Ref noAC
TitleRecords of the Smyth family of Ashton Court
Date13th century - 1935
DescriptionThe Smyth family, substantial Bristol merchants, purchased the estate of Ashton Court, a few miles outside the city in Somerset, in 1565; their records range from the early 13th to the 20th century. The collection comprises the following sections:
AC/JS - Jarrit Smith papers
AC/AS - Astry papers
AC/WO - Woolnough papers including Elbridge family papers.
AC/D - Ashton Court deeds
AC/WH - Whitchurch papers
AC/C - Correspondence
AC/E - Records of estate management
AC/M - Manorial records
AC/S - Family settlements etc
AC/F - Family papers
AC/O - Public offices
AC/PL - Maps, plans and records of estates
AC/Q - Plans and elevations of cottages
AC/E - Estate Office papers
AC/B - Volumes
AC/MU Papers of Samuel Munckley
AC/36074 - Miscellaneous deeds, documents etc. (also including accession no. 36214)
Extent49 shelves
Administrative historyInformation taken from Oxford Database of National Biography entry by J Bettey: The Smyth family of Long Ashton originated at Aylburton in the Forest of Dean, but rose to wealth and the possession of a large landed estate through trade from the port of Bristol during the first half of the sixteenth century. Matthew Smyth (d. 1526) and his brother Thomas Smyth (d. 1542) came to Bristol from Aylburton c.1500 and worked as ‘hoopers’, or the makers of bands for casks. They also engaged in trade, exporting small quantities of cloth and importing wine and fish. Both prospered, and by the time of his death Thomas had purchased land at Shirehampton near Bristol, as well as property within the town. It was the elder brother, Matthew, who began to lay the foundations of the family's fortune. He married Alice John, daughter and heir of a Bristol merchant, Lewis John, and soon prospered as a merchant himself. After Matthew Smyth's death in 1526 his widow, Alice, continued to trade profitably on her own account, purchasing wool and yarn, exporting cloth to France and Spain, and importing wine, oil, iron, woad, and alum. Their only son, John Smyth (d. 1556), achieved outstanding success as a merchant and thus completed the rise of the family to the position of landed gentry. He traded in woollen cloth, purchased in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Somerset, lead from the Mendip hills, hides, leather, timber, and wheat. Numerous cargoes were exported to France and Spain in his own ship, The Trinity, which returned with wine, iron, woad, alum, and oil. He served as sheriff of Bristol during 1532–3 and as mayor in 1547–8 and 1554–5.He invested in extensive lands in north Somerset and south Gloucestershire, among them many former possessions of local monasteries and chantries. By far the most important of these investments was in 1545 when he bought an estate at Long Ashton, near Bristol, from Sir Thomas Arundell for £920. This included the large manor house at Ashton Court with its deer park and much of the surrounding land. He evidently regarded himself primarily as a Bristol merchant, and continued until his death to live in his merchant's house in Small Street rather than the manor house at Ashton Court. He had two sons, Hugh Smyth (1530–1580) and Matthew Smyth (1533–1583). Hugh had no male heir and all his property passed to his brother, Matthew, who was still in practice as a barrister. Matthew had married Jane, daughter of Thomas Tewther of Ludlow, and they had one son, Sir Hugh Smyth (1575–1627). The family moved to Ashton Court and Matthew threw himself with enthusiasm into the work of running the estate. In 1603 he was one of those gentlemen who were knighted by James VI and I on his progress from Scotland to London, and in 1605 he was chosen to accompany the earl of Hertford on an embassy to the archduke of Austria. He continued the policy of buying land and purchased the Great House, which had been built on the site of the former Carmelite friary in central Bristol, where the family lived for part of each year. He and his wife had five daughters and one son, Thomas Smyth (1609–1642). Smyth and his wife, Florence, had three daughters and two sons, Sir Hugh Smyth first baronet (1632–1680), and Thomas, who was born soon after his father's death. His mother then married an Irish soldier of fortune, Colonel Thomas Pigott, in 1647 and lived until 1676. Hugh rapidly became a JP, deputy lieutenant of Somerset, colonel of the militia, and member of parliament for Somerset. In 1661 he was created a baronet, the first member of the family to achieve this honour. He and Ann had three sons and three daughters. Smyth died on 28 July 1680 at the age of forty-eight. He was buried in the family vault at Long Ashton. His eldest son, Sir John Smyth (1659–1726), succeeded to the estates and the baronetcy, and the family continued to live at Ashton Court until 1946. Soon afterwards the estates were dispersed and the contents of the house were sold at auction. In 1959 the house and parkland were acquired by Bristol City Council.
