The Earl of Derby, Cllr Jeremy Wolfson and Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Concepcion at launch of publication of documents related to the Earls of Derby

Historic letters to the Earls of Derby now public

Historic letters to the Earls of Derby from members of the Royal Family and other prominent figures are being made available at Liverpool Central Library for the first time.

Thousands of papers, which also include diaries and other documents written in the 1800s and belonging to the 13th, 14th and 15th Earls of Derby, have been deciphered over a 20 month period by experienced archivists.

13th Earl of Derby
13th Earl of Derby

The Earls of Derby, based at Knowsley Hall, have had a significant impact as national politicians and local magnates and landowners in Lancashire, affecting education, hospitals, law, agriculture, trade and Art.

The documents include correspondence from Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, Horatio Nelson, Edward Lear, the Duke of Wellington, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Catherine Gladstone, Florence Nightingale and Herbert Spencer.

The letters are now catalogued in detail and fully accessible at Liverpool Record Office in Central Library and also available and searchable online.

A selection of the newly available archive will be unveiled by the present Earl of Derby at a special event in the Hornby Library at Liverpool Central Library on Thursday 7 January at 6pm.

Assistant Mayor and Cabinet member for culture, Councillor Wendy Simon, said: “This collection is a significant snapshot of our history, giving a fascinating insight into the world of some of the most famous and influential people of the 19th century.

“I am delighted that thanks to the work of our archivists, we are now able to make the papers available to people who wish to view them, whether it’s in person or online.”

14th Earl of Derby
14th Earl of Derby

The event will also launch a new publication on the history of the Earls – Art, Animals and Politics. Knowsley and the Earls of Derby – edited by Dr Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection and published by Unicorn Press Ltd.

It includes absorbing essays by a distinguished cast of contributors led by historian David Starkey, writing about the political significance of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the first Countess of Derby, and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, on Edward Lear’s zoological drawings, many of which were made at Knowsley.

It covers key facets of the family’s diverse achievements. Thomas, Lord Stanley, was created Earl of Derby in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Since that time the Stanleys – a great Lancastrian family, whose seat, Knowsley Hall, is near Liverpool – have been significant in the life of the nation as patrons and collectors, sportsmen and politicians.

The project and catalogue was produced with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archive administered by The National Archives.


The 13th Earl, Edward Smith Stanley was a naturalist, a patron of Edward Lear and John James Audubon, President of the Linnaean Society and President of the London (Royal) Zoological Society. He bequeathed his 15,000 museum specimens to Liverpool and became the core of the natural history collection in what became Liverpool Museum, now World Museum Liverpool, still available to view today.

The 14th Earl, Edward Geoffrey Stanley inherited the title in 1851, and served as Prime Minister three times, responsible for some of the major reforms of the 19th century. He oversaw the Government of India Act which transferred control from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, leading to the Raj and oversaw the Jews Relief Act which ended the exclusion of Jews from seats in Parliament. In 1867 his government passed the Reform Act, which allowed working men to vote for the first time. As an MP he had introduced the Irish Education Act in 1831 and had a role in the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1834. The 14th Earl had worked to alleviate the distress of the textile workers in Lancashire, many of whom were his tenants, during the American Civil War.

15th Earl of Derby
15th Earl of Derby

The 15th Earl of Derby, Edward Henry Stanley inherited the title in 1869 and was also a prominent politician. He served under his father as Secretary of State for the Colonies, for India and for Foreign Affairs. He left 33 diaries giving great insight into his personal and public life. He donated land that became Stanley Hospital in Kirkdale and Bootle Hospital in Derby Road and also donated parkland in the area. He supported many educational schemes, including schools in deprived areas and contributed significantly to the funding of the beginnings of the University of Liverpool and University of Manchester


People wishing to access the original Derby Papers can make a booking at Liverpool Record Office, 3rd Floor, Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW. They can also call 0151 233 3069 or email

The Search Room is open 9.30am – 6 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 9.30am – 8 pm on Wednesday and 9.30am – 5 pm Saturday.

The online catalogue is available here

 Pictured (top) are the present Earl of Derby, Cllr Jeremy Wolfson and Lord Mayor, Cllr Tony Concepcion.

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