W.H. Smith – Hambleden Collection

Reference: HAMDate: 1755-1973Extent: 27 boxes

This collection contains the papers of the Smith family, who received the peerage Viscounts Hambleden in 1891.

William Henry Smith II (1825-1881) was a successful businessman and respected politician. He and his father, also named William Henry Smith, were partners at the family newsagency, W.H. Smith & Son, from 1846 to 1857. At that time, the elder Smith retired, and W.H. Smith became sole owner of the firm.

W.H. Smith first stood for parliament in 1865, but he came bottom of the poll in the Westminster election. He was successful three years later and was the Conservative representative for Westminster from 1868 to 1885. Following the partition of his constituency, he became the MP for the Strand Division from 1885 to 1891. In 1874, he was made Financial Secretary of the Treasury, and in 1877 (in which year he was also sworn Privy Counsellor), he became First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he held until 1880.

From 1885 to 1886, he was Secretary of State for War, and for a brief but important period early in 1856, he took over the Chief Secretaryship in Ireland, retaining his seat in the Cabinet. He returned to the War Office during the Marquess of Salisbury’s second administration (1886). He resigned at a moment of crisis to become leader of the House of Commons and First Lord of the Treasury, where he remained until his death in October 1891.

In recognition of her late husband’s public service, W.H. Smith’s wife Emily (1828-1913) was given the peerage Viscountess Hambleden in 1891. Their son, William Frederick Danvers Smith, succeeded his mother as the 2nd Viscount Hambleden.

William Frederick Danvers Smith (1868-1928), or Frederick Smith as he was usually known, was the youngest child and only surviving son of W.H. Smith and his wife. He was educated at Eton College and then at New College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1890 with a third class in modern history.

Following his father’s death in 1891, Frederick Smith became head of the family firm W.H. Smith & Son and also succeeded W.H. Smith as Conservative MP for the Strand division of Westminster, a position he held until January 1910. In 1913, after the death of his mother, Frederick took his seat in the House of Lords as Viscount Hambleden.

The Hambleden Manuscriptions Collection contains the papers of W.H. Smith and Frederick Smith.

The papers of William Henry Smith, which form the greater part of this collection, are broadly divided into three sections: family papers; business, estate and philanthropic affairs; and political matters.

Within W.H. Smith’s family papers, the largest section consists of a long series of letters which Smith wrote to his wife – about 1250 items in all – which, apart from the picture they give of family life, also contain many interesting political side-lights. There is also a large collection of correspondence between Smith and his parents, children and friends.

His well-known philanthropic activities are strikingly illustrated by the collection of letters relating to the rebuilding of St. Mary’s Church, Portsea, which he largely financed, and in a fine series of letters from his former employee, E.A. Wallis Budge, the Assyriologist, whose early academic career owed much to Smith’s munificence. In addition, this collection contains an interesting but far from complete group of business papers, a few referring to commercial enterprises with which Smith was connected, but which deal mainly with the family firm of W.H. Smith & Son during a period of rapid expansion. For more about the W.H. Smith & Son business, please see the W.H. Smith Business Archive.

W.H. Smith’s political activities, particularly naval affairs, are amply illustrated in the papers within this collection. As a Metropolitan member, he was naturally concerned with problems of London education and public utilities, and many papers relating to these issues can be found within the collection. The National Archives also holds a collection of W.H. Smith’s papers from when he was Secretary of War (reference WO 110), which were donated in 1945 by his grandson, the 3rd Viscount Hambleden.

The papers of Frederick Smith primarily consist of his early correspondence with his family and friends.

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