Further information on the Smyths can be found in the books by Anton Bantock (early Smyths, later Smyths and last Smyths). The collection also includes records of, or created by, other interlinked families and individuals, for which biographical details will be found in the relevant series level entry.
Access statusOpen
ArrangementA system of cataloguing and numeration has been adopted to meet and reflect the interrelationship of the various parts of this collection. The main series of the Ashton Court collection, the records relating directly to the Smyth family themselves, has for the most part been catalogued. The whole collection is identified by the prefix AC/ to each numbered document; and for this, the 'core' of the collection, a numeration under class-letters, followed by bundle numbers and sub-numbers has been used: D = deeds, C = correspondence, M = manorial, etc., i.e. AC/M3/6 = Ashton Court collection: manorial documents: bundle (or section) 3: document 6. The core of the collection is thus brought together as a coherent and easily recognisable unit, while still making clear its archival structure.
This core or main series, however, constitutes only about one-half of the collection. The remainder is made up of 19th-20th century leases, and of various sub-series, of which the papers of Jarrit Smith form one. These sub-series consist of records brought into the Smyth family as a result of marriage. A succession of judicious marriages in the late 17th and 18th centuries increased the estates and wealth of the Smyth family very considerably. In each case the marriage brought into the family not only a sizeable inheritance in land, but also the documents relating to the lands concerned. The first sub-series is the collection of papers arising out of the marriage of Elizabeth Astry to Sir John Smyth (1659-1726). The second is the present collection, associated with the marriage of Jarrit Smith and Florence Piggott (née Smyth) in 1731. Further sub-series are connected with the estates brought into the Smyth family by the marriages of Jarrit Smith's two sons: John Hugh Smyth to Elizabeth Woolnough, and Thomas Smyth to Jane Whitchurch.
These sub-series are boxed and catalogued as separate entities, distinct from the main series of family papers. For this reason also they have a distinct system of numeration. In addition to the AC/ collection-letters, these documents all bear code-letters for the sub-series to which they belong, i.e. AC/AS for the Astry papers, AC/JS for the papers of Jarrit Smith. To follow these identifying letters with further class letters would have resulted in a number altogether too long and cumbersome to be practicable. The sub-series, therefore, are numbered in a straight numerical sequence, with clearly differentiated sections: i.e., AC/AS8 Family papers: Chester; AC/AS9 - 16 Law papers; AC/AS17 - 21 Deeds: Aust; AC/AS22 - 48 Deeds: Henbury etc.
These principal group numbers are followed, as necessary, by sub-numbers and sub-letters for bundles, files and individual documents in the normal manner. In this way, although the classification of the documents may not be so immediately apparent, the sub-series are kept together as units, and form distinct groups alongside the main series.
Custodial historyIn 1947, following a Historical Manuscripts Commission report, the Bristol Town Clerk offered to take care of the valuable collection of Ashton Court records in order to save them from further deterioration (accession number 32835). Additional records were received in 1959 from the Council's Estates Office (reference AC?Estate Office). In 1977 the collection was added to via the purchase of records, many of which relate to Thomas Smyth, MP for Bridgwater in 1627, for a fee of £2,350 from Sothebys, thanks to grants from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Friends of the National Library and small grants from local businesses and organisations (accession number 36074)
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