A family and estate collection is an archive created by a landed family and its employees - often over many hundreds of years.
Until the 19th century, much of the land and property of Britain was vested in the hands of a few hundred or so elite landed families. These great British landowners could potentially hold property stretching from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland, and would pass that property from generation to generation. As a result, family and estate collections are almost unparalleled in terms of their range and continuity.
The collections reflect the management and development of the landed estates, showing how they were acquired and retained by each major family, how they were managed and ultimately how they were disposed of. Importantly, though, their value is not restricted to the history of one social class.
Estates employed large numbers of people, and so as well as members of the landed family itself, papers may have been accumulated and created by stewards, land agents, solicitors, architects, housekeepers, secretaries, librarians and others. Furthermore, estates also had many tenants who are likely to be mentioned in the papers.
Landed family members themselves were involved in many aspects of local life and administration, such as courts, military affairs and local politics. They may even have been involved in politics on the national stage.
As a result of all this, there are few aspects of British social, political, economic and administrative history for which family and estate collections are not a valuable resource.