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2014 UK Memory of the World Register

On 19 June 2014 9 items and collections became the forth round of inscriptions to the UK Memory of the World Register, a list of documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK. These inscriptions are:

The ‘Shakespeare Documents’

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution:
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The National Archives
Further information: Website of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The National Archives

The ‘Shakespeare Documents’ are the key archive sources for understanding the life of the world’s most celebrated poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, b.1564, d.1616.  These unique handwritten documents, dating from within Shakespeare’s lifetime, provide an evidential basis for understanding the narrative of his life.

Shakespeare left a documentary trail of his life, which was divided between his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon, and London. These ‘Shakespeare Documents’ bring together two vital strands of Shakespeare’s life - the enduring influence and draw of home and the excitement and opportunities of Elizabethan and Jacobean London, where his career flourished.

William Shakespeare’s genius endures through his creative works, his characters, stories and language. Understanding the man behind the works has long captured public imagination. The documentary sources are invaluable as they allow us to consider Shakespeare’s personal narrative - his birth, death, family affairs, property and business dealings - as well as his context within a period of history that saw major changes in religious and political society.

The ‘Shakespeare Documents’ are also powerful beyond their evidential value.  They provide a tangible connection to Shakespeare allowing us to get closer to a man who died some 400 years ago yet continues to have an unparalleled influence on language and culture in the UK and beyond.

There are seventy-nine known ‘Shakespeare Documents’. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the UK National Archives have responsibility for caring for the majority of these.

The Roman curse tablets from Bath

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: Bath & North East Somerset Council
Further information: Presentation on the Roman Baths in Bath website

The Roman curse tablets are the personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter and cast into the hot springs at Bath.

The tablets are believed to range in date from the 2nd to the late 4th century AD. Some are written in Old Roman Cursive and some in New Roman Cursive which was in use from the later 3rd century until the end of Roman rule in Britain. Most of the tablets are addressed to the Goddess Sulis Minerva, but there is also a dedication to Mars, the God of War.

One tablet is made up of Celtic words written in the Latin alphabet. It is the only surviving text in British Celtic to have come down to us from the ancient world. Its meaning is not understood. Another curse tablet contains what is currently the earliest known reference to Christianity in Britain.

This is the largest cache of such documents from Roman Britain. It offers an insight into the extent of bilingualism in the British population under Rome.

Unlike many classical sources, the tablets do not tell us of the lives of great men and women and are not great works of literature or philosophy. Rather they give an insight into the lives of ordinary people, seeking redress for wrongs that have befallen them and asking their deity to intervene on their behalf to bring this about. They plead for justice.

Neath Abbey Iron Works

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: West Glamorgan Archive Service
Further information: Catalogue on the West Glamorgan Archive Service website

Neath Abbey Ironworks in South Wales became well known for the manufacture of railway locomotives, stationary and marine engines.

The locomotive drawings relate to the earliest period of railway development and include designs for use on the Penydarren Tramroad and the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway.

This collection is a rare survival that shows the contribution of South Wales to Britain’s industrial revolution and to the spread of British mining technology to the rest of the world.

Although many of the Company’s records were lost after the works’ final closure in 1886, a collection of approximately 8,000 engineering drawings survived. The drawings date from 1792 to 1882.  They are detailed and finely drawn, reflecting the high standards of work for which the foundry was famous.

The papers of the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (1823-1854)

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
Further information: RNLI website

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea around the UK and Republic of Ireland. It was founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, a soldier and philanthropist, who witnessed and was involved in shipwreck rescues where he lived on the Isle of Man. He saw a need for a national lifeboat service that would provide lifeboats, reward those who performed rescues and give financial support to those widowed by rescue efforts.

The collection relates to the early days of the institution, known until 1854 as the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. They include Sir William Hillary’s appeal to establish the charity, his letters to the Central Committee of the Institution, committee minute books, annual reports, financial records, service and reward records.

The documents reveal how the charity evolved, how it raised funds, what its vision was and the role of those involved. In 1854 the charity changed its name to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and entered a new chapter in its history of renewed drive and expansion. The efforts of Sir William Hilary and others involved in the charity’s early days are recorded in these unique documents and reveal their part in the development the first national lifeboat institution in the world, which, to date, has saved over 140,000 lives.

Hepworth Cinema Interviews

Type of heritage: Film
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales
Further information: Catalogue on the National Library of Wales website

In 1916 Cecil Hepworth, one of the pioneers of cinematography, resurrected his unique project; the filming of well known people ‘talking‘ to the camera. In this instance they were making personal statements about the War.

Created and released in three parts, the Hepworth Cinema Interviews include: Rt Hon H.H. Asquith, Field Marshal Viscount French, H.B. Irving, Rt Hon Lloyd George, Sir Hiram Maxim, Lord Derby and Sir Squire Bancroft. The films provide a lasting personal comment upon the conduct, necessity and potential after effects of the war, made during the conflict.  For many of the people involved, this may well have been the only time they would ever appear before a motion picture camera.

The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are arguably the forerunner of today’s media interviews and were unique at their time. Newsreels of the day reported events and activities often showing politicians making speeches to audiences, but the concept of talking directly to camera was just one of Hepworth’s cinematographic innovations.

