For the first time the public is to be given access to centuries old letters which paint a fascinating picture of what life was once like in the British navy.
The 250 letters to and from Northumberland-born Admiral Robert Roddam written in the 18th century are to go on display to coincide with Trafalgar Day celebrations on October 21.
The missives concern everything from the conditions on board ship and staff appointments to the issues of press gangs and smugglers.
They are just part of the Roddam Family Collection of papers at the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn on the outskirts of Ashington.
Archivist Lynn-Marie Early, who has been working on the letters over recent weeks, said: “We have had the papers in our archives for 30 years, but sadly we just haven’t had the resources to delve into them until the Working Lives project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund provided us with the opportunity.
“We are now gaining an amazing insight into the working of The Royal Navy in the 1700s.
“One of my favourite letters is from The Duke of Clarence (who later became King William IV) to Admiral Roddam. From on board the Andromeda he wrote, ‘the bread and butter on board the said ship is mouldy, weevily, rancid, stinking and unfit for men to eat’.
“Other letters in the collection are from other eminent naval officers: Admiral Lord Hood from on board The Victory before Lord Nelson took command and Lords Anson, Chatham and Stephens.”
Admiral Roddam was born at Roddam Hall in 1719 and joined the Navy in 1735 where he served until his death in 1808 at the age of 88. In a career spanning 70 years, he served in the West Indies, New York (where he eloped with the Governor’s daughter) and on the seas around Europe.
At the time of his death he was Admiral of the Red (Admiral of the Fleet), the highest rank in The Royal Navy.
Although not actively involved in Trafalgar himself, Admiral Roddam was mentor and patron to Lord Cuthbert Collingwood – one of several Northumbrians involved in the sea battle which arguably led to Britain’s domination of the seas for the next century and turned Lord Nelson into one of the country’s most famous heroes, a status which endures today.
“Visitors to the Study Centre at Woodhorn will be able to see the actual Roddam letters for themselves,” said Lynn-Marie, “but anyone with access to the internet will be able to search our online catalogue for brief descriptions of the letters and even, in some instances, a full transcription.”
The Study Centre is open Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm.