A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE DICKINSON MANUSCRIPTS
The Dickinsons started as a small unimportant family that can be traced back to Thomas Dickinson who was recorded as a cook at Eton school in 1594. His son, William, was at the time of the civil war, vicar of Appleton on the Oxfordshire/Berkshire border. William had four sons and a daughter. The eldest, Edmund, became a physician to both Charles II and James II. The youngest son, Francis, was born in around the 1630s, entered the army and served as a Captain under Oliver Cromwell. It is believed that Francis (who later became a Quaker) raised a troop of horse and served under Admiral Penn and Colonel Venables on the expedition which led to the capture of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. In 1670 (possibly as a reward for his role in the capture of the Island) he was awarded a grant of land in the parish of St Elizabeth. Francis later settled on the Island and added over 5,000 acres to his estate. These plantations (which focused primarily on the production of sugar) were the source of the Dickinson family's wealth and, in 1741, enabled Caleb Dickinson (Francis's grandson) to purchase the Kingweston estate and become a member of the landed gentry, opening up new social and political avenues for the family.
However, towards the end of the 19th century the Dickinson's fortunes began to decline. Heavy death duties and an agricultural downturn, along with the rental of the Jamaican estates to third parties, led to the mortgaging of their Somerset estates and their eventual sale in the early 20th century. In 1905 the family decided to lease Kingweston House and began to sell off parts of their estate. After the Second World War Kingweston House was rented to Millfield School as a boarding house and the family moved to the Dower House.
In May 1951 Ivor Collis, a former County Archivist for Somerset, received a letter from a master at Millfield School informing him that 'between 2 and 3 thousand documents' were stored in the cellars and that 'last term I noticed a boy with a pile of letters which were in 18th century handwriting. He told me that they came from Kingweston House, that there were masses of them, and that the boys used them to stoke the boiler'. He continues that the 'documents were being ravaged by boys, mice, rats and other vermin'. The majority of the collection was deposited with the Somerset Record Office later that same year.
WHAT DOES THE COLLECTION COMPRISE?
The collection comprises deeds, correspondence and associated papers showing the development of the family's estates in Somerset (including Kingweston, Babcary, Baltonsborough, Butleigh, Charlton Adam, Charlton Mackrell, East Lydford, Glastonbury, Lympsham) and elsewhere in the country (DD\DN/1-3).
The Dickinson's Jamaican estates primarily consisted of the Barton Plantation and sugar works, the Pepper Plantation, Watchwell Pen, Appleton Plantation and lands at Burnt Savannah. Records relating to running of these plantations can be found under DD\DN/2/25 and DD\DN/2/26 (including deeds dating back to 1674) and DD\DN/3 and DD\DN/6 (which include accounts relating to the sale of sugar and rum, legal papers, and lists of slaves and stock). However, numerous references to the administration of these estates and life in Jamaica (including politics and the abolition of slavery) can also be found throughout the personal and business correspondence of the family (DD\DN/4) and other personal family papers (DD\DN/5).
A considerable portion of the Dickinson collection comprises personal and business correspondence for the four heads of the household: Caleb, Caleb's son (William), William's son (also William) and his son (Francis Henry) (DD\DN/4-5). These papers often include accounts (both business and household related).
The correspondence received by Caleb Dickinson relates to business, estate and personal matters (DD\DN/4/1). No division is made between these elements and there are regular references to the family's West Indian interests, including the shipping and sale of sugar, rum and mahogany from the family's plantations, the shipment of provisions, tools and materials to Jamaica, ships (and their captains), and insurance matters. Caleb's papers also include correspondence relating to the Flat Holm lighthouse (from 1744) and letters received from his brothers, Ezekiel and Vickris Dickinson.
The correspondence and papers received by Caleb's son, William Dickinson (DD\DN/4/2), resembles that of his father in both content and arrangement. Many of the papers were originally found loose and sorted into chronological bundles. They include letters relating to William's political career (he was MP for Great Marlow in 1777, Rye in 1790, and Somerset, from 1796 until his death in death in 1806), his various interests and investments (including drainage, turnpikes and the navigation of the River Tone), the Brass Wire and Copper Company (including minutes and accounts) and the Flat Holm lighthouse. There are fewer letters from Jamaica, but frequent references in correspondence from the London and Bristol agents and other members of the Dickinson family.
In comparison to the rest of the family relatively few papers survive for William's son, also named William, who died in Naples in January 1837 (DD\DN/4/3). Only a limited number of bundles concerning the public side of his life, both nationally as an MP for Somerset (1806 -1831) and locally as a Justice of the Peace, have survived.
The correspondence and papers received by Francis Henry Dickinson (DD\DN/4/4) reflect not only the offices he held, both nationally and locally, but also his strong personal interests in the Church, education (including the establishment and administration of Wells Training school and Wells Theological College) and church architecture (including the rebuilding of Kingweston Church in the 1850s). After a failed election campaign in 1837 Francis was elected as a Conservative MP for West Somerset in 1841 (serving until 1847) and a considerable volume of correspondence relates to his election campaigns and to various political matters, including policies and resignations. Francis was also an active JP, a member of various other official bodies in the county and also of local and national societies that reflected his personal interests. His papers also include correspondence relating to the administration of the family's Jamaican estates (which were now held in common with Ezekiel Harman, who had come into possession of the estate through the marriage of Elizabeth Dickinson (daughter of Ezekiel Dickinson) and Jeremiah Harman).
