In recent years, members of the Leech family of Manchester and Ashton- under-Lyne have presented Chetham's Library with a large and diverse collection of personal and business memorabilia stretching over two centuries.
The family papers comprise many hundreds of letters, business and household accounts, cashbooks, photographs and sketches, as well as an enormous amount of carefully hoarded ephemera, juvenilia, genealogical research, travel documents, souvenirs and postcards.
The archive is a uniquely personal collection which is dominated by an astonishing series of journals and personal diaries, and begins with a short journal written in 1815-16 by the young Thomas Leech (1790-1863). Thomas appears to have encouraged his wife and children to produce their own diaries, beginning a family tradition that at times borders on the obsessional. There are almost two hundred diaries in the collection, a remarkable record that is unlikely to be matched by any other collection in the country.
These pages are intended to highlight how the family viewed itself and the different ways in which diaries were used by successive generations of the family. It is necessarily selective – the Leech archive occupies over one hundred and eighty linear metres of shelving and consists of seventy archival boxes, over three hundred bound volumes of manuscripts and over seven hundred printed books.
The archive survives not simply because the family were mere hoarders of material, but because successive generations used the collection to re-tell the family’s history. In the Leech collection we have something quite unique: the most important collection of the workings of a middle-class family in the modern age.