John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham Papers

Scope and Content

Most of the papers are those of John George Lambton, 1792-1840. Lambton was a central figure in the drafting of the Reform Bill of 1832, and also played a crucial role in campaigning publicly for reform and working towards the passage of theBill through the reluctant House of Lords. The most important section of the papers relate to this central part of his life, and is substantial, including many hundreds of letters, drafts, dispatches and other papers. Among these, the most valuableindividual items are the original documents drafted by the ‘Commission of Four’, including an original draft ‘Report of the state of the Representation’, signed by Lambton, Sir James Graham, Lord John Russell and Lord Duncannon. Also of particularnote is the voluminous correspondence with 2nd Earl Grey (prime minister and also Lambton’s father in law). Other correspondents include Lord Palmerston, Lord Brougham, Lord John Russell, Lord Althorp, Lord Melbourne, Lord Duncannon, Sir JamesGraham, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Lambton’s secretary Edward Ellice. Also of note is Joseph Parkes, a key player in reformist circles, especially since both sides of the correspondence are contained within the papers. There are also letters fromQueen Victoria, Sir John Conroy; and papers relating to the Peterloo Massacre and the funeral of Queen Caroline.

The papers also contain material on international affairs and diplomacy, particularly relating to Lambton’s terms as Ambassador to Russia. The papers include copies and drafts of despatches and letter books, as well as extensive correspondencewith Lord Palmerston. Among other Russian papers are two letters from Tsar Nicholas I and several letters from other Russian politicians and military figures including Count Orloff, Prince Volkonsky and Count Benkendorff. Also of note are a seriesof reports from British agents in the Russian provinces, providing detailed descriptions of Russian ports, fortifications and shipping. There are also papers relating to, and correspondence with, Leopold, later King of the Belgians, with whomLambton had a close connection. There are some papers relating to Lambton's term as Governor in Chief of Canada, although these are not extensive, as the majority of them were donated by the 3rd Earl Durham to the Public Archives of Canada. Thereare, however, a number of letters from Lord Glenelg to Lambton, and two letterbooks containing copies of Lambton’s despatches to Glenelg and others. There is some material relating to Lambton’s involvement in the British settlement of New Zealand,but the majority of such papers were presented by the 5th Earl Durham to the Government of New Zealand in 1940. Finally, there are also papers relating to Lambton’s interests in literature, art and science, including letters from Humphrey Davy andHarriet Martineau. The papers also contain material relating to key developments in the North East of England, such as the development of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and the establishment of Durham University.

Further papers relate to other members of the Lambton family, including: 

  • General John Lambton MP, 1710-1974
  • William Henry Lambton MP, 1764-1797
  • Harriet (daughter of George James Cholmondley), John George Lambton’s first wife
  • Louisa, Countess of Durham (daughter of 2nd Earl Grey), Lambton’s second wife
  • Frances, Lambton’s eldest daughter

Correspondence between Lambton and his second wife, Louisa, as well as a number of her letters and commonplace books, and other family and estate papers provide information on the family’s role in the county and region in the 18th and early-19thcenturies. Papers relating to earlier generations of the Lambton family also relate to patronage of the arts, Whig politics, family and social life.

Administrative / Biographical History

John George Lambton (1792-1840) (‘Radical Jack’) was elected MP for County Durham in 1813, created Baron Durham in 1828 and Earl of Durham in 1833. He was Lord Privy Seal 1830-1833 in the government of 2nd Earl Grey (his father-in-law) and wasone of the Commission of Four responsible for the drafting of the Great Reform Bill of 1832. He was appointed Ambassador to St Petersburg in 1835 and undertook a brief, but significant posting as Governor-in-Chief of Canada, 1837-1838. Lambtonmarried twice, firstly in 1812 to Harriet, the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Cholmondeley. They had three daughters - Frances, Georgina and Harriet - who all predeceased him. His second marriage was in 1816 to Lady Louisa Grey, daughter ofCharles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. They had five children: Charles William ‘the Red Boy’ (who died in 1831), Mary Louisa, Emily, George Frederick D'Arcy later 2nd Earl of Durham, and Alice. Lambton died at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in July 1840, aged 48.He was succeeded by his only surviving son George. The Countess of Durham survived her husband by a year and died in 1841.

