The Life and Works of John Keyse Sherwin, compiled by W S Mitford, 1920s (Mitford Mss 1492)

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Chosen by Linda Bowen, volunteer

I have been a volunteer at West Sussex Record Office for eight years and, during that time, have transcribed very many Petworth House records, amongst other things. I also took part in the Record Office’s externally-funded ‘Joining Up Our Heritage’ project, which took place in 2009/2010, and it was during my research for this project that I came across this volume of notes by William Slade Mitford, in the Mitford collection (Mss 1492).

62-mitford-ms-1492-p14The volume has been meticulously handwritten and beautifully illustrated. It focuses on the life of John Keyse Sherwin (1751 – 1790), who, despite having been born to very humble origins – his father was a woodsman in East Dean, and made beech wedges for use in ship building; he would live to the grand age of 100 – became Historical Engraver to King George IV and the Prince Regent in 1785. It was William Mitford who discovered Sherwin’s talent and became his benefactor, financing his studies at the Royal College of Art and later the Royal Academy, as well as his various travels. However, despite his great talent and achievements – and despite his father’s great age – Sherwin died in poverty at the young age of 39, after a period of intense and reckless spending.

In addition to recording Sherwin’s life, the volume 62-mitford-ms-1492-p81refers to the background of the Mitford family and their rise to power and influence. Descended from the Mitford family of Mitford in Northumberland (as were the ‘Mitford Sisters’, the well-known society figures of the 20th century), the Sussex branch of the family bought Pitshill in Tillington in 1760 and remained there until 1959, when the mansion house and parts of the estate were sold off. Members of the Sussex Mitfords held high office, including that of High Sheriff and MP for Midhurst, and a number enjoyed prominent military careers. The family were also great travellers and the collection at WSRO includes a series of detailed journals of European tours made throughout the 19th century.

The volume also describes life in a Sussex village in the 18th century, and lists studies executed by Sherwin whilst studying at the Royal Academy. There is also reference to an early drawing book made by Sherwin’s siblings and held by the Mitfords; the Sherwins were seemingly a very talented family, although it was only John who received any formal training. Finally, it contains transcripts of many letters received by William Slade Mitford whilst he researching his book in the 1920s – long before the advent of computers, which has made accessing information so much easier!

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