussex

Goring family of Wiston, Sussex

Physical description: 30 series
Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited by Mr John Goring

Administrative / biographical background:

At this point it will be constructive to mention the three families who have held Wiston since the late Middle Ages. The estate descended to Sir Ralph Shirley in 1440 on the death of his mother, Beatrix (widow of Sir Hugh Shirley), and continued in his family for two centuries, in which time the estate became incumbered with debts to the Crown, mainly through the escapades of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Shirley, the famous Elizabethan adventurers. This Sir Thomas Shirley, who sold the estate, had a son, also Sir Thomas, who ran into further trouble through his royalist leanings. Wiston was bought by John Fagg(e) of East Hoathly in 1649 for £6870 (see no. WISTON/3658), but the alienation by Sir Thomas Shirley, snr., was contested in the celebrated law suit, Shirley v. Fagg, which established the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords in cases of equity. The estate came to the Gorings in 1743 when Elizabeth Fagg(e), one of the heiresses of Sir Robert Fagg(e), her brother, married Sir Charles Matthew Goring as his second wife.


The Gorings are an old Sussex family. They had become established at Burton by the 15th century and it was the children of Sir William Goring of Burton, in the time of Henry VIII, who established other branches of the family elsewhere in the county. From his eldest son, Henry, descended the Gorings of Highden and eventually Wiston; from the second son, George, descended the Gorings of Ovingdean and of Danny in Hurstpierpoint. There were many distinguished Gorings, notably the two ardent royalists, George Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich, and his eldest son, known as George, Lord Goring, but they are really outside the scope of this catalogue. It is not necessary in this introduction to enlarge on Wiston as a property or the Gorings as a family. This has already been adequately done in Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. V, pp. 1-28, which traces the descent of the property from Ralph, who held it, at the time of Domesday, of William de Braose. A more detailed and less discoursive examination of the descent is in no. WISTON/5972 of the Wiston archives; this exhaustive, informed and reliable description of events, interspersed with pedigrees, notes on the architecture of the house and arrangement and decoration of its rooms, biographical notes on members of the Fagg(e) and Goring families and extracts from documents was compiled by Captain Francis Goring. It is to this type-written volume that a student examining the history of the property should first refer. The work has already gained some archival value in itself as being an eye-witness account of what the house was like in 1943.


It is now fitting to pay tribute to the work of Captain Francis Goring, the uncle of the present owner of Wiston estate. His 'Family Tree of Goring', (see no. WISTON/5969) the fifteen volumes of catalogues of deeds (no. 5968), the typescript schedules of contents of boxes (nos. WISTON/5962-7) and the manuscript catalogues of other papers (no. WISTON/5971) represent advanced scholarship at a time (1933-7) when modern archival techniques were embryonic. The preface to Captain Goring's 'Family Tree . . .' lists 23 original sources consulted before the compilation of the pedigrees.

Link to NRA Record:

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research