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Louth Museum

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Wilberforce Letters and Parchment Cabinet

by Susan Lewis and Ruth Gatenby

Detail of letter

Detail of letter

New cabinet

New cabinet

When Louth Museum opens again on Wednesday 19 May after the third Covid Lockdown, one of the must-see items is the new cabinet with twelve drawers to display parchments and historic documents.  This is the first time most of these documents have been on public display.

The top drawer contains original letters written by William Wilberforce, leader of the movement to eradicate the slave trade, and sent to Matthew Bancroft Lister of Burwell Hall near Louth.   The correspondence began in 1820 when Lister sent a monetary donation to the Prison Discipline Society, one of the many good causes supported by Wilberforce.  In return Lister asked for advice on the refurbishment of Louth Prison. You can see on display Wilberforce’s own handwriting, his seal and his stamp.

The transcript of the extract shown here says, “such cases, I repose great confidence. But I ought perhaps to mention that I was almost inclined to delay sending you the plans, till I should have learned from you for what number of inmates the House of Correction you mention was to be provided:- because of course the detail of the plan may entirely depend on that circumstance. If after perusing the Documents I now send, you wish for further information, I beg you will apply to me without scruple.”

The Louth House of Correction was (according to Bill Painter in his book ‘The Story of Louth House of Correction’) extensively refurbished at this time, at a cost of more than £7,000.  But we don’t know to what extent Wilberforce’s recommendations were implemented.

We haven’t enough space here to tell you what is in the other eleven drawers – you will have to come and see for yourself!