William Smith and family: Papers

Scope and Content

The largest part of the collection dates from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, chronicling William Smith's personal and political career, as well as illustrating the lives of his wife Frances and their children. The collection includes letters from Smith's friends, among them Charles James Fox, William Wilberforce and Sir Francis Burdett. The papers also chronicle Smith's time in Paris in 1790, where he witnessed and recorded his reactions to the 14th July celebrations. The collection is most revealing with regard to Smith's domestic arrangements and the upbringing of his children. There are journals of Frances Smith, recording the family's travels throughout the country during the 1780s and 1790s, and her children's correspondence with family and friends. Smith's love of fine art is represented by the auction catalogues and lists of paintings included in the collection, which also contains material relating to the construction of one of the earliest Turkish baths in London, Joseph Lem's Bagnio Building in Newgate Street, and sketches and plans of the long-vanished Parndon Hall in Essex.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Smith (1756-1835), MP, was one of the leading Independent politicians of his day. Prevented from attaining the high offices of state both by his Dissenting Christian convictions - he became a Unitarian - and by his own desire to remain out of the limelight, Smith nevertheless played a leading role in most of the great contemporary parliamentary issues, including the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and the abolition of slavery. Smith married Frances Coape on 12 January 1781; they had 5 sons and 5 daughters.


A considerable part of the collection was damaged by fire before it came to the Library. The papers showed no obvious sign of prior sorting or cataloguing, beyond a brief list of 'Papers at Scalands', Philip Leigh-Smith's residence, and it was considered most appropriate to group the material without reference to any supposed former order. The collection is divided into printed papers, family papers, genealogical research, correspondence, and photocopies.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Victor Bonham-Carter, Katherine Duff and Philip Leigh-Smith, descendants of William Smith, 1962.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue.

Family Names

Corporate Names