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.