Papers of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection primarily concerns Denison's political career and contains correspondence with the leading social and political figures of the day, including William Gladstone. The correspondence touches on most political issues of the day, including successive reform bills, the Irish potato famine, the Crimean War, European political affairs, educational reform and matters of parliamentary procedure. The collection also contains personal diaries from the 1820s as well as detailed diaries of official affairs from 1857. These diaries formed the basis for the posthumous publication, 'Notes from my Journal when Speaker of the House of Commons' (London, 1899).

Denison had deep religious beliefs and, given his political stance, a natural concern with matters relating to Church and State. This interest is reflected in his instigation of a work of biblical criticism known as 'The Speaker's Commentary on the Bible'. The collection includes much correspondence on the subject from editors, publishers and leading clerics.

The collection also reflects Denison's wider non-parliamentary interests, as a member of the landed aristocracy. He was a progressive landlord, interested in agricultural improvements, and he became president of the Royal Agricultural Society. His correspondence with the Duke of Portland, Lord Lonsdale and others touches on issues of drainage, irrigation and the steam plough. He was also an observant traveller; the collection includes notebooks from his 1826 and 1853 European tours.

Papers of a family nature include deeds, such as the marriage settlement of Denison and Lady Charlotte Cavendish-Bentinck. In addition, there are items of ephemera, including among Lady Charlotte's papers a number of puzzles and acrostics.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Evelyn Denison (1800-1873) was the son of John Denison (1759-1820), who as John Wilkinson had inherited the Ossington estate in Nottinghamshire from his uncle Robert Denison in 1785, following the terms of the will of another uncle, William Denison, in 1782. The Denisons were Leeds wool merchants.

John Evelyn Denison was educated at Eton and Oxford. He entered the political arena in 1823 as a moderate Whig. He subsequently occupied elective office over a period of fifty years, as M.P. for the constituencies of Hastings, Newcastle under Lyme, Nottinghamshire, South Nottinghamshire, Malton, and North Nottinghamshire. In 1827-1828 he held government office as one of the council of the Duke of Clarence, Lord High Admiral in Canning's administration.

Denison's most substantial political contribution lay in his role as Speaker of the House of Commons from 1857 to 1872. During this period he remained in touch with Nottinghamshire affairs from his home at Ossington Hall near Newark. He was a staunch supporter of traditional landed interests and the Church of England, and was political ally and friend to numerous politicians and statesmen, including Lord Derby, the Duke of Argyll and Lord Egerton.

Denison married Lady Charlotte Cavendish-Bentinck (third daughter of the 4th Duke of Portland) in 1827, and became Viscount Ossington in 1872.

He was the eldest of a close-knit and distinguished family of nine sons and three daughters. His siblings included Edward Denison (1801-1854), Bishop of Salisbury, William Denison (1804-1871), colonial governor, and George Denison (1805-1896), archdeacon of Taunton.

Denison inherited the Ossington estates in 1820 on the death of his father, John Wilkinson Denison. In addition to the family home at Ossington Hall, and other lands in Nottinghamshire, the family titles included lands in Lincolnshire, County Durham and Yorkshire.

Arrangement

The letters have retained a bundle arrangement originally made when they were in private hands. Each bundle concerns a common theme. Within each bundle the letters are in chronological sequence and unless stated otherwise they are to John Evelyn Denison. The correspondence series is followed by separate series for the diaries/notebooks and the deeds. These are also arranged in chronological sequence. Subsequent accruals are arranged separately, and can be identified from the reference sequence.

Conditions Governing Access

Accessible to all registered readers.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all Finding Aids belongs to the University of Nottingham.

In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus:

Typescript Catalogue, 79 pp

At the National Register of Archives, London:

Typescript Catalogue, 79 pp

On the World Wide Web:

Online catalogue accessible from the Manuscripts and Special Collections website.

Family and Estate Resource relating to the Denison family and their records, published on the Manuscripts and Special Collections website.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email mss-library@nottingham.ac.uk).

Custodial History

The main body of the collection was transferred to the University of Nottingham Department of Manuscripts in 1964. A further group of papers was added in 1979.

The political diary of Denison for 1826-1830, which had strayed from the family collection, was purchased in 1985 and is now kept with the archive (Os3/D).

Related Material

Denison family and estate papers (reference De); Papers of William Denison (De Wm); and Papers of Lee and Pemberton, Solicitors, arising from the estate of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, 1873-1962 (DL)

Letters to Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington (reference Pw N)

Genre/Form