The Hamilton family,the Dukes of Abercorn, as landlords,have figured largely in the lives of generations of people in the Parishs of Ardstraw, Donagheady and Urney, County Tyrone
Here is an introduction to the papers of the Hamilton family
The Abercorn Papers consist of c.29,300 individually numbered documents, 759 volumes, 88 bundles and 40 P.R.O.N.I. boxes 1219-1963. In default of individual numbering of the contents of these bundles and boxes, the best way of conveying an impression of the size of the archive is to say that it runs to 168 boxes, 9 yards of volumes too large to be accommodated in a box, and 6 map drawers of other outsize material.
Abercorn Family history
The Abercorn family are the senior surviving branch of the Scottish House of Hamilton in the male line, the dukedom of Hamilton having passed through a female in the mid-seventeenth century. The direct male ancestor of the Abercorns was Lord Claud Hamilton, fourth son of James, 2nd Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland during the minority of Queen Mary. He was created Duke of Chatelherault in the kingdom of France. Lord Claud was distinguished for his attachment to Mary Queen of Scots, and at an early age was appointed commendator of the abbey of Paisley. The extensive lands of this abbey were after the Reformation erected into a temporal lordship, and he was elevated to the peerage under the title of Lord Paisley. He had four sons, of whom James, the eldest, was created Baron of Abercorn, 1603, and in 1606 advanced to the dignity of Earl of Abercorn, Baron of Paisley, Hamilton, Mountcastle and Kilpatrick. The estate of Abercorn, from which this title is derived, is in Linlithgowshire.
The 1st Earl of Abercorn was one of the promoters of the Plantation of Ulster, and had a very great estate granted out of the escheated lands in Co. Tyrone. He died in 1618, and was succeeded by his son, James, who during his father's lifetime had been created a peer of Ireland in 1616, by the title of Baron of Strabane. James, the 2nd Earl, was a loyal supporter of Charles I. He was succeeded by his son George, 3rd Earl, at whose death, without issue, the title devolved upon Claud, grandson of Claud, 2nd Lord Strabane. Claud, 4th Earl, was outlawed for supporting James II, but his brother, on succeeding as 5th Earl, had the outlawry reversed. His kinsman, the 6th Earl, prior to succeeding to the earldom in 1701, was a colonel of regiment to James, but assisted in raising the siege of Londonderry for William.
The 7th Earl, who succeeded in 1734, was a fellow of the Royal Society, and wrote treatises on harmony and loadstones; his younger brother, the Hon. Charles Hamilton, was a noted horticulturist. The 8th Earl was a patron of the arts, a builder, and the consolidator of the family's property and influence. In 1745 he bought the Duddingston estate, outside Edinburgh, where Sir William Chambers built a mansion for him in the 1760s.
At Paisley in Renfrewshire, the family's former property, which he re-acquired in 1764, he built the Place of Paisley and laid out a new town in the 1770s. His successor, the 9th Earl, created 1st Marquess in 1790, was another great patron of architects, a leader of fashion, a friend of Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister, 1783-1801 and 1804-6), and the first considerable political figure in the family. His grandson, the 2nd Marquess, created 1st Duke in 1868, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland twice, 1866-8 and 1874-6. The 2nd Duke was a friend of Edward VII's and held various Household appointments, 1866-1901.
The 3rd Duke was the first Governor of Northern Ireland, 1922-45. The dukedom of Abercorn is Ulster's only dukedom, Ireland's second and Britain's second-last.
Title deeds and leases
The title deeds naturally reflect the complicated processes by which the family acquired, lost or sold, and sometimes re-acquired, their estates in various parts of the British Isles.
The Tyrone estate derived from Plantation grants, some of which survive in the archive, of four manors in the parishes of Ardstraw, Donaghedy, Leckpatrick, Camus and Urney, and in what came to be defined as the barony of Strabane Lower. The four manors were, from north to south: Donelong, Cloghogle, Strabane and Derrygoon/Derrywoon/Dirrywoon (where Baronscourt is situated). By the end of the seventeenth century, as a result of partitions effected in 1621 and 1633, only the manor of Strabane belonged to the then (5th) Earl of Abercorn; the others belonged to the cadet Hamiltons of Donelong, who had participated with their cousin, the 1st Earl, in the original Plantation, and one of whom, James Hamilton, succeeded as 6th Earl of Abercorn in 1701.
