Manuscripts and Special Collections

Denison of Ossington Collection

The archive of the Denison family estates was transferred to the University of Nottingham in 1947. Subsequent accruals were added in 1979, 1989 and 1992. Further accessions of legal and financial, and personal and family papers were transferred on other separate occasions.

The collection is divided into separate groups, with their own catalogues, although many contents overlap:

  • (De) Estate papers of the Denison Family of Ossington, Nottinghamshire, 1575-1874. Includes:
    • (De A-J) Title deeds and estate papers relating to Denison properties in Sutton-on-Trent, Ossington, Laxton, Normanton-on-Trent, Carlton and Trent and Norwell, Nottinghamshire; Leeds, Owthorne, Rimswell and Beswick, Yorkshire; and Grindon, county Durham; 1543-1874
    • (De 2 P) Architectural plans in the Denison collection, 1775-1825
    • (De 3) Copy of charter in Latin ratified under seal of Henry VI, of liberties of St John of Jerusalem [Knights Hospitallers] in England, dated 1423; n.d. [1600-50]
    • (De 4) Wills, correspondence, estate and legal papers of the Denison and Wilkinson family, 1778-1826
  • (De Wm) Correspondence and related papers of Sir William Thomas Denison and his family, relating both to his career as colonial governor and his domestic and family affairs, 1819-1915
  • (Os) Personal and political papers of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, consisting primarily of correspondence, 1818-1907
  • (DL) Collection of legal and financial papers concerning the family and estate of the Denisons of Ossington, Nottinghamshire, as handled by their London solicitors, Lee and Pemberton, 1873-1962
  • (MS 878) Legal papers relating to the Denison family and their estates in Meanwood and Hawcaster Rigg, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, Yorkshire, 1752-1809

Documents in all these groups (except for De 2 P) are described in detail on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. Access to the descriptions is also provided via personal name and place names indexes. The conversion and extensive enhancement of the original brief catalogues, with a focus on the political papers, was made possible thanks to a JISC (Non Formula Funding) award to support cataloguing in 1995.

There are also two closely related collections:

  • (Pw N) Papers of Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection, 1830-1886. The collection includes correspondence addressed to Lady Charlotte, predominantly from her family and other members of the aristocracy, plus micellaneous papers
  • (Pw K) Papers of William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879) in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection, 1790-1881. This collection includes letters from his sister Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington, and from J. Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington (Pw K 1312-1441 and Pw K1449-63)

The typescript catalogues to these two collections are now available online through the Manuscripts and Online Catalogue. They were also made available during the Access to Archives (A2A) project and can now be seen on The National Archives' Discovery catalogue.


Principal Subject areas within the collections

The collections are particularly known for the strength of their nineteenth century political content, resulting from the life and career of John Evelyn Denison, who was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1857 to 1872.The letters in Os primarily concern J. Evelyn Denison's political career and include correspondence with the leading social and political figures of the day, including William Gladstone. The correspondence touches on most political issues of the day, including successive reform bills, the Irish potato famine, the Crimean War, European political affairs, educational reform and matters of parliamentary procedure. Denison's interests in Church and State, biblical studies,and agricultural improvements are also reflected in his correspondence. Personal diaries and travel journals are also present, as are a series of puzzles and acrostics collected by Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington.

The correspondence in Os is complemented by that in De/Wm, collected by Sir William T. Denison and his family. The bulk of the correspondence is dated 1855-58 and concerns the minutiae of everyday life of the family of Sir William T. Denison during his governorships of the colonies of Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania], New South Wales and Madras. The correspondence deals in part with matters of colonial government and administration. This includes information and opinions on such subjects as road building, transportation of convicts, labour supply, education and public works. There is extensive correspondence with other family members in England, giving details of the Denisons' domestic and social lives. The collection also contains notices of official appointments of members of the Denison family, items concerned with the family estate including household inventories, and items relating to the genealogy of the family.

The estate collection (De) is largely composed of deeds and estate papers connected with the purchase and running of the Denison estates, predominantly up to the death of J. Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, in 1873. It includes accounts, rentals, correspondence, surveys, maps and plans, and architectural records, but the bulk of the collection consists of deeds and abstracts of title. A small number of manorial records, dating back to the 17th century, are present for Sutton-on-Trent and Ossington. Family settlements and wills extend the scope of the archive, providing personal information about earlier holders of the properties, and overlapping in interest with the separate personal collections of family members. There is extensive coverage of the Nottinghamshire estates, centring on Sutton-on-Trent, Ossington, Laxton, Norwell, Normanton-on-Trent, Carlton-on-Trent and Kelstern. Records from Laxton, which has continued to be managed on the open-field system, have particular interest. Other small series of property records come from Grindon in County Durham, Kelstern in Lincolnshire and Owthorne in Yorkshire.

