Ref noAC/JS
TitleJarrit Smith Papers
DescriptionThe lack of personal information about Jarrit Smith in his papers is amply compensated by their great potential value to the student, for the way in which they reveal the Bristol of his time. As a solicitor, Jarrit Smith was concerned with all classes of people, from widows and bankrupts to the wealthiest merchants of the city. The subjects with which he had to deal, professionally or politically, range over trade, politics, estate management and family affairs, both in Bristol and the adjacent counties. The documents resulting from his work vary from the detailed accounts for clothes, schooling and maintenance submitted by his young ward, Bluett Jones junior [AC/JS/15/21] to the many copies of records relating to the Society of Merchant Venturers and Bristol shipping [AC/JS/53], made for the 'Bristol Case'; or from the fine series of 16th - 18th century deeds of property at Cloford, Somerset [AC/JS/41] to the receipts signed - with a mark only - by the dame of a charity school on Westerleigh Manor [AC/JS/36/2]. Abraham Darby, Richard Champion and Alexander Pope are among the well-known names that appear among these papers, which are as varied in nature as the cases which gave rise to them. The whole series of Jarrit Smith's papers, indeed, reflect both urban, commercial prosperity and rural landed affluence, at their heights, through an individual who made a position for himself in both these spheres of 18th century life.
LevelGroup
Administrative historySir Jarrit Smith, Bart., was born in 1692, and baptised on 18th October of that year at St. Thomas' Church, Bristol. He died in 1783, at the age of ninety-one, and is buried in St. Mary Redcliffe. In contrast to the great span of years through which he lived, and for which a detailed picture of life in Bristol is presented in his papers, surprisingly little information survives about the background of Jarrit Smith himself. He was the only son of John Smith, soapmaker, of Bristol, and his grandfather was a baker in Evesham, Worcs. From the sizeable loans he made to various merchants [AC/JS/2], John Smith appears to have been a man of some substance. His daughters Martha and Susannah further improved the family's standing by marrying two of the sons of Cadwallader Jones, who owned property in north Somerset.

Jarrit Smith's background, therefore, appears to be one of solid, inconspicuous prosperity, against which his own self-made success is all the more striking. With what may be seen as typically 18th century business acumen, he built himself up through his professional connections and a fortunate marriage, to be one of the wealthiest and most influential businessmen in Bristol.
Nothing remains among his papers, that throws any light on his legal training; but from small beginnings he built up a clientele that included most of the Tory merchant families of the city. These professional papers reveal a complex network of interrelationships between solicitor and client, and between one client and another. Frequently Jarrit Smith acted in a professional capacity for his own relatives: Sir John Smyth, Bluett Jones and Thomas Coster [AC/JS/36, 15 and 33]. Joseph Pyke appears, somewhat inexplicably, to be involved in the estate of Mrs. Nicholson [AC/JS/29/10, 14] in addition to his dealings with Jarrit Smith over a settlement upon his wife [AC/JS/39]. Sarah Ham [AC/JS/27] similarly reappears in connection with Mrs. Thirlby's funeral expenses [AC/JS/29/32]. Jarrit Smith probably came to handle the affairs of Dulcibella Saxbury [AC/JS/47] because she was to become the sister-in-law of his friend George Daubeny [AC/JS/31] On occasion he made arrangements for one of his clients, such as Martha Ashby, to act as mortgagee to another [AC/JS/22 and AC/JS/15].

Of the first of Jarrit Smith's two marriages, to the daughter of Rev. Thomas Stampe [AC/JS/3], there is no record among these papers. Not even the name of his first wife has survived. By this marriage he had two children, John and Martha, both of whom died young; the only record found of their existence, is one letter from Martha to her father in 1737, when she was living at Ashton Court with her stepmother [AC/JS/11 (4)].

