The Long Paper Trail (Papers discovered in an attic)
A talk by Sue Paul
Sue’s talk was based around the discovery of a personal archive collectively known as the Bowry Papers in 1913 at Cleve Prior Manor, Evesham. These were the personal papers of Captain Thomas Bowry an East Indies merchant and were found in a leather travelling case marked ‘E.B. 1649’ in an attic room at the Manor. This unusual case in now deposited at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Sue’s interest in the papers was related to her family history connection to the surname Bowry and her study of the manuscripts has enabled her to write Thomas’ biography.
When Thomas died in 1713 the papers were passed to his wife and eventually passed to her cousin Thomas Bushell mid C18th. In 1921 the paper archive was sold to Henry Howard and today the papers are maintained mainly in the British Library and the London Metropolitan Library.
The papers include a wide range of documents including deeds, personal letters, tradesmen’s bills and packing lists. They provide interesting information regarding both individuals and social history in general. Sue discussed, among many items, the trunk packing lists for Thomas and his wife’s trips to visit Spa towns and details of his tailor’s bills.
There are many such personal archives deposited at various Record Offices and if you are fortunate enough to locate a collection relating to your own family history research, they can provide a wealth of information.
Unfortunately, the Bowry Paper collection suffered by being separated, inexpertly handled and edited but they still provide a wonderful historical resource.
I have a little personal insight into this type of discovery. Various papers were discovered in a blocked-up room when the Rowntrees Warehouse in Scarborough was demolished some years ago. These papers were passed to a descendant of the previous owner of the papers who happened to know my father, who is also related to the owner of the papers. I was fortunate to be able to borrow the papers which included a C17th Book of Receipts (Recipes) and a number of personal letters from the same period. I spent many enjoyable hours transcribing the letters and recipes. The letters are mainly exchanges between two of my Quaker ancestors who lived on either side of the River Humber and demonstrate the good education and literacy of Quaker women at that time. The ‘recipes’ include cures for malaria, gall stones and nervous complaints plus instructions for making cowslip wine, syrup of red poppies and gooseberry vinegar.
Notes by Susanne Young