There are also papers from previous generations of the Lambton family, including:

General John Lambton, 1710-1794, Officer in the Coldstream Guards, 1732-1794 and MP for Durham 1762 - 1787;

William Henry Lambton, 1764-1797, MP for Durham 1787 - 1797


The papers of 1st Earl Durham, together with other Lambton family and estate papers have been catalogued and sorted within various arrangements since the 1st Earl’s death. The sorting of the first Earl’s papers for biographical purposes wasbegun by Stuart Reid, for his biography published in 1906. Some of his labels remained on many bundles when further work was carried out by Chester W New for his biography, published in 1929.

The Historic Manuscripts Commission approached the Lambton Estate Office firstly in 1952 and undertook the listing and some sorting of the estate and family archives 1964-1966. HMC reports describe the contents of a suitcase assembled byProfessor New and lent to him by 3rd Earl Durham. The HMC report also noted that “Several other historians have worked on this collection. The letters from Henry Morton, Lord Durham’s agent, have been put together perhaps by David Spring, who hasmade a study of Morton. …Lord Durham’s extensive correspondence with Joseph Parkes has also been parcelled up separately. Several other groups have been isolated by subject or correspondent, in envelopes titled in grey ball-point ink.”

The HMC catalogue (NRA 11184) lists the family and estate archive contained in 16 deed boxes, noting that “apart from a few existing bundles it was found most convenient (and most nearly approximated the original order) to group the paper undergeneral headings in broad chronological and subject classes. New bundles under similar headings were made up from the great mass of unsorted documents in each box.” The HMC catalogue quotes some pre-existing bundle titles and labels, some presumablyby Stuart Reid, some earlier in date.

Lord Lambton (1922-2006) took an active interest in the family and estate archive and under his stewardship the papers were removed from the deed boxes and filed in a series of 100 smaller red boxes. A more detailed and accurate listing wasundertaken between 1972 and 1976 by Hester Borron, Lord Lambton’s secretary and archivist. Material now held at Durham University comprises 78 of these red boxes, with 43 bound volumes and some additional material. Broadly speaking, this representsitems 72-127 and 184-698, of the numbered sequence, with some exceptions and some additional items.

Access Information

The collection has not yet been sorted or catalogued. For this reason, it is not normally possible to consult the collection.

Acquisition Information

Purchased in July 2019, with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Friends of National Libraries, and the Friends of Palace Green Library, Acc No Misc. 2019/20:1.

Other Finding Aids

Draft online catalogue

1. HMC report and list of Lambton family and estate papers, 1966 (NRA 11184) available at The National Archives and copy held by Durham University at Palace Green Library

2. The Lambton Archives, a catalogue of the historical and family papers, edited by Hester Borron, 1972-1976. This lists the material in a single numbered sequence from 1 to 1002, grouped under headings and subheadings. This list does not reflectthe physical arrangement of the material. Broadly speaking, material now held at Durham University represents items 72-127 and 184-698, of the numbered sequence, with some exceptions and some additional items. A copy of the list is held by DurhamUniversity at Palace Green Library.

3. Appendix 2, The Archive of John George Lambton, First Earl of Durham by Hester Borron, nd, (Box list of red boxes and other material) copy held by Durham University at Palace Green Library See also a list in the Bibliography of Lord Durham byChester W New, 1929

Separated Material

Canada public archives

New Zealand government archives

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyrightowners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

The contents of the collection have not yet been fully appraised.

Related Material

The other part of correspondence with the 2nd Earl Grey should be in the Earl Grey papers


Life and Letters of the first Earl of Durham, 1792-1840, Stuart J. Reid, (Stuart Johnson), 1848-1927 (London : Longmans & Co, 1906) Lord Durham. A biography of John George Lambton, First Earl of Durham, [with a portrait and a bibliography] Chester William New (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1929) Radical Jack. The life of John George Lambton, first Earl of Durham, etc., [with plates, including portraits] Leonard Cooper (London : Cresset Press, 1959)