Francis' papers also include a considerable quantity of letters from his family, including his brother, Edmund, who set out for Jamaica towards the end of 1844 to look at ways of improving how the estates were run, and his sister, Caroline Bence Jones, who lived with her husband and children in Kilgariffe, Ireland, and who wrote frequently on the Irish famine.
In spite of its bulk, the correspondence which has survived can only represent a fraction of the papers Francis accumulated: there are very few letters after 1857 and no official parliamentary papers. For the first few years after his inheritance Francis appears to have kept his papers in general, chronological bundles but from c.1846 he arranged them by key initial letters (based on subject, place, or the name of the correspondent). Some of these original bundles have survived (letters D, E, F, G, K, O, P), others (accession G/960) have been re-sorted into yearly bundles, by business or personal matters.
As the eldest of a large family (13 children), Francis's son, William, was saddled with heavy mortgages to provide for the younger members of the family. No original arrangement existed for William's papers (DD\DN/4/5). However, a rough division was made between letters of a mainly personal nature (which were sorted into chronological bundles) and the many letters received from the family's solicitors, estate agents and financial advisers as part of William's attempts to salvage the Dickinson estates. Most of the papers date from the period after his second marriage to Isabella Harrison in 1896.
The collection also includes the business records of Graffin Prankard, a Quaker Bristol merchant to whom Caleb Dickinson was apprenticed at the age of 17 and whose only daughter, Sarah Prankard, Caleb married in 1738 (DD\DN/7). Prankard traded widely through Britain, Europe, North America and the West Indies.
Series DD\DN/8 comprises the records of Stephen Fuller of Rose Hill, Sussex, whose daughter, Phillippa Fuller, married William Dickinson (son of Caleb) in 1770. Stephen was the London based agent for Jamaica for nearly 30 years and the majority of the correspondence and papers reflect this post, particularly for the last years of his office, 1789-1794. This series also includes correspondence received from his brothers (Rose Fuller (Chief Justice in Jamaica), Henry Fuller, Thomas Fuller, and John Fuller), papers relating to the administration of the family's estate in Sussex and elsewhere, and papers relating to the administration of the estate of the late Sir John Lade, baronet (Stephen succeeded his brother Henry as receiver).
THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE COLLECTION
The collection was re-catalogued between 2012-2015. The old catalogue reference numbers are contained in square brackets at the end of each description. The collection has now been arranged as follows:
DD\DN/1: Manorial records.
DD\DN/2: Deeds: Somerset parishes (DD\DN2/1-19), out county parishes (DD\DN/2/20-24), Jamaica (DD\DN/2/25), and other countries (DD\DN/2/26).
DD\DN/3: Estate papers: accounts (DD\DN/3/1), maps (DD\DN/3/2), surveys and valuations (DD\DN/3/3), tenant papers and rentals (DD\DN/3/4), sale particulars (DD\DN/3/5), litigation (DD\DN/3/6), and other papers (DD\DN/3/7).
DD\DN/4: Correspondence of the Dickinson family: Caleb Dickinson, (1716-1783) (DD\DN/4/1), William Dickinson (1745-1806) (DD\DN/4/2), William Dickinson (1771-1837) and his wife, Sophia Dickinson, née Smith (DD\DN/4/3), Francis Henry Dickinson (1813-1890) and his wife, Caroline Dickinson, née Carey (DD\DN/4/4), William Thomas Carey Dickinson (1839-1914) and his wives, Helen Dickinson née Bairnsfather and Isabella Dickinson, née Harrison (DD\DN/4/5), William Francis Dickinson (1877-1964) and his wife, Henrietta Dickinson, née Cobham (DD\DN/4/6), Everilda Joyce Burden [Joy Burden], née Dickinson (DD\DN/4/7), and other Dickinson correspondence (DD\DN/4/8).
DD\DN/5: Dickinson family personal papers: family settlements (DD\DN/5/1), probate (DD\DN/5/2), accounts (DD\DN/5/3), personal/political office (DD\DN/5/4), diaries (DD\DN/5/5), histories (DD\DN/5/6).
DD\DN/6: Jamaican estate papers.
DD\DN/7: Papers of Graffin Prankard, Bristol Merchant: correspondence and letter books (DD\DN/7/1), accounts (DD\DN/7/2), insurance (DD\DN/7/3), legal papers (DD\DN/7/4), and miscellaneous papers (DD\DN/7/4).
DD\DN/8: Papers of the Fuller family: correspondence (DD\DN/8/1) and other miscellaneous papers (DD\DN/8/2).
DD\DN/9: Papers of other families.
DD\DN/10: Documents relating to local parishes.
DD\DN/11: Printed and published works.
DD\DN/12: Photographs and illustrations.
DD\DN/13: Miscellaneous records.
A chronology of the Dickinson family is available at the front of the paper catalogue in in the searchroom at the Heritage Centre. Pedigrees can also be found in 'Winging Westward' by Joy Burden and page 481 of 'The History and Antiquities of Somersetshire by W. Phelps.