It is rare to find a sequence of household inventories surviving on the site they record; and rarer still when that house has been occupied continuously by generations of the family who built it circa 1510. The four inventories are dated 1597, 1626, 1708 and 1741 but some were updated and annotated for years beyond. They list over 4,500 items by room, working space or outdoor area. Entries are rich with evidence of recycling and upcycling, dimensions and design, fabric and textile, construction and colour, and sometimes provenance or provider. A numerical reference has been added to each entry in the transcriptions and this, in turn, is cited in all main and cross-references in the Index and Glossary of Household Goods which is a substantial part of the volume.
During the span of these inventories, the Tollemaches rose from the status of gentry to earldom: their household possessions reflect this transition vividly and an appendix traces the parallel development of Helmingham Hall. Removals from the Hall equipped the family's 17th-century home at Fakenham Magna in Suffolk and a further appendix is devoted to this property. Compilation of a household inventory was never a statutory requirement, and the introduction answers a question fundamental to any study of these records: why were the inventories compiled?
Moira Coleman is the author of Fruitful Endeavours: the 16th-century household secrets of Catherine Tollemache at Helmingham Hall. She is an Open University graduate, an independent scholar, now retired from a career in adult education.