As Norfolk goes to the polls for the county council elections on 4 May, it is probably no surprise that the Norfolk Record Office holds many records relating to local politics. Norfolk County Council was established in 1889 by the Local Government Act of the preceding year. The records of the Council form one of the NRO’s core collections. However, the official records of signed minutes and registers of electors are complemented by literature published by the various candidates and their political parties as well as the personal records of the individuals involved. Such records can provide a wonderful insight in to the political manoeuvrings not covered by the official record.
The NRO has recently purchased a series of diaries of Anthony Hammond (1834-1895) of Westacre High House. They were acquired at the Morningthorpe Manor House Sale as a result of an appeal made by the NRO and its charitable partner, the Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation (NORAH). Hamond owned a large landed estate and unsurprisingly was interested in such matters as horse breeding, hunting and estate management. Hamond’s extensive involvement with hunting in west Norfolk meant he was closely acquainted with the royal family. Queen Victoria purchased Sandringham Hall in 1862, as a home for her eldest son, the Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VII.
Hamond was also interested in local politics. He was involved in the transition of responsibility from the Norfolk Quarter Sessions to Norfolk County Council as both a Justice of the Peace and a member of the first cohort of county councillors.
Photograph: Norfolk Record Office, HMN 4/33, 737X2.
Despite Hamond’s difficult to read handwriting, the diaries offer a wonderful insight into the life of the late Victorian landed gentry. The diary entries shown below currently feature in an exhibition at The Archive Centre in Norwich. They neatly summarise Hamond’s interests, which include local politics as evidenced by the entry for 3 February 1889 (Norfolk Record Office, MC 3243/21).
In his diary, Hamond indicates that he was an ally of John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, who was a senior Liberal politician who had held many senior government positions, including Foreign Secretary. Wodehouse was also amongst the first cohort of county councillors. The minutes of the provisional county council, which first met on 7 February 1889 (Norfolk Record Office, C/C 22/1), contradict this somewhat. They record Hamond voting instead for Robert Thornhagh Gurdon, later Lord Cranworth (1829-1903) as first Chairman of the Council, namely. This may have had something to do with the fact that Gurdon was also the Chairman of Norfolk Quarter Sessions. Gurdon had sat as a Liberal MP before joining the Liberal Unionists in 1886 because of his objection to Irish Home Rule.
The powers of the early Norfolk County Council were not very extensive. A Joint Committee of the County Council and Quarter Sessions, of which Hamond was a member, controlled the police and courthouses. Responsibility for the County Lunatic Asylum and 267 County bridges was transferred from Quarter Sessions to the County Council. The Council also had responsibility for the maintenance of 824 miles of main roads and control of the contagious diseases of animals.
The generosity of those who contributed to the NRO and NORAH Morningthorpe appeal have enabled the eight diaries of Anthony Hamond, as well as many other documents, to become publicly accessible at the NRO where they complement the official records of Norfolk County Council as well as the Hamond of Westacre family and estate archive.
Compiled by Jonathan Draper, Partnership and Development Manager, Norfolk Record Office