His first wife died some time previous to 1731, for in that year Jarrit Smith married Florence, widow of John Piggott of Brockley and daughter of Sir John and Dame Elizabeth Smyth of Ashton Court, Long Ashton, Somerset: one of the biggest country estates in the vicinity of Bristol. Sir John had died in 1726, and the estate passed to his only son, Sir John Smyth. This, the younger Sir John, who married Anne Pym, remains somewhat of a mystery; for although he appears to have led a life of undistinguished seclusion, he succeeded in involving himself and the Ashton estate in debt to the extent of many thousands of pounds. Most of this debt was owing to his brother-in-law Jarrit Smith. Jarrit was by this time augmenting his already considerable wealth as a solicitor, by acting as financier and estate manager to a number of Bristol gentry and merchants. He appears to have taken over completely the management of Sir John Smyth's financial affairs, giving an allowance to the baronet [AC/JS/36]. Sir John finally died in 1741, leaving no children, but three surviving sisters to share his heavily indebted estate: Florence Smith, Arabella Gore and Elizabeth Smyth, who died unmarried and left her share to her younger nephew Edward Gore. With his death the baronetcy became extinct.

By his marriage to Florence, Jarrit Smith had thus not only allied himself to one of the most long-established, if impoverished, landed families in the Bristol area, but also stood to recoup the maximum profits from the estate of his deceased client and brother-in-law. In settlement of his claim for debts of between £20,000 and £30,000, he obtained the entire mansion and park of Ashton Court itself. In addition to this, he received a third of the residue in the right of his wife, and subsequently bought out another one-third share left by Arabella Gore to her elder son John. He thus became the owner of Ashton Court, with its extensive and beautiful park, together with two-thirds of the estate in Long Ashton and elsewhere in north Somerset and south Gloucestershire [AC/JS/5].

In this way Jarrit Smith raised himself from a prosperous Bristol solicitor, to become a landed Somersetshire gentleman, retrieving the Ashton estate from its indebted condition, and establishing himself as a figure of powerful and discreet influence in Bristol, but apart from it. The climax of his legal activities was reached with the `Bristol Case' in 1737, after his marriage to Florence, but before this change in status took place. Setting up house outside the city, at Ashton Court, he never came to play the part in civic affairs that might otherwise have been expected of him. Instead, he became M.P. for Bristol from 1756 to 1768. In 1763 his new standing was rewarded with a baronetcy, and he obtained a grant to bear the Smyth arms. Although he himself remained Sir Jarrit Smith to the end of his life, his two surviving sons by his second marriage: John Hugh and Thomas: adopted their mother's surname of Smyth. Jarrit Smith was first brought forward to stand for Parliament by the Tory party (the Steadfast Club) in March 1756, at an election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Richard Beckford. He was returned with 2426 votes, his Whig opponent the Hon. John Spencer losing by a narrow margin with 2374 votes. John Wesley is said to have been actively concerned on Jarrit Smith's behalf in the election proceedings. After taking his seat, Jarrit returned to Bristol and entered the city in a `triumphal procession'; in the face of this popularity a Whig petition against the election result was dropped [AC/JS/90/2-4]. His Parliamentary papers do not make him appear to have been an M.P. of any great distinction, although he took a Bristolian's interest in naval and mercantile affairs, as well as in such local Acts as that for rebuilding Bristol Bridge. However, he satisfied his constituents, retaining his seat in the election of March 1761, when a contest was avoided by mutual agreement and Robert Nugent was returned for the Union (Whig) Society, as the city's second member. In 1768 Jarrit Smith retired on account of his advancing age, and the Tory Matthew Brickdale was elected in his place [AC/JS/90/5-6].

The little that can be deduced about Sir Jarrit Smith from behind the discreet front raised by his business and other papers, would indicate, therefore, that his is a somewhat hard-headed 18th century professional success-story. He obviously grew wealthy on the interminable lawsuits of the time, and the administration of the affairs of several wealthy widows. Apart, however, from the occasional irate client complaining of maltreatment and his impromptitude in answering letters, there is little indication of other people's opinion of him. He played the part expected of an influential businessman and a newly made baronet, as a trustee of Colston's Hospital and a member of the Somersetshire Society, or in subscribing to a reward after robberies at Long Ashton; he also appears to have taken an interest in the Bristol Royal Infirmary [AC/JS/12, 13].