As a supplement to their fee simple estate in Tyrone, the Abercorns held, during the eighteenth and the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, leasehold property under the see of Derry. This was part, later all, of the c.4,000 (Irish) acre churchland estate of Ardstraw, which lay between the manors of Strabane and Derrygoon and was geographically situated and shaped to round them off. In the period 1840-80, the 1st Duke of Abercorn acquired all of it, first by lease, and subsequently by purchase from the Church Temporalities Commissioners.
The Donegal estate, across the River Foyle from the manor of Donelong, came in by a combination of marriage and purchase in the second half of the seventeenth century. It, too, belonged to the Hamiltons of Donelong. In 1660, Colonel James Hamilton married Elizabeth, daughter of the 1st Lord Colepeper. Although technically not an heiress, Elizabeth Hamilton's fortune was sufficiently large to enable her trustees to purchase, in 1677, the manors of Magavlin and Lismoghry, round St Johnstown, mainly in the parish of Taughboyne, and in the future barony of Raphoe North. In 1684, half of this estate was settled on her son by James Hamilton, another James, the future 6th Earl; and in 1709 the whole of it merged with the Abercorn estate on the death of Elizabeth Hamilton.
Among the Irish title deeds are c.30 dating from before 1660, c.50 from 1660 to 1700, and c.115 for the period 1700-60. There are about 1,150 leases covering the period 1820-1934, of which some 550 relate to the Ardstraw churchlands, 1841-67. Two isolated items, dated c.1668 and 1675, relate to Sir George Hamilton's claim to lands in the barony of Duhallow, Co. Cork, formerly belonging to Dermot McOwen Carthy. The best documented Abercorn property outside Tyrone and Donegal is the Dublin town house on the corner of York Street and Stephen's Green which was held by lease from the Dean and Chapter of St Patrick's, and was brought into the family through the 6th Earl's marriage in 1684. The seventeenth-century Irish title deeds also include 1670s-80s references to silvermining in Tipperary, the Alnage of Ireland, and the Alnage of the city and county of York.
The earliest Scottish deeds are 14 charters and grants relating to the abbey of Paisley. These include: four papal bulls, 1219-1265, including a bull of Honorius III permitting the monks to elect an abbot. There is also a later transcript of a 1265 bull of Clement IV granting lands and privileges to the monastery, a charter of Robert III of 1404, and a photocopy of a 1553 bull of Julius III conferring the abbey 'in commendam' on Lord Claud Hamilton, later 1st Lord Paisley, the father of the 1st Earl of Abercorn. Although these texts are known and published from a 16th century cartulary in the National Library of Scotland (NLS Adv. 34.4.14), original documents relating to Scotland at this period are of great rarity. Further title deeds, 1557 and 1586-1655, document the changing ownership of the abbey, lands and mill of Paisley, down to their acquisition by the Cochrane family, Earls of Dundonald, in 1653. The remaining title deeds, of the period 1671-1766, mainly relate to the 8th Earl of Abercorn's re-acquisition of most of the estate by purchase from the 8th Earl of Dundonald in 1764. A bundle of case papers, correspondence and deeds, 1875-6, documents a dispute over the right of presentation to the parish and parish church of Paisley.
In addition, there are 'tacks' or leases of premises in Paisley, thinly spread over the period 1611-1822, and leases concentrated on the period 1835-1950. A bundle of c.60 inventories, 1824-33, of title deeds to premises in Paisley, gives particulars of the leases granted over time in respect of each particular holding, and constitutes a kind of unbound lease book for the estate.
