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The papers of William Smith MP (1756-1835) and his family were presented to Cambridge University Library in 1962 by three of his descendants, Mr Victor Bonham-Carter, Miss Katherine Duff, and Mr Philip Leigh-Smith. Spanning some three hundred years in all, the largest part of the collection dates from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, chronicling Smith's personal and political career as well as illustrating the lives of his wife Frances and their family of ten surviving children. It consists of a dozen journals, some 400 items of correspondence, and a small quantity of miscellaneous related papers.

William Smith was one of the leading Independent politicians of his day. Prevented from attaining the high offices of state both by his Dissenting Christian convictions - he became a Unitarian - and by his own desire to remain out of the limelight, Smith nevertheless played a leading role in most of the great contemporary parliamentary issues, including the repeal of Test and Corporation Acts and the abolition of slavery. Besides shedding light on Smith's own character, not least in the dark days of 1806, when he was rejected by the voters of Norwich, and 1819, when he faced financial ruin after the collapse of his business ventures, the collection also includes letters from his friends, among them Charles James Fox, William Wilberforce, and that staunch parliamentarian Sir Francis Burdett. Smith's initial sympathies with the revolutionary movement in France took him to Paris in 1790, where he witnessed and recorded his reactions to the politically-momentous 14 July celebrations.

It is, though, with his domestic arrangements and in the upbringing of his children that the papers are at their most revealing. Frances Smith dutifully kept journals of the family's travels to all parts of the country during the 1780s and 1790s, and her children's correspondence with family and friends is also well represented here. Smith's love of fine art is represented by the auction catalogues and lists of paintings included in the collection, which also contains interesting material relating to the construction of one of the earliest Turkish baths in London, Joseph Lem's Bagnio Building in Newgate Street, and sketches and plans of the long-vanished Parndon Hall in Essex.

The collection may be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room by all holders of full Library reader's tickets. A detailed catalogue is available. For a political biography of Smith see R. W. Davis, Dissent in Politics, London, 1971.

Go to online guide to the Smith Papers.

Contact: Department of Manuscripts (01223 333147; mss@lib.cam.ac.uk).