The 1794 Inventory – Household Records

On New year’s day 1764, Henrietta organised a party for her niece Henrietta Hotham who had been staying at Marble Hill House since 1761 and was now aged 11 years. Lady Temple and Horace Walpole – amongst others – were invited and Horace give us a vivid account of the happy occasion. Little Henrietta had already been excited by the gift of a new coat but was even more excited when she spied on Henrietta Howard’s dressing table a small round box containing a heart diamond ring and a small piece of paper on which Lady Temple had written a special poem.

Everyone there made a fuss of little Henrietta and enjoyed seeing her receiving her presents. In 1767, Henrietta Howard died leaving little Henrietta with some happy memories such as the 1764 party. As part of the Execution of the Will an extensive inventory was made in 1767 covering most of the rooms in the House. In a room unspecified were stored a large number of books and records. By my calculation the total number was 682 items. Some of this number would have been books to be read, but 248 come under the heading of Folios (quarto / octavo etc) which can technically refer to account ledgers. Following the invention of double entry book keeping in renaissance times, account entries would be spread over two consecutive pages – debit items on one side and credit items on the other – with the same reference number/title applying to both pages. Historically this has come to define one of the meanings of folio.

Of these 248 folios 44 of them were not yet bound implying that some of them were still being used. These records – financial and otherwise – would have been created by the Steward, Housekeeper, Butler and others including Henrietta herself. Given Henrietta Howard’s financial problems after 1760, a competent steward would have needed a basic understanding of balancing the debits against the credits to establish the true financial position.

Moving forward to 1794, an older and no doubt wiser Henrietta Hotham was at long last entitled to her life interest in Marble Hill House under the terms of Henrietta Howard’s Will. Asserting her new status, a new inventory was made in 1794 which stated:

A compleat inventory of every Article removed from Marble Hill House to Marble Hill Cottage by Miss Hotham 24th January 1794. To prevent all misunderstanding or disputes after the decease of Miss Hotham there is marked on each article so removed and written in each (relevant) book these words – ‘removed from Marble Hill House’. The number of volumes of books consist of five hundred and eleven books consisting of folios, quartos, octavos and duodecimos. Many sets of the books were found by Miss Hotham imperfect.

It is obvious that this figure of 511 does not agree with the 1767 figures. There may be some good reasons for this; one being that Henrietta and the Suffolk family may have removed some of the reading books to populate other family libraries in London and elsewhere. Some of the house records may have been created post 1767. It is also clear that storage of the old records did not ensure their safety because of dampness, pests and general neglect. So some may have been damaged – reflecting the comment ‘imperfect’ on the inventory. Taking them to Marble Hill cottage (Little Marble Hill) and putting them in a similar unsuitable storage space may have been the reason for their final demise. The cottage was situated by the riverside and possible flooding could have destroyed them.

There is a description of the cottage in 1760 in which it is described as being ‘small, but the extreme neatness of the outside, which is perfectly white makes it a striking and pleasing object from the river. There is a large room with a fine bow window to the water, hung with buff colour and adorned with prints, cut out and elegantly disposed’. Henrietta lived there until 1805 when she moved to Richmond. As to the fate of the books, we hear nothing more. Despite searches in the Norfolk record office where most of her documents are now held, a few handwritten notes are all that survive in the Norwich archives of the household records.

Did bad storage or flooding lead to their demise? Or did it reach a point that that it was felt the household records were of little value? They did mean something to Henrietta Hotham but she died in 1816, leaving us without any clues. Their survival would have been invaluable to today’s historians and lovers of social history.