The papers trace five generations of the Thornton family, descending from John Thornton (1720-1790). Thornton inherited a large fortune, which he invested in trade, and used to provide generous support to the first generation of 'Evangelicals' and to circulate immense quantities of bibles and religious books throughout the world, many of which were printed at his own expense. He also bought advowsons in order to appoint deserving clergymen, such as John Newton (1725-1807). In 1753 Thornton married Lucy (1722-1785), only daughter and heiress of Samuel Watson of Kingston-upon-Hull. Their son Henry (1760-1815) was a philanthropist and economist. In 1780 he entered his father's counting-house, and two or three years later became a partner. The partnership was dissolved in 1784, when he joined the bank of Downe, Free & Thornton, of which he was an active member until his death. In 1782 Thornton was elected MP for Southwark, and he held the seat until the end of his life. He was an influential member of the 'Clapham Sect', and a friend and supporter of William Wilberforce. In 1792 he bought a house at Battersea Rise upon Clapham Common, which became the family home. He gave freely to charity, including £600 a year to Hannah More for her schools. In 1796 Thornton married Marianne (d. 1815), only daughter of Joseph Sykes of West Ella, near Hull. They left nine children: Henry Sykes, partner in Messrs. Williams, Deacon & Co.; Watson, rector of Llanwarne; Charles, the first incumbent of Margaret Street Chapel; Marianne (1797-1887) and Lucy, who died unmarried; Isabella, wife of Archdeacon Harrison, canon of Canterbury; Sophia, wife of her cousin, the Earl of Leven and Melville; Henrietta, wife of Richard Synott, esq.; and Laura, wife of the Rev. Charles Forster, rector of Stisted. Mrs. Thornton died nine months after her husband, when the children were placed under the guardianship of Sir Robert Henry Inglis (1786-1855). The marriage of Charles and Laura Forster produced Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, who married Alice Clara, daughter of Henry Whichelo. Their only son was Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), novelist and man of letters. E.M. Forster's great aunt Marianne left him £8,000, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and be financially independent enough to exist as a writer. He repaid his debt by writing her biography in 1956.