Robert Hooke’s Diary, 1672-1683

Type of heritage: Document
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: Culture, Heritage and Libraries Department of the City of London Corporation
Further information: City of London Corporation website

Robert Hooke, 1635-1703 worked at the forefront of physics, astronomy, microscopy, physiology and geology and published the first fully illustrated scientific textbook, Micrographia. He was the first UK professional experimental scientist.

His enormous contribution to 17th century scientific research and London architecture is clearly revealed in his Diary. Kept as a memorandum book to remind him of the many places he had been and people he had met each day, along with his pithy thoughts and observations about scientific research and the world around him, the Diary offers an unparalleled glimpse into the exciting and vibrant world of Restoration scientific discovery and the rebuilding of London from the ashes of the Great Fire.

Hooke did not intend his Diary to be read by anyone else, so he could be candid in his observations about himself and his contemporaries. The Diary shows us a man striving to be open and honest with himself. He found his body and habits to be worthy of investigation and research, so he noted his symptoms and the experimental, sometimes dangerous medicines he self-administered.

Famed for his irascibility and scientific rows, the evidence of the Diary suggests he was often both gregarious (with many evenings in taverns and coffee houses recorded) and collaborative – working closely and amiably with many colleagues, especially Sir Christopher Wren. At other times he confided in the Diary his bitter feelings towards scientists whom he believed had stolen his ideas and inventions or deliberately under represented his achievements and contribution. Entries in the Diary have allowed historians to cast light into these painful rows and also to see areas where he was ahead of his time.

Hooke contributed greatly to the rebuilding of the City of London after the Great Fire of London. The Diary contains daily entries for his work as the chief City Surveyor for the rebuilding of the City. With Sir Christopher Wren, he was employed to rebuild the City Churches.  Indeed, the Diary notes so many meetings and conversations with Wren that it is also a key source for Wren’s career.

The Royal Mail Archive 1636 – 1969

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: The British Postal Museum and Archive
Further information: Website of the British Postal Museum and Archive

The British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) is unique in giving insight into the developments of communication within the UK and abroad.

All aspects of this organisation’s history, from employment records to stamp artwork, are held within The Royal Mail Archive, making it one of the oldest business archives in the world with 300 years of continuous records. 

The archive shows the development of the postal service and the impact it had on villages, towns and cities throughout the UK (and Ireland to 1922). For example, maps show how postal routes grew over time; the status of becoming a postal town had an economic impact, the records show how the postal town network grew. 

There is no other comparable archive for stamp design from the Penny Black in 1840 through to the Tony Benn/David Gentleman experimentation, in 1964, of removing the Queen’s head from the stamp.  It holds the story of all existing UK stamps and includes artwork for unadopted designs, such as stamps for Wales and Scotland in case the devolution referendums resulted in a Yes vote in 1979.

The Carmichael Watson Collection: A Celtic Collector’s Folklore Odyssey

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: Edinburgh University Library
Further information: Website of The Carmichael Watson Project

The Carmichael Watson collection centres on the voluminous papers of the pioneering folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) and is, in terms of extent, scope, quality, diversity, and detail, one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world.

Carmichael spent over fifty years tirelessly recording all manner of Gaelic lore – prayers, blessings, charms, stories, songs, historical anecdotes, folk customs, antiquarian notes, riddles, proverbs, and unusual vocabulary – throughout his native Scottish Highlands.

His field notes alone, which comprise of half a million words, are a treasure-trove that offer unparalleled insights into an ancient, extraordinarily rich and diverse oral culture and collective memory. The papers also allow us to trace in remarkable detail, a life dedicated to the collection, preservation, and promotion of his native Gaelic heritage.

The collection allows us to investigate how Carmichael edited and compiled his magnum opus, Carmina Gadelica (1900–71), a six-volume anthology of Hebridean charms, prayers, hymns and songs that became a key text in Gaelic ethnology, in the creation of the ‘Celtic Twilight’ movement, and in shaping popular conceptions of ‘Celts’ and ‘Celtic Christianity’.

Few collections have exerted such influence in creating worldwide perceptions and concepts of ‘spiritual Celts’ and ‘Celticism’ – or has raised so many issues for scholarly enquiry.

West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum Records 1814-1991

Type of heritage: Collection
Date of inscription: 2014
Nominating institution: West Yorkshire Archive Service
Further information: Website of West Yorkshire Archive Service

The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield, 1818-1995, (hereafter refered to as Stanley Royd) was one of the world’s most famous and active research institutions for the systematic study of the 'insane brain'.

The research work and the resulting scientific developments were ground breaking and instigated global scientific changes in the treatment of the mentally ill.

The records are not only an unparalleled resource for a pioneering research centre, but also for the medical, social and family history of the West Riding, the largest geographical county in England.  This extensive and comprehensive collection covers every aspect of life in the institution.

At its heart, are the patients’ records themselves, recording the admission, family and social background, illnesses, treatment, and ultimate fate of the thousands of men, women and children who passed through the doors of Stanley Royd. The collection includes over 5000 photographs of patients from the late 1860s onwards, literally putting a human face on a patient number.



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