In the conservation studio of Westminster Archives Centre, our volunteers are embarking on a new preservation management project – cleaning thousands of records for St Margaret’s Parish.
At some point in their history, the records were stored in a smoky environment and the clear scent of wood smoke wafts from the boxes when they are opened. The residue from the smoke and other environmental grime can cause the paper to weaken. To slow down the process of degradation, our volunteers are surface cleaning each piece of correspondence using a smoke sponge and a soft haired brush. In addition to cleaning, the volunteers prepare enclosures for the records that are physically delicate.
While cleaning the records the subjects, descriptions and people included have intrigued and fascinated our team. The correspondence includes requests for funds, complaints about a neighbour’s pigs affecting the price of real estate and requests for young people to be sent north to work in one of the first manufactories. Mr Stephenson was the Parish Warden for approximately 50 years and kept together his personal and business correspondence. It is the interrelated letters from family and friends that have specifically captivated volunteers and staff alike. As we learn more about each family and friends, we are recording the information on an informal family tree.
Mr Stephenson’s brother seems to financially struggle and the correspondence is littered with requests for money as evidenced below:
January 26 1802
Being in want of a Temporary Assistance and having on former occasion applied to some few friends who have always contributed with my request in the most dreadful manner as such in would be engrossing too much on their liberality to apply to them on the present occasion. I have therefore to request the favour of you to accommodate me with the Loan of Thirty pounds which I shall hold myself responsible to return by instalments at a short date which if you shold think convenient to furnish me with my request I should consider myself infinitely obliged…
In addition to his brother, Mr Stephenson’s eldest son Edward is boarding with the Blomfields in Bury St Edmunds. The correspondence contains letters both from and about Edward, including many letters from the grammar school master, Charles Blomfield, at Bury St Edmunds:
January 27, 1802
Re: Son’s arrival
Your son arrived safe and well last night and delivered your letter for which I beg to thank you – the contents fully discharge the X Acct.
We are very happy to hear of Mrs Stephenson’s recovery, who I ? say, is beginning to wonder whether the next will be as large as Mrs. Jane Mildred. Mrs B is quite well and George is now beginning to improve in his health – hitherto he has been rather ailing. Pray make our kindest remembrance to the Abingtons etc. I was in hopes of seeing you but was prevented going to Town this Xmas – my ? friend is going on as I could wish and I think in due time will answer all your wishes about him. Mrs B. unites with me in best compl. To Yourself and Mrs. Stephenson & I am Dear Sir.
Your sincere friend and Servant
A few months later not all is well with the families as Charles Blomfield communicates about an illness that is affecting many around him:
April 16, 1802
My dear Sir,
I ought some time back to have acknowledged the rect. Of your valuable present of paper etc. but the prupose of ? and anxiety of mind must be my apology and I know your kindness too well to doubt your admitting it. When I say “anxiety of mind” I mean the hourly expectation of some of my family being taken with the fever which has (I may say) raged here for months past. Indeed, till this time, the town has never been free from it since last August – our fears are now nearly subsided as the Medical Gentleman assure me the danger is over. My ? folks, thank God, have all escaped but the caution we have used has been extreme.
Our friend lost his 3 eldest children in a fortnight. Your Son has enjoyed a perfect state of health and continues to have the good report of his Masters, he desires Duty etc.
Mrs. B will offer my best regards to Mrs. Stephenson and yourself and I am dear Sir your much obliged friend and Serv.
If you have enjoyed the three snippets of the lives of the Stephensons and Blomfields, we will be posting more of their correspondence on the Westminster Arhcives Facebook page in the coming weeks and months.