The merchant origins of the Denison family of Leeds, Yorkshire are recorded in a number of records, including Wilkinson and Denison wills, accounts, and building and planning documents. Some of the papers concern railway, road and water transport developments. The fourth accrual (De 4) relates to the affairs of the Wilkinsons and Denisons in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, consisting mainly of wills, correspondence and property deeds. It includes papers relating to Leeds, and to the Aire and Calder Canal. A single estate map for Ossington, 1787, is also present.

The second accrual of papers (De 2) exclusively concerns architectural plans, 1775-1825. The majority of the plans are for the Ossington estate, but a few documents are present which appear to be unrelated to family properties, such as a copy of John Nash's plan to build a new street in London, 1811. The greater number of the Ossington plans are by William Lindley (c.1739-1818), who worked for the Denisons from the late 1780s until his death in 1818. His plans relate to the Hall itself, and to farm buildings and other domestic estate properties. The collection includes designs by John Carr (1723-1807) for a temple, church and mausoleum at Ossington, and copies of plans made for Ossington in 1786 by Sir John Soane (1753-1837).

Legal, family settlement and estate papers dating from after the death of Viscount Ossington are largely found in three separate deposits made by the London solicitors Lee and Pemberton (DL). The bulk of the legal papers, accounts and correspondence concern the trust arrangements arising from the death of Viscount Ossington, and arrangements arising from the marriages and estates of other members of the Denison family. The papers include details of family stocks and shares and investments, and items relating to the mortgaging and leasing of property.


Collections held elsewhere

No other repositories hold significant collections relating to the Denison family as a whole, although papers of individual family members are held in a variety of locations. Details are given in the biographical pages relating to each person. 


Useful published works on the Denison family and Ossington Hall

  • R. Hewlings, 'Soane's Designs for Ossington', Architectural History, 27 (1984), [270]-[280]
  • H.A. Johnson, 'The Architecture of Ossington Hall, Nottinghamshire, c.1728-1963', Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 84 (1980), 48-58 [King's Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Periodicals: Not]
  • R.G. Wilson, 'The Denisons and Milneses: Eighteenth-Century Merchant Landowners', in J.T. Ward and R.G. Wilson, eds., Land and Industry: The Landed Estate and the Industrial Revolution (Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1971), 145-172
  • R.G. Wilson,'Ossington and the Denisons', History Today, 18 (1968), 164-172, 221
  • Ossington Hall, Newark, Nottinghamshire: fine XVIII & XIX century interior fittings & garden ornaments: in consequence of the demolition of the mansion [Sale Catalogue], 1963 [King's Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Pamphlet Not 340.D64 HAL]
  • G.D. Lumb, 'The Family of Denison of Great Woodhouse, and their residences in Leeds', Publications of the Thoresby Society, XV (1909), 251
  • John Evelyn Denison, Notes from my Journal when Speaker of the House of Commons (London: John Murray, 1899) [East Midlands Special Collection Not 340.V38 DEN]
  • G.F.R. Barker, 'Denison, (John) Evelyn, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873)', rev. H.C.G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • W. T. Denison, Varieties of vice-regal life, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870)
  • A.J. Arbuthnot, 'Denison, Sir William Thomas (1804-1871)', rev. A.G.L. Shaw, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • W.M. Jacob, 'Denison, Edward (1801-1854)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • Robert Harrison, 'Denison, Edward (1840-1870)', rev. H.C.G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • Edward Denison, A Brief Record, being Letters and Other Writings of the Late Edward Denison, M.P. for Newark (privately printed, 1871). 2nd edn, edited by Sir B. Leighton and published as Letters and Other Writings of the Late Edward Denison, M.P. for Newark (London: Bentley, 1872). [2nd edn, East Midlands Collection Not 307.V38 DEN]
  • Catherine Mary Phillimore, In Memoriam, Louisa Evelyn Denison, etc. (London: John Murray, 1919)
  • J.M. Rigg, 'Denison, George Anthony (1805-1896)', rev. George Herring, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • Bernard Palmer, Reverend Rebels: Five Victorian Clerics and Their Fight against Authority (Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1993) [includes G.A. Denison]
  • Joyce Coombs, George Anthony Denison, the Firebrand, 1805-1896 (London: Church Literature Association, 1984)
  • Louisa Evelyn Denison (ed)., Fifty Years at East Brent: The Letters of George Anthony Denison, 1845-1896, Archdeacon of Taunton (London: John Murray, 1902)


Next page:  Denison Family of Ossington: A Brief History


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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