Success and respectability outweighte any startling events in Jarrit Smith's life. He extricated himself with dignity from the Dineley murder scandal in 1741. In 1745 a tale was started by Joseph Rendell, on trial before the City Magistrates, that Jarrit Smith was sheltering the Young Pretender - a stranger who "sometimes wore black, sometimes a fair wig, and disguised his face with paint" - in his Great House, on College Green. Rendell was soon afterwards in Newgate and the rumour died; a shortlived attempt was made to revive it by the Whigs, after Jarrit Smith's success in the 1756 election.

In spite of his great age, and occasional references to his `infirmities', Jarrit Smith appears to have remained in full possession of his faculties until the last months of his life; although his highly characteristic handwriting becomes even more illegible than normal with his advancing age. One minor personal characteristic that appears on the back of several documents [i.e. AC/JS/102/30/a-iii] is his habit of trying a new quill pen with the opening words, possibly of a text or proverb, which appears to have begun, "Many men have ..." or "Many men are good ...". The full version of this has not so far been traced. His activities as a solicitor diminished after his removal to Ashton Court. From the late 1770s John Hugh Smyth appears to have taken upon himself an increasing amount of the business matters that still remained and though not himself a solicitor, wound up clients' affairs left outstanding after his father's death.

When Jarrit Smith died in 1783, his estates were divided. Ashton Court and all his lands in Somerset were left to Sir John Hugh Smyth, and all his property in Bristol and Gloucestershire to Thomas Smyth. Florence had died sixteen years previously, in 1767. This division of the estate was amply compensated by the fact that both his sons had married heiresses to considerable estates in Somerset, Gloucestershire and the West Indies. The local press notice of John Hugh Smyth's marriage read:

"1757 Sept. 1 Was married John Smith Esq., of Long Ashton (eldest son of Jarrit Smith M.P.), to Miss Woolner, of this city, a handsome lady with £40,000 fortune, and endowed with every other desirable quality that may render the married state compleatly happy."
Access statusOpen
ArrangementThe archival structure of these papers is, in fact, such that a system of classification by letters would not have been suitable. The characteristic of the whole sub-series is that it relates to Jarrit Smith himself, and his activities, both before and after his marriage into the Smyth family, but not having any direct bearing on the inheritance, estates, past or future of, or arising out of, the Smyth family themselves. The papers comprise:

a) records relating personally to Jarrit Smith, together with the records of such lands as he owned before his marriage and in his own right;
b) forming much the largest part of the sub-series: Jarrit Smith's professional papers, relating to his work as a solicitor;
c) the papers acquired by Jarrit Smith as a result of becoming M.P. for Bristol, 1756-1768, both in Parliament and in the activities upon which he was engaged as a direct result of being an M.P., i.e. Bristol Bridge Committee.

The sub-series, therefore, shows a natural division into three sections: personal, professional and parliamentary papers. It is this division, rather than any classification under types of documents, which forms the basic archive structure of the sub-series. The numbering is in a continuous sequence, but the three different sections should be clearly apparent from the catalogue:

AC/JS/1 - 14 Personal papers
AC/JS/15 - 89 Professional papers
AC/JS/90 - 106 Parliamentary papers

The obvious and natural subdivision of these three sections is into the different subjects or cases with which they are concerned. These form the groups, each of which is given one overall number, i.e. AC/JS/1 relates to Jarrit Smith's personal property at Bridge Street, Evesham; AC/JS/53 to the lawsuits of the 'Bristol Case'; and AC/JS/92 to the Navy Bill, in Parliament. The larger of these groups are, for further clarity, also given brief titles in the catalogue. The documents within each group are given individual or bundle numbers, in brackets, with sub-letters as necessary for the documents within a bundle. The sub-letters run from a-z, followed by A-Z and if necessary by aa-zz; in one instance [AC/JS/36/2] they run on to AA-ZZ. Some of the best instances of this system of numeration in practice occur in the papers of the Blackall Estate [AC/JS/17], the Coster Estate [AC/JS/33] and the Colston and Comyn Estate [AC/JS/52]. As an example, AC/JS/52/4/a - xlvii = Ashton Court collection: Jarrit Smith papers: group 52 (Colston and Comyn Estate): bundle 4 (general accounts): file a: document xlvii.

