Delaval family archive material on show at Woodhorn Museum

FASCINATING archive material from the history of a famous North East family has gone on display at a leading visitor attraction in Northumberland.

FASCINATING archive material from the history of a famous North East family has gone on display at a leading visitor attraction in Northumberland.

The official opening of the new harbour in the seaside village of Seaton Sluice in March 1764 is the focal point of the exhibition which opened at the weekend at the Woodhorn Museum and Archives Centre near Ashington.

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A Cut Above has been compiled from research into dusty archives of the renowned Delaval family, carried out at Woodhorn as part of a lottery-funded heritage project.

Visitors to the exhibition, which runs until December 23, are transported back almost 250 years to the Seaton Sluice harbour opening, and are able to meet some of the characters involved in the event.

It is explored from the perspective of both the rich and poor of the day, from the flamboyant Sir Frances Blake Delaval through to destitute little Alice. The exhibition showcases what life was like for 18th-Century Northumbrians, and the roles they played within the Delaval Estate at the start of the industrial revolution.

It was put together after months of detailed research into the Delaval archive held at Woodhorn, as part of the Working Lives project which was launched thanks to almost £250,000 from the Heritage Lottery fund.

In January 1822 a massive fire ripped through Seaton Delaval Hall, completely destroying part of the grand house. Fortunately, servants managed to save a lot of the contents, including a number of documents.

Seventy years later, piles of rat-eaten and rotting family papers belonging to Lord John Delaval were discovered by chance by local antiquary John Robinson, lying forgotten in an old building at Hartley Colliery and due to be burned along with other rubbish.

He realised their importance and saved them, and their contents now form the main part of the Delaval archive at Woodhorn. The family archive is made up of several different collections, deposited in the Northumberland Archives and Berwick Record Office by a number of people and organisations over the last 40 years. It has been used to stage A Cut Above.

Dr Liz O’Donnell, who has been working on the collection, said: “Documents in the Delaval archive date from the late 13th Century right through to the 19th Century and we are extremely lucky that so much still exists. We have chosen to illustrate the wealth of information contained in this fascinating archive by focusing the exhibition on one specific event, and of course it paints a wonderful picture of life in the late 1700s too.

“We get a glimpse into the opening of the new harbour, which was in itself a remarkable achievement and a great feat of engineering which transformed the small community into a thriving industrial centre right at the beginning of the industrial revolution.” Full details of the exhibition and opening times, are available at


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