Guide to Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society archives

Introduction to the YAHS archives

Note: in early 2016 our archives were transferred to the care of the University of Leeds, Brotherton Library Special Collections.  For current details, and online catalogues, click the link []

The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society was established in 1863. Initially called the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Association, the Society increased its catchment area to the whole of Yorkshire in 1870. In 1893 the Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Association simplified its name to the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society, and three years later moved from New Street, Huddersfield to the old medical school, Park Street, Leeds. The Society later moved to new headquarters at 10 Park Place, Leeds. In 1924, the Society purchased this property, which had previously been rented, and in due course also acquired the next door premises, number 9, and 37 St. Paul’s Street. In 1968, however, more than a hundred years after its foundation, the Society had outgrown these premises and the decision was taken to move from Park Place to Dr J. D. Heaton’s former home in Little Woodhouse, which was the Society's headquarters until 2015.

From 1938 to 1975 the Society employed its own archivist, who was also YAHS librarian. In 1976, whilst continuing to employ a librarian, an agreement was entered into with West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council by which the Society’s archives were administered at YAHS Headquarters as part of the County Archive Service. Later in 1982/3, this service merged with the Metropolitan Districts of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. In December 2002, however, the West Yorkshire Archive Service’s responsibility for records at Claremont was passed back to the Society’s Senior Librarian.

Over the years important collections of archives have been accumulated relating to the whole of historic Yorkshire. Records in the MS and MD series generally belong to the Society, whilst those with a DD prefix have been deposited. Both the DD and MD series contain major family and estate collections as well as other original records of all kinds. By contrast, the MS series consists mainly of secondary manuscript material such as antiquarian notes, heraldry, pedigrees, transcripts and copies of documents, and drafts, notes and reports.

This new guide is primarily a revision of the 1912 and 1931 Catalogue of Manuscripts and Deeds in the Library of the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society 1867-1931 by W.T. Lancaster and E.W. Crossley, and of Sylvia Thomas’ Guide to the Archive Collections of the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society 1931-1983. Collections acquired or deposited since 1983 have also been included. The collections are arranged by collection reference number. They are not arranged thematically, but in the order they were received, though it is straightforward to search by subject.

The MS series grew from a collection put together by past president and founder member, Sir Thomas Brooke (1830-1908). His bequest included the Thoresby, Fairfax, Woodhouse, Beckwith, Dade, Radcliffe, and Hunter collections. Of these, the Thoresby manuscripts are possibly of the greatest importance (MS1-36, but see also MS508 and MS891). Originally from the library of Ralph Thoresby, the Leeds antiquary and author of Ducatis Leodiensis and Vicaria Leodiensis 1658-1725, they comprise several original volumes of his diary and about a dozen volumes of letters addressed to him. Among other manuscripts which formed part of his collection is his Album containing the signatures and mottoes of many of his friends.

Sylvia Thomas in her Yorkshire Archaeological Journal article ‘The Archives of the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society’ (1984, vol. 56) says that “one of the characteristics of the Society has been the close personal interest of members and their willingness to donate their own collections of books and archives.” She continues that this was particularly marked in the first quarter of the twentieth century, when almost every donor was an official or member of the Society. Besides Sir Thomas Brooke’s bequest, the MS series benefited from gifts, bequests and donations from J.W. Clay and S.J. Chadwick, vice-presidents; W.T. Lancaster, former honorary librarian; and E.W. Crossley, honorary secretary. This later continued with gifts from John Charlesworth of Horbury; Francis Villy, the archaeologist; B.W.J. Kent of Tatefield Hall; Sir Charles Clay, librarian of the House of Lords and former YAHS president; Tom Gowland of Ripon and many others.

A brief description, such as this, cannot begin to do justice to the breadth and significance of the MS series, but before turning to the MD and DD series, W.H. St. John Hope’s plans of Fountains, Mount Grace and other Yorkshire religious houses must be mentioned (MS395-399); also the notebooks of Ella Armitage, a leading authority of earthworks and castles (MS521); and perhaps best known of all, the original watercolours for George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire, Leeds 1814 (MS1000).

The DD series developed out of moves by the Society to encourage gifts and deposits. Sylvia Thomas says that it was the Earl of Londesborough who was initially successfully approached for old deeds relating to lands he had originally sold. Following the recognition of the Society’s strongroom by the Master of the Rolls as a suitable place for the deposit of manorial records, the British Records Association also started to direct material to the YAHS. This resulted in several important accessions including the Payne-Gallwey (DD94) and Archer-Houblon (DD42) collections. Further large deposits resulted from the efforts of other bodies such as the Duke of Leeds collection (DD5) and the Clarke-Thornhill collection (DD12 Public Record Office). Other estate and family collections of great significance followed and include the papers of the Slingsby family of Scriven, near Knaresborough (DD56); the Fawkes family of Farnley Hall, near Otley (DD146 & DD161); the Cliffords of Skipton Castle (DD121 & DD214); papers of the Norton family, Barons Grantley (DD53); and the Thellusson of Brodsworth collection (DD138 & DD168).

These collections are full of interesting information about the areas to which they relate. More generally, they are indispensable for social and economic historians. The administration of grand estates generated large quantities of records, the most numerous being title deeds.

These provided evidence by which lands were held. Also found are maps, surveys, correspondence, accounts, as well as wages and other domestic details. Some family collections also contain more personal items such as letters or diaries. One particular treasure is the 17th century recipe book of Margaret Savile (DD148). Additionally, at least two of these collections, the Duke of Leeds and Slingsby of Scriven include material of national significance.

Some of the estate and family collections in the DD series also contain important manorial records, perhaps most notably the Skipton Castle collection. This is not surprising as landed families were often also lords of the manor. It is, however, the records of the Manor of Wakefield that are particularly worthy of note, consisting mainly of a series of annual court rolls (with only a few gaps) from 1274 to 1925 (MD225). These were given to the Society in 1943 by the Earl of Yarborough. This manor was enormous, covering not just the Wakefield area, but much of modern day Kirklees and Calderdale. A number of subsidiary manors came within the Manor of Wakefield as well, including Dewsbury Rectory Manor (DD167) and Shelley (DD181). As with the DD series, various MD collections also include significant quantities of manorial records, chief amongst these being the Middelton (MD59) and Bradfer-Lawrence (MD335) collections.

The most important collection in the MD series, is undoubtedly that of H.L. Bradfer-Lawrence (MD335). These papers are not records of his own family, but were acquired by him during a lifetime of collecting. The bulk of the collection consists of the estate papers and correspondence of the Lister family, Lord Ribblesdale, of Gisburn Park, but there are also documents relating to Eshton Hall, Gargrave and Matthew Wilson who owned it. Other highlights of the collection are a fifteenth-century Fountains Abbey stock book and a fine armorial volume which once belonged to Thoresby.

Other important collections in this series include the papers of the Anne, Crathorne and Tasburgh families of Burghwallis Hall (MD218); the papers of the Armitage family of Farnley Hall (MD279); and the Ferrand family of St. Ives Bingley collection (MD290). Also of particular note are the rare fifteenth-century Whixley cartulary (MD463) and the diaries and letters of Leeds physician Dr. J. D. Heaton (MD477).

Robert Frost, Senior Librarian and Archivist, June 2010 (revised by Kirsty McHugh, Collections Manager, March 2015)