The Friends of Somerset Archives and the Dickinson Archive

The archive of the Dickinson family of Kingweston, is an important collection held at the Somerset Heritage Centre; not only does it contain information of a local nature concerning the Dickinson’s Somerset estates, it also has nationally important papers, relating to the family’s political roles, however, most importantly within the collection are the papers of international interest. The Dickinson family owned estates in Jamaica and throughout the archive there are glimpses of the life of both slave and slave owner, along with the early trading accounts of Bristol merchant, Graffin Prankard, father-in-law to Caleb Dickinson.

During an afternoon in late October 2011, Janet Tall and Mervyn Richens gave to the Friends a presentation / explanation regarding the worth of the collection and the concept of creating a project to help realise further the diversity contained with the sixty boxes, documents which had previously, in many cases, only been glanced at.

Laid out in the Archive Conservation Room was part of the collection which helped to explain further the part of the project which would involve the preservation and protection aspects.

It was the intention that when completed the collection would become a standard for the archives.

In December 2011, volunteers from the Friends of Somerset Archives began the arduous task of flattening the thousands of documents previously contained within the hundreds of bundles. The flattening of the papers ensures the best storage and handling solutions for archives as it reduces the ware and tear upon them. With the provenance of the collection being paramount it was essential that each document kept its place within the bundle, a work log diary helped the morning and afternoon groups communicate situations of progress, problems and points of interest.

The enthusiasm of the team became very evident, enabling them to finish the flattening process 2 months earlier than expected, April 2012, when the seven volunteers divided into two groups.

The first group (2 volunteers) has continued in the Conservation Room dealing with the preservation of the collection, this consists of mounting loose documents onto guards, allowing them to be bound into cloth covered boards, ensuring that the correct sequence of the collection is kept, the continued protection and security of the archives, as well as ease of use for research.

Progress by the very nature of the work has to be slow and steady, but with the few finished items now done the benefit is all too evident.

The second group has begun the long task of indexing eleven letter books contained in the collection. The letter books contain the outgoing letters of Graffin Prankard, Bristol merchant, covering the period 1712-1756, and which show the building up of and peak of his business and trade with the Americas, Russia, Europe and throughout England. There are also letter books of the Dickinson family, for the period 1771-1794, which show the intimate details of a plantation owner’s life.

Once the indexing is complete we will have a separate index for each volume for subjects, persons and places mentioned, making research into these volumes far easier.

The full re-cataloguing of this collection will begin in late July, and who knows what other archival treasures will be discovered!

If you would like to help with either the conservation work or the indexing please contact Liz Grant at the Somerset Heritage Centre, archives@somerset.gov.uk.

Odd footnote to the Dickenson Project - The emptying of the cellar - and other oddities - click here to see more!