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New exhibition reveals stories of the past from the Broadlands Archives

Published: 22 January 2010

Letters from Queen Victoria and Mrs Oscar Wilde and portraits by the photographer Cecil Beaton are among items going on public display in a new exhibition at the University of Southampton.

The exhibition of rare papers and photographs from the Broadlands Archives opens at the Special Collections Gallery at the University's Hartley Library on 25 January 2010. Highlights also include a handwritten note from Gandhi to Lord Mountbatten at the time of the transfer of power in India in 1947, and the travel journal of the 2nd Viscount Palmerston written during the Revolution in France in 1792.

The Broadlands Archives are one of the UK's most important collections of family and estate papers, and include political, economic, social and literary material principally from the 19th and 20th centuries. The University has launched a major fundraising campaign to secure the future of the archives, which have been on loan to the Library since 1989.

Professor Chris Woolgar, Head of Special Collections at the University, says: "The archives are among the foremost collections of manuscripts at the University Library, and include crucial material for key international, national and local individuals and events.

"This exhibition brings together a diverse range of items, offering a fascinating perspective of British history. We hope it will give visitors a sense of the significance of the archives, and why it is so important that this extraordinary collection is kept together in the UK."

The archives are linked to members of the families who have lived at the Hampshire estate of Broadlands. The Temple family (Viscounts Palmerston) acquired the property in 1737. The exhibition includes a letter to the 2nd Viscount from the renowned landscape architect Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, setting out the amounts he spent during his work at Broadlands between 1766 and 1779 - an extraordinary sum for the time of £21,150.

The 3rd Viscount Palmerston was Foreign Secretary three times, Home Secretary, and Prime Minister twice. As the first of Queen Victoria's Foreign Secretaries, he had an uneasy relationship with the monarch. Two letters from the Queen to Palmerston included in the exhibition are characteristic of her interest in foreign affairs.

Palmerston's stepson, William Cowper-Temple, inherited the estate following his father's death in 1865. His wife Georgiana struck up a close friendship with Constance Wilde - who was married to the playwright Oscar Wilde - and treated her like a surrogate daughter. A letter from Constance to Georgiana from 1888 is included in the exhibition.

The Cowper-Temples had no children and the estate passed to the Ashley family. In 1922, Edwina Ashley married Lord Louis Mountbatten, and the archives include a great amount of material relating to the couple and Lord Mountbatten's career. On display will be portraits of Lady Mountbatten by the acclaimed photographer Cecil Beaton; and images of Lord Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in 1945-6, along with papers and photographs from Mountbatten's time as the last Viceroy of India and first Governor-General of the newly-independent India in 1947-8.

The Broadlands Archives exhibition is on display at the Special Collections Gallery in the Hartley Library on the University of Southampton's Highfield campus from 25 January to 16 April 2010. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm. The exhibition is also open on Saturday 20 February and Saturday 20 March, 10am to 4pm. Admission is free for all; visitors may be asked for evidence of identity by Reception staff.

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