Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, was Home Secretary at the time of the Peterloo Massacre.  August marks the 200th anniversary of the massacre which took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, when cavalry charged into a crowd of at least 60,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

The papers of the Addington family, Viscounts Sidmouth, are held within the collections of the South West Heritage Trust. While the collection contains a wide range of estate records, title deeds and leases relating to property in Devon and other parts of Britain, the collection’s centrepiece is the political correspondence of Henry Addington.

It is the most nationally significant collection held with the Devon archives.

Henry Addington 1st Viscount Sidmouth,

Henry Addington 1st Viscount Sidmouth

A Turbulent Period in British History

Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1801 to 1804, and Home Secretary from 1812 to 1822, Henry Addington was a prominent figure in public affairs during a turbulent period in British and European history that included the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, unrest in Ireland, growing opposition to the slave trade and social unrest at home.  The collection of letters comprises correspondence to and from prominent people in national affairs, including George III, William Pitt the Younger, Nelson, Lord Grenville, Lord Liverpool, Lord Castlereagh, the Duke of Wellington and William Wilberforce.  The papers relate to national and international events such as the threat of Napoleonic invasion, negotiation of the Peace of Amiens and repression of the Luddites.

Viscount Sidmouth was Home Secretary at the time of the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819

“Taken as a whole the correspondence provides a unique perspective on the period from the points of view of those close to a pre-eminent politician,” Brian Carpenter, Devon archives

Saving the Collection

The collection had sustained damp and insect damage before it was deposited. A grant of £18,861 from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and generous donation of £2000 from the Friends of Devon’s Archives allowed conservation work to begin.

The conservator, Rebecca Dabnor, began work on the collection in April 2018, and the project finished in early 2019 with around 900 letters having been successfully conserved using high quality materials and techniques.  Handmade Japanese paper with strong and flexible fibres was used to infill losses in the letters by allowing a delicate mesh of fibres to cling and fuse to the edges of the original paper. Also, through the introduction of finer tissues, it was possible to achieve an almost invisible repair without compromising the letters’ character and legibility.

Conservation work means the papers are now accessible to researchers

An Invaluable Insight

The collection provides an invaluable insight into the internal workings of the government, as well as relations between important politicians and members of the Royal family.  A letter [152M/C1804/OZ 7] written in May 1804 reveals the high regard the King had for Henry Addington.  It was written after his resignation and immediately after the King had finished “a long but most satisfactory conversation with Mr Pitt” who would again take over the role of Prime Minister. The King requests that he attends the Queen’s palace with the seals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer:

“The King’s friendship for Mr. Addington is too deeply graven on his heart to be in the least diminished by any change of situation: his Majesty will order the warrant to be prepared for the creating Mr. Addington Earl of Banbury, Viscount Wallingford, and Baron Reading; and will order the message to be carried by Mr. Yorke to the House of Commons for the usual annuity, having most honourably and ably filled the station of Speaker of the House of Commons. The King will settle such a pension on Mrs. Addington, whose virtue and modesty he admires, as Mr. Addington may choose to propose.  George R”.

Find Out More

An event to celebrate the successful project to conserve the personal papers of Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, will be held at the Devon Heritage Centre on the afternoon of Monday 19 August.

Tickets can be booked via TicketSource.