The groups and legal cases of the first and second sections are arranged in chronological order of the date at which Jarrit Smith first becomes concerned in them. Within each group the papers normally follow the chronological order of their creation or association with the archive group. In certain bulky lawsuits, however, Jarrit Smith himself appeared to have classified his papers into the following order: court and related papers; letters; financial papers; bill of costs. This subdivision has been preserved, and adopted in other complicated lawsuits where the original order had been broken up. Estate matters with which Jarrit Smith was concerned are similarly sub-divided, within each group, into deeds, letters and papers, financial papers, and costs. A few exceptional lawsuits - notably James v. James [AC/JS/18] and the `Bristol Case' [AC/JS/53] subdivided themselves into several distinct actions. Parliamentary papers are catalogued, subject by subject, also in chronological order. At the end of each section are several more classified groups of documents, i.e. Personal letters [AC/JS/11], Political pamphlets [AC/JS/105], which include the considerable numbers of papers which had become irreparably divorced from any original archive group.

As the catalogue of the Jarrit Smith papers proceeded, it was found that the quantity of documents relating to this sub-series was considerably greater than had been expected; the bulk of the miscellaneous uncatalogued papers in the Ashton Court collection proved, upon examination, to be connected with Jarrit Smith. In addition, much material had to be examined and rough-listed before a decision could be made as to whether it did in fact relate to Jarrit Smith. In order to maintain the system of main series and sub-series divisions in the collection, it was essential to complete the catalogue of this sub-series in its entireity, despite its bulk. To have catalogued any one part would have destroyed the balance of the whole. Ultimately, the Jarrit Smith papers were found to comprise the contents, in whole or in part, of twenty-five boxes 17" × 14" × 9" deep. Flattened, they have now been repacked into thirty-nine smaller boxes, 15½" × 10¼" × 4" deep. The different groups, for more easy recognition and handling, are separated into plain foolscap manilla folders, tied with tape; deeds which will not conveniently go into folders are tied into bundles. The folders, bundles and the boxes containing them all bear labels giving the covering numbers of their contents.

One of the most marked characteristics of the whole sub-series is the extremely wide variety of types of document that may be found in any one group, particularly among the professional papers. One finds deeds of all descriptions, legal instruments and court papers, manorial documents, wills, letters, accounts, bonds, bills and receipts, all closely related one to another within each group, and providing intricate exercises in cataloguing. Particularly fine runs of deeds, 16th-18th century, are to be found in Baynard Estate [AC/JS/41], Vigor-Lock Estate [AC/JS/61] and Longman-Comyn Estate [AC/JS/71]. The properties concerned in the two latter estates are closely interrelated, but the deeds were found, and so have been treated, as two distinct groups.
In addition to the indices of persons and places, the catalogue includes an index of selected subjects, and further small indices of Parliamentary papers and trades. The former is a subject index of all the bills, acts and other Parliamentary papers, occurring in the Parliamentary section or elswhere. The variety of people with whom Jarrit Smith had contact suggested that an index of trades might provide a useful basis for a 'trade directory' of Bristol, at a time before the regular appearance of printed directories; it also directs the user to numerous tradesmen's accounts which often give detailed information on workmanship and wages.

With the exception of a few newspapers, the condition of all the documents is good; but it was found, throughout, that the entire collection had been badly disturbed and the original archival order broken up to a great extent. In the process of being moved from place to place, and as a result of previous investigation by antiquaries, original series were often completely disrupted. A few bundles, particularly the accounts in the Tinkers Close and Colston and Comyn Estate groups [AC/JS/8 and AC/JS/52] were still tied up in their original string, with endorsements by Jarrit Smith as to their contents; but most of the papers relating to any one lawsuit might be found scattered through several boxes, with individual items detached and relegated to 'miscellanea'. Frequently the identification of a name or place made it possible to restore the loose papers to their correct groups; but this process of restoring the original order was the most laborious and lengthy part of cataloguing the series.
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