The archive - which belonged to the Cowper family who lived at Panshanger from about 1806 - had been loaned to the record office since 1953. Its importance lies in the quantity and variety of the written and illustrated historical material it contains. Estate records, manorial papers and maps date from c1280 until 1953. William Cowper, Lord Chancellor and the first Earl Cowper, left political papers on the union of Scotland and England in 1707 and a diary by Queen Anne's physician, Sir David Hamilton, recording the events of her death in 1714. There are papers about Lord Melbourne and his wife, Lady Caroline Lamb; and Grenfell family papers, including letters from the artist Rex Whistler.
The fifth earl pulled down Cole Green House - built opposite the Panshanger estate by the first earl with landscape designed by Capability Brown - and commissioned Repton's re-design. Repton drew two houses - one Gothic and one classical - and placed them on the other side of the river from the old house. It is not thought that the designs were realised.
The grant of pounds 50,000 from the Friends of the National Libraries is the largest the Friends have ever given since they were established in 1931. Their aims are to help acquire for the nation books, manuscripts and archives which might be under threat of leaving the country. In that time they have helped over 250 institutions with acquisitions, including - most recently - the Wilberforce family papers for the Bodleian Library, a Samuel Johnson letter for the Johnson Museum and Augustus and Gwen John papers for the National Museum of Wales. The Friends constantly need to raise money to continue their activities and membership includes regular private visits to libraries and an annual report. For further information, contact: Friends of the National Libraries, c/o the British Library, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, telephone 071-323 7509.