The Duddingston title deeds and leases begin chronologically in 1655. There are: deeds and papers relating to minor interests in Duddingston acquired by the 8th Earl of Abercorn between 1756 and 1787; original and copy title deeds, etc, 1683-1926, relating to the future Abercorn estate in the parish of South Leith (Waterpans, Slackendrought, etc) adjoining Duddingston; deeds, copy deeds, correspondence, etc, 1696-1854, relating to the boundary between Brunstane and the area within the jurisdiction of the magistrates and town council of Musselburgh; and a considerable quantity of title deeds, leases, bonds, case papers, etc, 1696-1772, also relating to Brunstane, which the 8th Earl of Abercorn purchased in 1769 through a series of transactions recorded in this part of the archive. One previous owner of Brunstane was the Home family of Manderston, Berwickshire, Baronets; so the papers also relate to the general financial affairs and lawsuits of the Homes, and to their estates elsewhere, including Coldingham, Eyemonth, Lumsden, Westreston, etc, in Berwickshire. The main concentration of the Duddingston title deeds is however on the major purchases of the lands of Easter and Wester Duddingston made by the 8th Earl of Abercorn in 1747 and 1767 from the Lord Justice Clerk, Andrew Fletcher, Lord Milton, and from Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll. These constitute c.80 documents, dating from 1699.
The Duddingston leases mainly consist of: 'Political leases' of Easter and Wester Duddingston, 1765-92, including annuities to members of the Abercorn family and to the Irish agent, James Hamilton of Strabane; leases, 1802-1936, of Piershill, with related papers; feu charters or leases, 1802-18, of premises in Easter and Wester Duddingston, the Townparks, Portobello, Rabbithall, Abercorn Place, Hamilton Street, John Street, Melville Street, Pitt Street, etc; leases, 1803-30, of premises in the East Links of Joppa; leases, 1805-1907, of Dickson's Park, alias Northfield, with related papers; leases, etc, of Meadowfield, 1811, 1822-3, 1942 and 1954; and leases, etc, 1873-1960, of various parts of the Duddingston estate, mainly urban property in Edinburgh suburbs (Willowbrae Avenue, etc).
General deeds of settlement, trust, etc, mainly affecting both the Paisley and Duddingston estates, comprise: deeds and other papers, 1787-92 and 1819-23, relating respectively to the succession of the 1st Marquess of Abercorn in 1789 and of the 2nd Marquess (as a minor) in 1818; legal searches, 1827-50, for encumbrances affecting the Scottish estates; and deeds of settlement, disentailing deeds, articles of association of the Abercorn Estates Company, etc, 1841-1971.
Brief mention has already been made of the history of the Abercorn estates in England. In 1720, the 7th Earl of Abercorn, who had married the daughter of a Hertfordshire landowner, bought the Witham Place estate in neighbouring Essex. The 8th Earl sold the house at Witham in the mid-1780s, and the 1st Marquess the rest of the Witham estate in the 1790s. The latter concentrated his resources on extending his own English property, The Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex. In 1852-4, this was sold (for over ??90,000) by his grandson, the 2nd Marquess, subsequently the 1st Duke, in order to pay off his debts and, it was said, after some deliberation over whether Baronscourt should be sold instead. Most of the title deed material relating to the Middlesex estate passed to the purchaser, Sir John Kelk, and is now Accession 502 in the Middlesex Records Branch of the Greater London Record Office. Of the English title deeds still present in the archive, the majority (some 40) relate to Hampden House, Green Street, London, 1729-1890; Hampden House became the town house of the Abercorn family in 1869. One deed of 1720 bears on the title to the Essex estate.
Irish estate papers
Some of the surveys, rentals and correspondence in the Abercorn Papers, when used in conjunction, provide the following picture of the extent and value of the Irish estates in Tyrone and Donegal, 1777-1832:
Manor Irish acreage Rental(1777-81) Rental(1790)(1818) Rental(1832)
Donelong 5,139 ??3,588 ??6,030 ??4,417
Cloghogle 6,469 ??3,464 ??6,923 ??4,726
Strabane 9,260 ??4,340 ??7,791 ??5,823
Derrygoon 5,865 ??2,506 ??4,224 ??3,190
Magavlin[and Lismoghry] 9,803 ??5,811
TOTALS: 36,536 ??19,709 ??37,490 ??26,916