A nationally important archive will remain in the county after fundraisers secured a substantial grant.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund has given £650,000 towards the purchase of the Westmorland of Apethorpe archive.
The archive is one of the most important family collections in Northamptonshire and contains thousands of records dating from the medieval period up to the 20th century.
The archive is privately owned and has been looked after by Northamptonshire County Council’s record office since the 1950s. It was recently offered to the county council to purchase, at a cost of around £760,000, with a deadline of August to secure this sum.
As well as the money from the NHMF, local fundraisers have managed to raise £45,400 by holding a range of events in the parishes most affected by the archive, including a very successful event at Apethorpe Hall at which David Starkey spoke in support of the appeal. The campaign has also received pledges of support from J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, The Friends of The National Libraries, Coral Samuel Trust, John R Murray Trust, and the Finnis Scott Foundation.
Councillor Heather Smith, cabinet member for customer and community services, said: “I am absolutely delighted that enough money has been raised to save this archive and keep it in Northamptonshire where it belongs. Without the funding from the National Memorial Heritage Fund, and all the other fundraising that has been taking place, these records would have ended up on the open market for anyone in the world to buy.
“This is a great achievement and could not have been done without the fantastic work of the local community who have been campaigning tirelessly to raise awareness of the collection and encourage donations. The NHMF were impressed with the level of local support.
“All the supporters clearly recognised the significance of these archives which are vital to our understanding of the history of Northamptonshire, and also of national importance.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported the campaign so far – however, it doesn’t stop here. We need to raise more money in the coming months to ensure that the collection can be properly preserved, conserved and made accessible to people in the county for learning and enjoyment.”
The campaign to secure the archive for the nation has been so successful that there is already some resource to start the detailed conservation work required, as well as starting on improvements to the catalogue.
The archive is based around a Northamptonshire family and its main residence in Apethorpe Hall. Family members were active at court and in national politics, especially in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, so the archive includes gems such as letters signed by Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell. It also contains records relating to the management of the extensive estates owned by the family from which we can learn about the lives of ordinary people in Northamptonshire communities over hundreds of years.
The process to purchase the collection can now start and it is expected that the council will be able to take legal ownership of the collection by early September.