The Lancashire Archive is celebrates its 75th birthday.
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 February 2015
After Radio 4’s landmark History of the World in 100 Objects, the Lancashire Archive celebrates its birthday in similar fashion. Mairead Mahaon reports
It contains documents from the 12th century to modern times, occupies over eight miles of shelving and is insured for £36,000,000. And this month, The Lancashire Archive is celebrating its 75th birthday.
It was during the dark days of 1940 that it was decided to gather up Lancashire’s most precious documents and keep them safe from possible invasion. Today, they form one of the most respected archives in the country and the birthday is going to be celebrated in style by revealing the 75 most significant items in its collection.
‘Diamonds are usually associated with 75th anniversaries and, as our collection is full of gems, we decided that we would celebrate by exhibiting 75 of our star items on a rotating basis throughout the year,’ says the archive’s Neil Sayer.
Spoilt for choice, Neil and his team spent many a long evening deciding which objects would be picked. The result is so extraordinary that the exhibition will also be making guest appearances at selected venues throughout the county.
‘When we began, we truly didn’t realise just how difficult a job choosing our star items was going to be.’ Despite keeping it to 75 they still have an embarrassment of riches - letters from Queen Elizabeth I and Charlotte Bronte to 18th century witchcraft charms and even Victorian plans for a Morecambe Tower.
The team have decided to deliberately keep half the selected treasures a secret, building excitement, until the exhibition begins but already there is a real buzz around the half that have been revealed.
One item, which has already generated a huge amount of interest - so much so that an American university recently offered $6 million for it - is the Alexander de Houghton will. Written in 1581, it is the document which lends the most weight to the theory that Shakespeare spent time in Lancashire. In it, de Houghton asks that William Shake-shaft, a variant spelling of Shakespeare, be looked after and be given various instruments and ‘play clothes.’
One item that made its way from America to the Preston archive is a rare Humphrey Repton Red Book that came up for auction in Sotheby’s in New York. ‘We had to include this in our 75 top items, as so much work went into raising the £53,000 needed to bring it home. It is incredibly rare,’ says Neil.
Humphrey Repton was a Georgian garden designer of some renown. He would design gardens for the rich in what became known as Red Books, so called because of the leather binding. On one of his trips north, he designed a garden for Sir Thomas Bootle of Lathom House.
In this example, Humphrey has drawn what the garden looked like at that moment and then he provides overlays to show just how wonderful it could look if he were to be given the job. ‘It seems that he didn’t get the job. Nonetheless, his book was treasured and, centuries later, it is still in excellent condition,’ says Neil.
Another item which will be on display are the notebooks of Miss Patience Arnold. We don’t know very much about her, other than she was involved with the local theatre scene during the 1930s and 40s. Her books contain posters of shows that were held throughout Lancashire and beautifully hand drawn portraits of cast members in costume.
Sadly, not all the exhibits will be as beautiful but they have been included in the exhibition because of their importance. The Victorian Record Book of the Prestwich Asylum for Women falls into this category. Each inmate was listed, one to a page, with details of why she had been admitted and what treatment she was given. Reasons range from ‘not doing duty to her children’ to ‘thinking a man was following her’ through to, ‘being noisy.’ Who decided what level of noise was acceptable, we just don’t know!
‘What makes this book so unusual is that each woman was photographed, which somehow makes them more real to us. Every now and then, though, an entry ends with the word “discharged” and we have to hope that their lives became happier,’ says Neil.
Those listed in the papers of John Vernon, of Preston, had very little chance of happiness. ‘This lease was written in 1785 on finest vellum and gives a detailed inventory of John’s Antigua plantation, including acreage, buildings and equipment,’ says Neil.
However, the most chilling thing about this lease is the names of native slaves, even babies, who are listed alongside livestock and whose individual monetary values are placed beside their names.
Although not funny at the time they were written, some other documents would raise a smile today. Included in this category is a poster for ‘Runaway Husbands.’
‘It sounds like something from a Carry On film today but it was deadly serious. These men had deserted their families and a substantial reward was offered for their capture. It has to be said, the authorities weren’t acting as marriage counsellors but were worried that the families of the men would become a burden on the parish,’ says Neil.
Throughout the year, these archives will form part of the 75 top items but there’s a sting in the tail. ‘We want our final star object to be something that comes from the people of Lancashire, so look in your attics and bring your treasures along. We don’t know what it will be until we see it but we just know that someone out there has our 75th star item’, says Neil.
When to see it
An exhibition featuring ten items from the list will rotate at The Lancashire Archive, Record Office, Bow lane, Preston, April 25, 2015 to March 2016. A talk will be given about the exhibition on the April 14 by Neil Sayer.
Individual exhibitions with up to 25 objects on display will be at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston(August 15-September 27) and
Lancaster Maritime Museum (October 3 to January 10 2016).
For more information contact the records office at 01772 533039
The story so far
Narrowing the archive items down to just 75 is quite a task for the archivists. Here’s a taste of what they have selected so far:
John Sumner’s letter describing the arrest and torture of Guy Fawkes 1605 after the Gunpowder Plot.
Preston Guild Roll 1762
Autograph letter of Charlotte Bronte 1850
Lancashire County Council Motorway bridge plans 1960s
Blackpool Corporation Tram lost property registers 1930s
WWI scrapbook of Will Barnes of Burnley
Album of illustrated Indian scenes, from Ormskirk Grammar School, 1920s
Frank Matcham’s plans for alterations to Royalty Theatre, Morecambe, 1899-1900
Log of 5 voyages to Jamaica by the ship “Dolphin” of Lancaster, 1774-1778
Autobiography of mill worker Benjamin Shaw, 1826
Sketchbook of Lancaster architect Edward Graham Paley, c.1860
Witchcraft charm found in the wall of a house in Sabden Fold, Burnley, c.1800
Euxton market charter, 1301
Inventory of William Blackledge, grocer, of Preston, 1685
Great Harwood British School log book, 1867-1896
Lytham Hospital fête souvenir, 1938
Character book for clients of the Preston branch of the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, 1837
Song depicting the fatal balloon accident of Mr Sadler near Accrington, 1824
Morecambe Tower plans, 1898
The oldest document - Henry I’s grant of lands to Robert d’Arcy, 1115
Queen Elizabeth’s letter to the Emperor of Cathay, 1602
Pedigree of Edward IV, tracing his descent from Jehosaphat, King of Judah, c.1480
Wooden boards with rules for the servants in the household of the Faringtons at Worden Hall (believed to be 19th Century)
Watercolour designs for stained glass by Abbot and Co of Lancaster, 1900s
Letter about the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, 1819, expressing thanks to the Magistrates for their “prompt, decisive, and efficient measures for the preservation of the public tranquillity”
A finely-bound volume of the sermons of Christopher Hudson, priest at Preston St John’s Church, 1630s
Quarter Sessions examination of Martha Proctor of Preston, aged between 8 and 9, found begging in Eccleston, 1724
A box containing “John Mercer’s experiments in Chromatic Photography”, c.1850