Archives mission accomplished
This project was a rare, possibly unique example of a long-term collaboration between Shropshire Archives and a National Trust property, funded by the property.
The vast bulk of Attingham’s papers were already at Shropshire Archives, but a large quantity of Lady Berwick’s personal papers and other estate documents remained at the property after her death in 1972. She had kept them in various pieces of furniture, trunks and boxes. Various valiant inroads had been made into sorting and listing them, but none had been completed, nor were they computerised.
This monumental task has now been achieved, after 7 years of continuous, painstaking work! In total, 225 archive boxes of letters and documents have been sorted, numbered and catalogued onto the archival database. (This may not sound many, but each box could contain several hundred individual items).
Letters and more letters
By far the largest section was the 62 boxes containing c.30,000 letters relating to Teresa Hulton, who became Lady Berwick when she married 8th Lord Berwick in 1919 in Venice. Having been brought up in Italy (her mother was half-Italian), much of her family correspondence is in Italian and, with her English father’s artistic background and her serving as a Red Cross nurse in the First World War, her acquaintances were cosmopolitan and, in most cases life-long.
The scope of correspondents is unusual, being Europe-wide. She knew just about everybody who was anybody. There is, for example, fascinating insight into Czechoslovakia via her friend Maria Dobržesnkӯ and people’s reactions to Mussolini. Teresa Hulton, or Lady Berwick, was a prolific letter writer, her first being written at the age of 5 and her last in 1972 when she died at the age of 82. The quantity is staggering: in an age when letter-writing was the only form of communication, she seems to have kept every letter she ever received since she was a child.
Cataloguing – and how useful this has been
The key person, who has gone every step of the way, is Ivar Romo, Shropshire Archives’ archive cataloguer. Ivar has become intimately acquainted with the Berwick and Hulton families. He has produced 75 ‘pedigrees’ of people related to Attingham and is carrying out a complete transcript of Lady Berwick’s version of the courtship correspondence between her and Lord Berwick. Ivar was supported by a wonderful team of volunteers, particularly Pam Metcalfe, Jayne Owen and Jan Williams.
Over the life span of the project, evidence, quotations and snippets have been highlighted and celebrated in articles, exhibitions and guided tours of Attingham. For example, the National Trust used quotes from archive letters alongside copies of historic photographs and objects from the collection to tell the story of an object or event. Copies of archive documents helped to evoke the time period of the topic. Quotes from letters gave a more personal touch to key national events. Ivar was able to share information on the personality of Lady Berwick which gave a more personal and emotional touch to aspects of the exhibitions.
Material from the archive also fed into the planning and display of the Attingham Christmas event. Rather than offering a generic 1920s experience, specific information on 1920s Attingham gave authenticity to the visit.
Although the project has formally finished, the enthusiastic volunteers continue to work on the letters and add further detail.
This post is abridged from a report written for the National Trust by Sarah Kay (Curator) and Saraid Jones (Research and Interpretation Officer) January 2017
For more about Attingham and their ongoing projects nand events visit Attingham Park Website