The archives from Dunham Massey Hall and the Stamford Estate Office in Altrincham span almost seven hundred years, from 1291, the date of the earliest document, until the death of the 10th Earl of Stamford in 1976. In fact the vast majority of items post-date the inheritance of Dunham Massey by the Grey family in the mid-eighteenth century.
The archive encompasses the full range of material typically found in large family and estate archives: title deeds and settlements; manorial court records; household accounts, inventories and other records; financial and legal papers; the papers of the owners of Dunham Massey and other individuals, both private and official; papers relating to local charities, schools and organizations; and estate papers including rentals and surveys, leases, draft conveyances, account books, correspondence and plans. A list of the fourteen subfonds into which the archive has been arranged is given below.
The archive includes an excellent collection of late-medieval and modern manorial records for the several courts held by the lords of Dunham Massey. While there are few early deeds, there are numerous evidences of title, settlements and marriage agreements from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
Among the personal papers of the Booth family are an account roll of Sir Robert Booth as sheriff of Cheshire, c.1445-50; a detailed compendium of family and estate accounts of Sir George Booth, 1648-51/2; personal correspondence and accounts of George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, 1693/4-1758; and papers of his daughter Mary, Countess of Stamford, relating to the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, 1758-67.
The personal papers of the 5th and 6th Earls of Stamford contain material relating to the lord lieutenancy of Cheshire, the magistracy and local militia, and the response of the county authorities and elite to the twin threats of a French invasion and social unrest during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There is a quantity of printed matter relating to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Among the papers of the 6th Earl of Stamford are colourful letters written by his son while on the Grand Tour in the 1820s. There are also manuscripts of, and papers pertaining to, the naturalist Gilbert White of Selborne (1720-1793) and other members of the White family; papers of the Lumsden family concerning service in the East India Company and colonial life and administration before and during the Indian Mutiny; and papers of the Reverend William Grey, a missionary in Newfoundland, Canada, 1849-53.
The household economy and the relationship between Dunham Massey Hall and its supporting estate during the eighteenth century are revealed in comprehensive household account books. Arguably the most notable feature of the archive, however, is the vast quantity of nineteenth and twentieth century estate papers that were housed at the Altrincham Estate Office. These are remarkable in their completeness for very few, if any, records appear to have been lost or destroyed in the last hundred years. They provide detailed evidence of management policy and processes, and of the physical, financial and legal development of the estate at a time of great economic and social change. They constitute one of the most comprehensive estate collections in Cheshire during this period.
There are, however, notable gaps in the archive. There is little medieval material, other than title deeds and a handful of manorial accounts, surveys and court rolls. No doubt the chequered history of the barony in the hundred years prior to its inheritance by Robert Booth can account for such losses. More surprising perhaps is the paucity of material relating to the Booth family, a mere sixteen boxes, with almost no records relating to their political activities either locally or nationally. Particular reasons for the poor survival rate may be surmised, over and above the customary hazards to archives from fire, water, vermin, poor storage conditions and accidental loss. The almost total absence of material bearing on the Booth family's activities during the civil war period may be the result of the expedient destruction at that time of all potentially incriminating documentary evidence. Other material may have been discarded when the Booth line came to an end and Dunham Massey passed to the Grey family with the death of Mary Countess of Stamford in 1772. While the preponderance of papers from the period after 1700 suggests that major losses had occurred before the eighteenth century, very little of what may be termed private and family correspondence has survived even for the 2nd Earl of Warrington and his daughter; unless such material was lost during the lifetimes of George Booth and Mary Booth (by no means inconceivable, but perhaps unlikely given their characters), the papers must have disappeared during the Grey era. One may conjecture that the Grey family did not feel any great attachment to their predecessors' papers, and that routine papers and Booth family papers of a purely personal nature with no obvious historical importance or continuing relevance to the administration of the Hall and estates perished through neglect or deliberate destruction.
The losses are not confined to the papers of the Booth family, however. Among the papers of the Greys there is very little personal correspondence between members of the immediate family or with those who belonged to their wider social circle, though we know from other sources that they corresponded frequently: the Portland Collection at the University of Nottingham contains over 200 letters from the 5th Earl of Stamford and his wife to her brother, the 3rd Duke of Portland. In this case it is possible that such material was always located at Enville Hall, the Grey family's principal residence, or that it was removed to Enville when Dunham Massey Hall was vacated by the 7th Earl of Stamford during the 1850s.