The plan to save a part of our county’s history

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The race is on to secure the future of a family archive that charts 700 years of Northamptonshire history.

The Westmorland of Apethorpe Archive contains thousands of records dating back as far as Medieval times and right up to the 20th century.

The archive is based around the Mildmay and Fane families, who were allied through marriage and whose main residence was Apethorpe Hall in the north of the county.

Sir Walter Mildmay, who was born in 1520, served for Queen Elizabeth I, was Chancellor of the Exchequer and founder of Emmanuel College Cambridge.

The family would have been one of the biggest employers in that part of the county and the archive contains detailed accounts of the running of the estate, from tenants’ rents to a register of servants’ wages.

The archive is privately owned by a trust but has been kept at the Northamptonshire Record Office since 1950 and available for the public to look at.

The archive is now up for sale and the fear is that it will be sold to a private buyer outside of Northamptonshire and no longer open to the public. It could even be split up and sold in smaller parts.

The archive is being offered to the county council first at a cost of around £760,000. But in the current economic climate, the council does not have the funds so a campaign group has been created to try to secure grants and raise money.

Cllr Heather Smith, cabinet member for customer service, which includes the county record office, said: “It could not have happened at a worst time for us because we are under so much pressure financially we cannot put money in ourselves, but we have provided money to employ a specialist fundraiser to deal with the funding applications to national organisations.

“The county council is committed to making sure it stays in the county and is accessible to local people.”

The Westmorland of Apethorpe Archive contains a wealth of information about Apethorpe and the nearby villages of Cotterstock, Glapthorn, Nassington, Tansor, Wadenhoe and Woodnewton, and Oundle.

One of the most interesting items is a hand-painted family tree on parchment which traces the family’s lineage to the Duke of York.

There are also letters signed by Elizabeth I and one from Oliver Cromwell.

Sarah Bridges, archive and heritage services manager at the county record office, said: “The Westmorland Archive is a family estate archive, the nouveau riche of the Tudor times who came to this county and set up their main house at Apethorpe. They played a leading role in Elizabethan court.

“The Mildmay family were new aristocracy and they were very anxious to prove their credibility. They traced their family history back to the Duke of York.

“These are no dull, dusty old documents, some are beautiful to look at.

“The interest for local people is that we have huge tracts of the north-east of the county documented in this archive. It reflects everything from the land they owned to how the household was supplied with food.”

As well as state papers and documents about the lives of the rich and powerful, the archive can be incredibly useful for people doing their own family history research as it contains local deeds, documents and estate accounts.

Sarah said: “We want people to enjoy the archive. We want them to come in and find out who lives in their community and trace the history of their house and their village.

“We hope it can be used in schools and we can get young people interested. There is something in here for everyone, not just academics, whether they want to research when Queen Elizabeth ran the country or to find out who lived in their house from the 17th century and how much they paid in rent.”

Cllr Smith added: “Northamptonshire is really undervalued. In years gone by, nationally it was really important and this archive is part of the evidence of that.”