Egerton of Tatton Muniments

Reference and contact details: GB 0133 EGT
Title: Egerton of Tatton Muniments
Dates of creation: 1391-1886
Held at: The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester
Extent: 8 items
Name of Creator: Egerton family of Tatton
Level of Description: fonds
Language of Material: eng lat


Administrative/Biographical History

Situated in the parish of Rostherne, immediately to the north of Knutsford in Cheshire, Tatton Park was in the possession of the Egerton family from the 16th century until the death of Maurice Egerton, the 4th and last Baron Egerton of Tatton, in 1958.

The earliest lords who took the manor of Tatton after the Conquest were succeeded in the 12th century by a family who assumed the name Tatton; the estate subsequently passed to the Massy family, then to the Breretons. In 1572, Richard Brereton of Tatton married Dorothy, the daughter of Sir Richard Egerton of Ridley in Cheshire; they had no children and Richard Brereton settled all his estates, including Tatton, on Thomas Egerton (c.1540-1617), his illegitimate son by Alice Sparke of Bickerton in the same county. Despite his illegitimacy, Thomas Egerton pursued a remarkable career and he rose to a position of prominence, earning the confidence and respect of Queen Elizabeth and later James I. After graduating from Brasenose College, Oxford, he undertook legal training at Lincoln's Inn. In 1581 he was appointed Solicitor General by the Queen, and was promoted to Attorney General in the following year. He was knighted at the end of 1593, and in 1584 and 1586 he sat as an MP for Cheshire; he was subsequently made Master of the Rolls (1594) and Lord Keeper (1596). James I appointed him Lord Chancellor in 1603, a post which he held until his death in 1617. Also in 1603 he was created Baron Ellesmere and in 1616 Viscount Brackley was added to his list of titles. Although Tatton was one of his estates, he never lived there, preferring to lease the Old Hall to a poor relative. The children from his first marriage, to Elizabeth Ravenscroft (d. 1588), founded the Egerton dynasty.

Thomas Egerton's son and heir, John (1579-1649), was created Earl of Bridgewater in 1617, an honour which had been promised by James I to Thomas before his death. John Egerton and his heir, another John (1623-1685), had their family seat at Ashridge in Hertfordshire, and rarely visited Tatton. John's eldest son, John Egerton (1646-1701), 3rd Earl of Bridgewater, was the ancestor of the Earls and Dukes of Bridgewater, thereby continuing the senior line of the family; he did not, however, inherit the Tatton estate which was instead left to John's third son, Thomas Egerton (1651-1685), in c.1677.

Thomas Egerton's heir, John (1679-1724), was probably the first Egerton to live full-time at Tatton Park. During the earlier period, the Old Hall had formed the main dwelling place at Tatton. This situation appears to have changed under John's ownership, however: evidence suggests that he had a new house built for himself on the site of the present mansion, with building work being carried out around 1715-16. John married Elizabeth Barbour (d. 1743), who came from a landed family based at Prees in Shropshire; after John's death in 1724, she was left alone to manage the Egerton estates and bring up their 5 children - two girls, Hester and Elizabeth, and three boys, John, Samuel and Thomas. She consequently turned for advice and assistance, both financial and otherwise, to her brother, Samuel Hill of Shenstone in Staffordshire (1691-1758). Samuel had changed his surname from Barbour to Hill in honour of his uncle and guardian, Richard Hill of Hawkstone in Shropshire (1655-1727), who was an eminent diplomat and who built up a great inheritance for his family by his systematic purchase of estates; it was from Richard Hill that Samuel inherited Shenstone in 1727.

Samuel Hill effectively acted in loco parentis to the Egerton family, directing the boys' education and using his wealth and influence in an effort to help them found successful careers: the younger sons Samuel and Thomas were sent to the Continent, as apprentices to merchants in Italy and the Netherlands respectively. The eldest son, John (1710-1738), attended Magdalene College, Cambridge from 1728 to 1730; he did not graduate, and after leaving university and coming of age he took possession of Tatton in 1731. For four years John struggled financially, finding that his estates were not yielding the income he needed. In 1735 he married Christian Ward (d. 1777) of Capesthorne in Cheshire - a marriage which was apparently financially advantageous. He only lived to enjoy his newly acquired prosperity for three years, however, dying prematurely in 1738.

