The Sheffield papers contain 338 letters to John Baker Holroyd, 1st earl of Sheffield, as well as 3 printed items. The items span 1801-1819, but center around 1803, 1807-1809, and 1814-1819; the collection contains no items for 1804-1806 and 1810-1813. Over 100 correspondents are represented in the collection, and wrote on topics such as parliamentary matters, local elections, Irish politics, agriculture, trade, the Napoleonic Wars, patronage, and family affairs.
Several of Sheffield's brothers-in-law, who were also political colleagues, wrote the largest portions of the correspondence. The collection's most prolific contributor is Thomas Pelham, 2nd earl Chichester, who wrote over 20 letters to Sheffield. Chichester was the brother of Sheffield's deceased wife Lucy and a Member of Parliament for Sussex, 1780-1801. He wrote to Sheffield on both personal and political topics, including a proposed bill to abolish slavery that he believed would pass (February 8, 1807), candidates in local elections (September 25, 1812), political appointments, mutual acquaintances, and updates on his family. Frederick North, 5th earl Guilford, the brother of Sheffield's third wife Anne wrote approximately 20 letters to Sheffield, including several while serving as Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in Colombo. In a letter dated [July] 14, 1802, he responded to the news of the death of his older brother George, 3rd earl Guilford, and stated that the "Native Headmen" were in "deep mourning" over it. He also praised his own efforts to help them "retain their Authority" and defended himself against criticisms of his governance, which he had heard from the Secretary of State.
Several other writers commented extensively on foreign affairs. Prominent merchant Robert Milligan described the British reliance on American ships for trade, and speculated on the likelihood that this could continue (March 4, 1807), and trader E.G. Lutwyche wrote about the preponderance of American smuggling (February 25, 1809). An 1808 series of letters from correspondents in Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden, relate news on the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia. Correspondence throughout the collection references the Napoleonic Wars, and a letter of March 11, 1803, by Charles Lennox, 4th duke of Richmond, discusses methods of avoiding conflict and the threats posed by Napoleon to Britain.
A significant portion of the collection's correspondence concerns Sheffield's family. His granddaughter, Isabella Stanley, wrote two letters describing masquerade balls she attended (February 25, 1815; February 4, 1817). A letter from "A. Carver," dated September 18, 1809, notifies Sheffield of the drowning of four girls and women, including his granddaughter Elfrida. Sheffield's wife Anne received four letters in the collection, which relate to personal matters. Later letters in the Sheffield papers increasingly reference agriculture, including Sheffield's growing involvement in agricultural societies (March 23, 1816), and economic and agricultural problems in Devon (November 21, 1816).
The collection's three printed items are an advertisement for Ruff's Guide to the Turf, a list of subscribers for remunerating Sir John Sinclair's public services, and an undated flier concerning a Sussex election.