In November 2014, Simon Downing from Selborne (four miles from Chawton) officially handed over a collection of family archives. Dating from 1821 through to the 1880s, this archive includes journals, cookery books and watercolour sketches written and compiled by female members of the Barrett family. The archive is available to anyone who wishes to book an appointment in the library.
Here, Simon talks about his donation:
How did you come into the possession of this archive?
The papers came into my possession on the death of my mother in 2010. During her life, I had always said to her that I would like her books and papers when she passed away. She herself had been adopted in 1926 by Muriel Barrett, a single woman living near Farnham, Surrey, who died in 1952.
What item(s) in the archive are of particular interest to you?
Apart from the journals which give a fascinating insight into the upper middle class life of the early 19th century, the items that particularly interest me are the paintings and sketches. Many are so vibrant and fresh, but one stands out for me. It is the snow scene, which is so modern in its execution; it reminds me of the early 20th century art of Picasso and cubism.
The material spans from 1821 to the 1880s. Is this the complete archive for this period?
The collection is mostly complete. I do know of one journal that is missing which dates from, I think, 1821, which is a shame, because it is not by Laura, who dominates the later years.
I do still have many photographs, silver and jewellery which belonged to the family.
What made you decide to donate these items to Chawton House Library?
I really want these papers looked after in a controlled and caring manner and to be preserved for the future. Most of all I hope someone will study them further and in so doing, we get a more complete picture of the family.