Tatton and the other Egerton estates then passed to the second son, Samuel (1711-1780). He was master of Tatton for 42 years, and despite financial difficulties in the first years he established himself as one of the leading figures in the county and built up a substantial inheritance for his successors, including investments and property in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. In 1750 Samuel married Beatrix Copley of Elmley in Yorkshire (d. 1755); they were to have one daughter, Beatrix (1754-1779), whom Samuel was left to bring up alone. In 1758 Samuel Hill died, and Samuel Egerton inherited a large share of his wealth, along with much of his impressive library and art collection. Hill's money enabled Samuel to undertake extensive alterations to the house and gardens at Tatton: he employed the architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard to add the Rococo dining room in 1760, and the same architect was also responsible for the Egerton Chapel in Rostherne Church which was completed in 1763.

Samuel had no surviving children at the time of his death in 1780 and his estates passed to his sister, Hester, who survived him by only 2 months. Her marriage to William Tatton of Wythenshawe (1703-1776) had taken place in 1747, but on inheriting Tatton she resumed her maiden name. After her death, the estate passed to her son, William Tatton (1749-1806), who, in accordance with the directions set out in Samuel Egerton's will, adopted the name of Egerton on taking up his inheritance.

Under William, extensive alterations took place at Tatton. He continued to employ the architect Samuel Wyatt, who had first worked under Samuel Egerton, and from 1780 the mansion was rebuilt in stages after the neo-classical style, resulting in the house which survives today. William was married four times, but it was his second wife, Mary Bootle of Lathom (d. 1784), who bore the heir to Tatton, Wilbraham Egerton (1781-1856).

Wilbraham inherited Tatton on his father's death in 1806, and in the same year married his first cousin, Elizabeth Sykes of Sledmere in Yorkshire, by whom he had six sons. Their eldest son, William Tatton Egerton (1806-1883), inherited the estate and was subsequently raised to the peerage, being created Baron Egerton of Tatton in 1859; this title was passed on to his descendants until the death of the last Baron in 1958.

Scope and Content

The Egerton of Tatton archive primarily consists of correspondence (both personal and business-related) and financial records, including several large series of receipts. In addition, there are manorial records, deeds of title and other records relating to property ownership. The bulk of the material dates from the 18th century, and was largely generated during the long period when Samuel Egerton held the Tatton estates. However, there are also papers from the Barbour family and a fair number of papers belonging to Samuel Hill. These must have been added to the Egerton archives either following the marriage of John Egerton to Elizabeth Barbour or after the death of Samuel Hill. Also included are papers of the Pickering family of Thelwall, a seat situated in the Bucklow Hundred of Cheshire, where Tatton is also located; these papers primarily relate to the family's property and financial affairs and disputes during the 18th century. In addition to the original archive, the research notes of Dr W.A. Chaloner are also included in the collection. These were produced in research of an article about the Egertons published in 1950; this essay was based on Egerton papers made available to Dr Chaloner by the last Baron, Maurice Egerton, while the archive remained at Tatton Park. The notes presumably came to the library with the collection when it was given to the John Rylands Library in 1963.

In February 1998 a further quantity of Egerton papers was deposited at the Library. This material covers three generations of the Egerton family and consists of 35 letters, primarily relating to property interests and financial affairs, received by Samuel, William and Wilbraham Egerton.

Overall, the archive provides ample scope for research in a variety of areas. The papers afford a valuable insight into the life of the aristocracy and gentry at a time when the landed classes were at the height of their power. The correspondence and financial records illustrate the domestic, social and public life of a typical landed family, covering such aspects as: education; family relationships; continental travel; social recreations, such as the London season, trips to the theatre, literature and art; consumption of goods, purchased both locally and nationally; local and national politics; the efforts of individuals to enlarge and consolidate their estates; financial investments, not only in land but also in business, including stocks and shares and the construction of canals [Francis Egerton, the 'Canal Duke' was born into the senior line of the Egerton family]; the settlement of property within the family, including disputes over marriage settlements and wills; and the frequency with which people were prepared to have recourse to the law in order to settle disputes.

Estate management and life on a large estate are also well illustrated by the correspondence, financial and manorial records, and by deeds of title and related property records. Information can be found on, for example: household expenses; alterations and improvements made to the house; the relationship between landlord and tenant; changes in the form of land tenure; the work of the steward on an estate; seasonal work patterns and rates of pay for labourers; charitable work performed by landlords for the benefit of tenants, such as poor relief and the provision of basic education for children; agriculture; animal husbandry; horticulture and the development of the gardens and arboretum.

