Sneyd Family Papers

Scope and Content

The papers comprise muniments of title, manorial, estate, legal and business records, a quantity of music and watercolour and pencil sketches. However, it is the correspondence which is perhaps of greatest significance. The earliest letter written in about the second quarter of the 16th century by one 'Harry Delves' (probably Sir Henry Delves of Doddington) to Richard Sneyd (d. 1537) concerns buying land at Keele. There are series of letters of Walter Sneyd (1752-1829) and his wife Louisa (1764-1834) and of their children Ralph (1793-1870), Walter (1809-1888), Harriet (1796-1867), Elizabeth (1806-1869), Charlotte Augusta (1800-1882) and Frances (1798-1884). The very existence of these large groups of letters from the nineteenth century tells us something about the writers, their relationships with each other and about the social functions of a correspondence. Of particular importance in this context is the correspondence between Ralph Sneyd (1793-1870) and his friend Henry William Vincent (1796-1865) and that between Robert Curzon (1810-1873) and the Rev. Walter Sneyd (1809-1888).

A further miscellaneous group of letters includes a series concerned with Irish affairs. This comprises 40 letters, 1784-1801 from John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare to William Eden, 1st Lord Auckland and 72 letters,1784-1802 to William Eden from Irish correspondents such as John Beresford, Edward Cooke, John Forster and John Lees and from British politicians such as Pitt and Lord Hobart. A calendar of this material was prepared by the Northern Ireland Record Office and is available at Keele.

A large number of papers in the archive relate to the administration of the Sneyd estates, including their local mining interests, although unfortunately the archive includes few estate maps. The manorial content of the Sneyd archive dates from the early fourteenth century and includes a sequence of Keele court rolls and Tunstall court rolls.

The Sneyd accumulation is enhanced by over 1,000 watercolours and pencil sketches executed by the family and others, depicting their friends, homes and travels. The most talented artists in the family were undoubtedly Walter Sneyd (1809-1888) and his sister Charlotte Augusta. Walter's comic illustrated Portraits of the Spruggins Family, a collaborative effort with the Countess Morley, was published privately in 1829 - Walter's own copy is in the archive. In 1984 a descendent of the Sneyd family donated to the library a copy of a previously unknown work by Walter, an illustrated collection of limericks dedicated without permission to Edward Lear and entitled Bosh ,1876. Charlotte Augusta Sneyd was a proficient watercolourist, particularly skilled at catching a likeness and depicting interiors. Her finest piece surviving at Keele is a panorama of Almack's assembly rooms in St. James's London. This was executed in 1819-20 and depicts 154 identified figures on a rolled frieze measuring 80 inches in length and 10 inches in width, with an accompanying key in Charlotte's hand. She and her friends were also responsible for a volume entitled The Winds , 1824, a collection of amusing drawings on various aspects of the title. Both the manuscript and the printed version are held at Keele.

In 1977 the Sneyd papers were supplemented by the purchase of miscellaneous family papers and approximately 150 diaries of the Sneyds of Ashcombe, near Leek, in particular William Sneyd (1767-1851), Penelope Sneyd (ne Holley) (d.1849), Revd. John Sneyd (1798-1873) and Susanna Ingleby (ne Sneyd) (d.1891).

Reference: Keele University, Special Collections and Archives Sneyd Family Papers (

Administrative / Biographical History

The Sneyds were a wealthy family of landowners, successful business men and lawyers, who played a major part in national and local affairs of Staffordshire. The 1894 edition of Burke's Landed Gentry traces the family back over a thousand years to one Aelfwyn, a grand-daughter of Alfred the Great. By the early 15th century the Sneyds were fairly substantial landowners, with Bradwell as their chief seat. Later in the 15th century they figure amongst the sheriffs, mayors and MPs for the city of Chester. During the 16th century the family rose to its highest point as political figures on the national scene. The family also became heavily involved in the drapery trade.

In 1543 William Sneyd purchased the Keele estate for 334 pounds, together with thousands of acres in Audley, Heleigh, Chesterton, Nortin-in-the-Moors, Tunstall, Chatterley, Burslem, Sneyd, Talke, Chell and Redstreet. Other members of the family stayed in Cheshire. Richard (d.1537) and William (d.1571) were the chief architects of the house of Sneyd: they amassed a fortune which was unequalled by succeeding generations. During the English Civil War, the Sneyds sided with the Royalists. Keele Hall was destroyed by the Parliamentarians and Ralph Sneyd who had campaigned hard for the Royalist cause was ordered to pay a large fine. Ralph died leaving the estate in debt, which his brother William slowly rebuilt.

Walter Sneyd (1752-1829) marked the rise of the family into the highest social circles. He went to Brasenose College, and held a commission in the Staffordshire Regiment of Militia. From 1784-1790 he was Member of Parliament for Castle Rising. The estate passed to his son Ralph (1793-1870) and it was Ralph who rebuilt the hall as it is today, to the design of Antony Salvin at a cost of about 80,000 pounds.

On Ralph's death, the estate passed to the Reverend Walter Sneyd, a bibliophile and antiquarian. The Sneyd family line ended with Ralph Sneyd (1863-1949), Walter's son. Ralph was a keen sportsman and enjoyed an expensive social life. He took little interest in the Sneyd estate, and was an absentee landlord, since, having been appointed a Colonel of the Staffordshire Yeomanry in the First World War, he now lived in the south of England. A series of sales at Southeby's and Christie's in the 1920s gradually depleted his personal possessions and he died childless in 1949. Sever death duties were doubled a year later when the successor Major Howard died. Over three quarters of the family fortune went to the Exchequer. Parts of the estate had long since been sold; now nearly all of the estate was broken up.

Reference: J. M. Kolbert The Sneyds Squires of Keele (University of Keele, 1976).


The collection is arranged by the themes described above.

Access Information

There are no restrictions on access to these papers. Viewing is by prior appointment.

Acquisition Information

The University of Keele purchased the collection in 1957. A further purchase was made in 1977 and a donation in 1984.


English Latin

Other Finding Aids

The collection is listed to file and item level in paper format. Finding aids may be consulted in Special Collections and Archives at Keele University, and at the National Register of Archives in London.

An authority record exists for the Sneyd family of Keele (GB 152 AAR1992).

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this archive, apart from the requirements of copyright law.


Further deposits are expected.

Related Material

Special Collections and Archives, Keele University also holds other collections relating to mining. These include the papers of the Goldendale Iron Company Ltd, pig iron manufacturers, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent (GB 172 GD), the Warrillow Collection (GB 172 WARR) and the William Jack Collection (GB 172 WJ). Special Collections and Archives also holds the papers of Knight and Sons (GB 172 KS), who were solicitors to the Sneyd family.


Works using this collection:

Reference: Inder, P. and Aldis, M., John Sneyd's Diary 1815-1871. Thirty Pieces of Silver (Churnet Valle Books, 1998).

Reference: Burgen, S.A., A Study of Ancient Staffordshire Gentry Family. The Family of Ralph Sneyd Esq (1723-1793) of Keele, Staffodshire, with a Survey of its Prehistory (University of Keele MA thesis, 1990).

Reference: Kolbert, J.M., Keele Hall, a Victorian Country House (University of Keele, 1986).

Reference: Harrison, C. (ed), Essays on the History of Keele (University of Keele, 1986).

Reference: Phillips, A.D.M, 'The Staffordshire reports of Andrew Thompson to the Inclosure Commissioners, 1858-68, Landlord Investment in Staffordshire Agriculture in the mid-nineteenth century ', in Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Fourth series. volume17, Staffordshire Record Society , 1996).

Additional Information

English Latin