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Treasure trove of historic papers shed light on almost 300 years of life on Ross-shire Novar estate

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Sir Hector Munro.
Sir Hector Munro.

A TROVE of historic papers shine a light onto almost three centuries of life on a Highland estate.

The Munro of Novar Papers, which detail documents created by Novar estate factors from around 1673 to 1967, are today housed at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness.

The Munros of Novar descend from John Munro, 1st of Milntown, who was the second son of Hugh Munro, 9th Baron of Foulis (d.1425).

And the family’s estate papers were transferred from Novar Estate premises to Highland Council Archive, Inverness, in May 1999 and January 2003. The records had been previously identified, boxed and listed (in part) by National Register of Archives (Scotland) in 1969.

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A significant proportion of the papers were created by estate factors or their predecessors, between c1730 and the mid-20th century.

The collection also includes many legal documents (some with 16th and 17th century dates) and solicitors’ correspondence.

There are also collections of personal papers (not directly related to the running of the estates) for several members of the family – most notably Sir Hector Munro (1727-1805) among which are letters to him in his role as Member of Parliament for Inverness District of Burghs (1768-1802). In addition, a small collection of ‘Indian papers’ derives from Sir Hector’s army service there between 1760 and 1782.

A Novar letterbook in the archive.
A Novar letterbook in the archive.

Probably the greater part of the collection relates to Novar Estate, Novar House and Forests; other papers relate to Findhorn and Muirtown, Culcairn, Culrain and Raith Estates, and Drummond Farm – either or both their acquisition by Sir Hector Munro, and their subsequent management.

“In general, the papers were found in a disordered state, apart from the factor’s accounts; many had evidently been bundled together for convenience rather than a semblance of an original order, and many groups are clearly incomplete,” said a spokesman for the archive centre.

“A scheme of arrangement was devised for their listing and with access for possible future research in mind. Broadly, estate records (prefixed by the letters A to H) were separated from personal papers (letters I to S); within these groups, several categories or subject groups were defined.

“The greater part of the collection is in good condition, particularly most of the 16th and 17th century documents and many of the factors’ records, most likely undisturbed for 200 years and more. Some 19th and early 20th century volumes have been affected by damp and decay to varying degrees.

“The accession is of particular importance for information about: very specific events in 18th century India; management of Novar Estate – work by individual tradesmen and by tenants; produce from the farms; improvements carried out; early legal history of Raith, Muirtown and Findhorn Estates; establishment of forestry at Novar; a rare first-hand account of an attempted clearance on the Culrain estate; 18th and 19th century legal processes relating to inheritance and land ownership, local reaction to the 1832 Reform Act Scotland and the subsequent election.”

From the Archive in conjunction with High Life Highland

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