The collection may also prove valuable to family historians, who will find a number of rentals, court papers, title deeds, and accounts which list individual tenants by name and provide varying degrees of information about them. These mainly relate to townships within the Bucklow Hundred and the Egerton estates in Cheshire and Lancashire, but some documents also survive from Samuel Hill's estates in various other counties.

Individual items of note include: 2 letters from the statesman Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (EGT/2/6/1/9); a receipt for 6 prints of A Harlot's Progress signed by William Hogarth (EGT/2/5/130); 2 letters from the landscape gardener, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (EGT/3/7/6/2/44); and a letter from Samuel Wyatt, the architect who carried out improvements to Tatton Park in the late 18th century (EGT/3/8/2/39).

System of Arrangement

A brief list of the main collection was compiled shortly after the archive was deposited at the library in the 1960s. The present catalogue has been produced to replace this list and to provide a more detailed guide to the collection. It is unclear how far the first list was based on the original order of the records and how far the arrangement was imposed by the cataloguer. Consequently, certain changes have been made to the arrangement of the material in the new catalogue and new reference numbers assigned. The groupings of records from the old list have been broadly retained, although records which on examination appeared to be more appropriately housed in another series have been moved. The archivist has attempted to adhere to the principles of provenance and original order as far as possible. The main archive has therefore been divided into 5 subgroups, 4 of which are based on the family or individual who originally produced or was in possession of the documents. Where appropriate, within the subgroups based on family, records have been assigned to the particular individual who created or owned them. Where there is no definite evidence as to whom the record belonged, as in letters with no named recipient or bills which do not name the debtor, the record has been placed according to internal evidence or to the surrounding documents. Within each subgroup or sub-subgroup, records have been arranged into series according to type, or into composite series which contain records relating to a particular function or sphere of life of an individual. The fifth subgroup contains miscellaneous material of unclear provenance and Dr Chaloner's research notes. The sixth subgroup was added in 1998 to accommodate the deposit of Egerton papers made in February of that year. Being a separate accession and having a different provenance from the rest of the material, these letters have not been integrated into the subgroup containing Egerton family papers. All correspondence in the collection has been placed in chronological order within its respective series. This arrangement seems more faithful to the principle of original order than the former alphabetical arrangement, and there is some evidence that at least 2 of the individuals represented in the collection kept their letters in this way (see EGT/5/1/19). All former references from the original list have been provided throughout to facilitate searching.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Formerly held at Tatton Park, the bulk of the collection was presented to the John Rylands Library as a gift in 1963 by the executors of the last Lord Egerton. In 1998 the Library received a further bundle of Egerton papers. This series of letters was purchased in 1997 by the National Trust from J.F. Buckland of Crowborough, East Sussex, and deposited at the Library on 20 February 1998.

Access Conditions

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Further Information

Finding Aids

Detailed item-level catalogue

Related Units of Description

Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies holds various records of the Egerton family, dating from the 13th to the 20th centuries, including: manorial records and deeds relating to the Egerton estates in Cheshire; estate, personal and housekeeping accounts; inventories and papers; a recipe book; estate maps and plans; plans of Tatton Hall; and travel journals. In 1990 the record office acquired a further quantity of Egerton manuscripts dating from the 18th century, including accounts and family correspondence - much of it relating to the period spent by Samuel and Thomas Egerton on the Continent.

The Local Studies section of Manchester Central Library holds records of local land transactions and a series of maps relating to properties owned by the Egertons.

Tatton Park itself houses the architectural drawings for the house, including work by Samuel, Lewis and Jeffrey Wyatt, and a number of sheets attributed to Thomas Farnolls Pritchard.

Publication Note

Chaloner, W.H., 'The Egertons in Italy and the Netherlands, 1729- 1734. With two unpublished letters from Joseph Smith, sometime H.M. Consul at Venice', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 32, No. 2 (March 1950), 157-170; an article using Egerton manuscripts to explore the 18th-century practice of apprenticing younger sons of the landed gentry to merchants on the Continent. The author draws on papers and correspondence pertaining to Samuel and Thomas Egerton. This material was made available to him by the last Lord Egerton before his death, and was subsequently given to Cheshire County Record Office by his executors. The Tatton collection at the John Rylands University Library contains a bundle of notes made by Dr. Chaloner in the process of writing this article, which includes transcripts of letters held at Cheshire Record Office. Davies, C. Stella, The agricultural history of Cheshire 1750-1850 (Manchester: Chetham Society, 1960). Some of the documents in the collection, including leases, rent rolls and accounts, were used as source material in this book.