Cholmondeley (Houghton) Papers

Scope and Content

The collection includes working records of the Houghton estate, office papers of the Pell family and collections relating to various generations of the Walpole family, including a large collection of political papers collected by Sir Robert Walpole. The larger part of Sir Robert's papers consists of reports, memoranda and petitions. This material includes abstracts of all papers signed by the lords of the treasury, 1718-1740, Walpole's own memoranda and his notes for speeches. The collection is grouped into four main classes:

Political papers

Army and Navy, Foreign, Domestic (Treasury; parliamentary and political papers; papers relating to conspiracy and public order; pamphlets, essays and papers relating to the press; papers relating to ecclesiastical affairs; miscellaneous), Trading and Colonial, and Miscellanea.


3,400 letters, including some from the leading politicians of the time. Around 550 letters date from 1700-1707, and deal almost exclusively with personal affairs or local Norfolk politics.

Accounts books

Miscellaneous household and estate books from the early sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, with vouchers and bills from the early eighteenth to the nineteenth century.

The remainder of the collection

Private papers of Sir Robert Walpole's predecessors and successors, papers of the Pell family, miscellaneous bound volumes and working papers of the Estate Office.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Walpole family became lords of Houghton manor in 1307, and owned the estate until 1797, when it passed to the Cholmondeley family. The member of the family featured prinicipally in the collection is Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), 1st Earl of Orford. Walpole was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. He entered parliament in 1707, and served as chancellor of the exchequer and first lord of the treasury, 1715-1717. After a spell out of office, he rejoined the government as paymaster of the forces in 1720, and then first lord of the treasury, 1721-1742. The resignations of his rivals, Carteret (1724) and Townshend (1730), allowed Walpole to exercise authority close to that of a modern prime minister. He was made Knight of the Garter in 1726, and in 1742 was created 1st Earl of Orford. He was responsible for building the present house at Houghton.


The papers were sorted and arranged originally by Archdeacon Coxe in the eighteenth century. However, his arrangement was lost when the collection was used subsequently by historians. The modern arrangement was made during the 1950s, after the papers were deposited at Cambridge University Library. The correspondence was separated from the rest of the papers, and arranged in strict chronological order, without subdivision.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

The Marquess of Cholmondeley deposited the bulk of the papers in 1951. The collection was purchased subsequently by the Library.


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

Other Finding Aids

For an introduction to the papers see G.A. Chinnery, A handlist of the Cholmondeley (Houghton) manuscripts: Sir Robert Walpole's archive (Cambridge, 1953), a copy of which is kept in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Further handlists to various parts of the collection are available in the Manuscripts Reading Room, and electronic versions of these are accessible via the 'Access to Archives' website at

Custodial History

The papers were held formerly at Houghton, Norfolk.

Additional Information

Many of the papers are duplicates of material found in the Public Record Office.