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Letters from London

Magnifying glass held over an archive letter
Close up of Ben Browne's letter from London describing the silk weavers' riot, 1719. | © James Beck

Hear one of the letters from young Ben Browne brought to life through audio. See images of the letters and read transcripts of the letters that have been carefully conserved in this archive volume in the Townend collection.

A hand holding the page of an old letter

Letters from London

Young Ben Browne went to live in London in June 1719, to start his training as a clerk to a lawyer. In this letter to his parents, he recounts his journey to London and his initial observations of the city, including witnessing the Spitalfields silk weavers protesting violently about imports of calico from India.


Revealing the stories hidden in the archives

Three hundred years after they were written, letters from a son in London to his father in the historic county of Westmorland are on display at the family home, revealing money worries, romances, nights out and work challenges that many today might recognise.

Townend was in the Browne family for over 400 years from 1525 to the 1940s. Through the centuries, generations of the family amassed a diverse collection of handwritten papers ranging from legal documents and letters to shop receipts and notebooks which provide a rich insight into the social history of rural Westmorland.

Ben Browne was 27 years old when he set off from Troutbeck in 1719 on horseback to make the 300-mile journey to London to start his training as clerk to a lawyer. From the moment he arrived he began writing letters home to his father, around 65 of which survive, full of detail that paint a vivid picture of a young country man discovering the pleasures – and anxieties – of the big city.

Emma Wright, Collections and House Manager at Townend comments: 'Young Ben was in London for 16 years and his letters are full of fascinating details of his life during this time, with his numerous requests for money towards his keep and for what he needs to live a fashionable lifestyle, not to mention some bombshell surprises like his secret marriage.

'While old Ben kept dozens of the letters he received from his son, young Ben only seems to have kept a few from his father. So, we have the references he makes in his own letters to things his father has written to him to get an idea of how Ben senior was responding to various pieces of news. In one surviving letter from old Ben, though, we discover he is keen for his son to find out a bit more about a rumour he has heard, of a duel in London between a local Troutbeck man and a Londoner!'

Learn more about several of the letters

Showing some of the letters written by young Ben Browne

A hand holding the page of an old letter
Ben Browne's letter from London describing the silk weavers' riot, 1719. | © James Beck

Ben Browne's letter from London describing the silk weavers' riot, 1719

Soon after he arrived in London, Ben witnessed some drama which he related later in a long letter to his father; he described …very great mobbing by the weavers of this town…they are starved for want of trade,” referring to the violent protests by Spitalfields silk weavers, against imports of calico from India, offering a glimpse of the social unrest that was present in large cities.

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Read the transcripts

You can read the full compilation of transcripts of Ben Browne's letters in this PDF document. To browse a full catalogue of the archive collection, please visit Cumbria Archives.

Conserving the archive documents

Over the years, the volume containing the correspondence between father and son – leather bound in the late 19th century by a member of the family, George Browne – had become in need of conservation. Prior to going on display, the volume has been repaired by book conservator Ann-Marie Miller.

Ann-Marie Miller said: 'It has been a pleasure to tread the same steps as George Browne, as I have charted, and then reconstructed, his work as a bookbinder. He took a great deal of care to preserve the correspondence between father and son and I have tried to honour his intentions. I feel as if I have also got to know young Ben, with his solicitous turn of phrase and the flourish of his handwriting.'

Conservation in action

See the condition of the archive volume before, during and after conservation.

old book with broken spine and damaged cover
Showing the condition of the left cover and spine of the volume before conservation work | © AM Miller


Showing the condition of the left cover and spine of the volume before conservation work.

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