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Volunteer Sandra Cruise reports on the completion of a landmark catalogue of the Arley Charters, begun by fellow volunteer Robert Stansfield in 2011.

A catalogue of one of the Rylands’ most important collection of muniments is now available via the library’s on-line catalogue, ELGAR. The Arley Charters, which mainly concern the Dutton and Warburton families and their Cheshire estates during the medieval period, are of national importance, noted for the large number of early charters and many fine seals appended thereto.

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Deed of gift from Robert the hunter of Thelwall to John the Hunter of Appleton, n.d. [c.1250-1290]. Arley Charters, ARL/16A/2.

The charters, over 750 in total, form the earliest component of the collections of the Warburton family of Arley Hall, Cheshire. They commence c.1170 with gifts of land to one of the earliest family members, Adam de Dutton (fl. 1172-1212), who was both Steward of Widnes and, from 1178, Steward of Blackburnshire, and continue through the family’s change of name from de Dutton to Warburton c1311, concluding in the late 18th century with documents relating to the fifth and last baronet, Peter XI.  The bulk of the collection relates to the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and to the family estates of Appleton, Aston by Budworth, Aston by Sutton, Chester, Dutton, Great Budworth, Lower Walton, Lymm, Newton by Chester, Northwich, Poulton, Pulford, Sutton, Thelwall, Warburton, Wincham and Winnington. Included are examples relating to the constables of Chester, several monastic charters, plus a small number of Papal bullae. In addition, there are some deeds of the 13th and 14th centuries relating mainly to Beverley in Yorkshire, to property which ultimately devolved on the Cheshire family of Winnington (later connected to the Warburtons through marriage in the early 16th century).

As significant landowners, the family undertook many important roles, as already indicated. Sir Geoffrey I (d. 1248), also known as ‘de Budworth’, married Alice, daughter of John de Lacy, constable of Chester and was a member of the latter’s retinue on Crusade in the Holy Land in 1218. Some years later, Sir Geoffrey V (d. 1382) was a retainer of Edward, Prince of Wales, the ‘Black Prince’, indentured in 1367 to serve him in peace and war with two esquires.

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Indenture of retainer from Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) to Geoffrey de Warburton, 6 June 1365. Arley Charters, ARL/14/5.

Names of the witnesses of the charters can also be revealing, including in their number not only the Duttons’ and Warburtons’ eminent Cheshire neighbours, but also sheriffs and justices of Chester, whose names have helped to date some of the undated documents in the archive, and even, in some instances, the names of the clerk who penned the charter.

The collection is also notable for its seals. Examples include those of the constables of Chester, Royal (Great seals) and monastic seals, Papal bullae, plus many from the Duttons, Warburtons and other Cheshire families. Amongst the Yorkshire charters are some seals of women, such as Agnes de Castell and Isabella de Burton, and of a tailor, William de Scheldware.

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Also significant are the early examples of trade receipts, such as those of draper, John Ridley of Chester, and grocer, ‘Market’ Dingley, who supplied wares to Sir John Warburton in 1559 and 1560 respectively. There is also a small number of letters and other documents relating to the living of the church of Lymm-cum-Warburton in the 18th century, plus other estate related papers, and a pedigree of the Warburtons of Hargrave, Cheshire, of 1696.

The catalogue is based on William Beamont’s printed calendar of 1866, compiled at the behest of Rowland Egerton Warburton (1804–1891), who had inherited the Warburton estates from his grand-uncle, the last baronet. The new version includes some 20 or more additional items not included in Beamont’s original, and is arranged in box, rather than in Beamont’s geographical order, which should make searching considerably easier for the researcher.

The archive provides a valuable record of the history and development of a landed family over 500 years. Topographical names and details, some of which may have long-since vanished, will be a rich resource for local historians.