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Heritage Lottery Fund awards £4.4 million to Borthwick archive

Posted on 26 July 2002

Permanent home for collection which includes Charlotte Bronte's will and the Halifax war diaries

One of Britain's major archive collections is set to move to purpose-built, state-of-the-art facilities thanks to a major grant of £4,415,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Borthwick Institute of Historical Research cares for one of the richest collections of archives in Europe. It houses the archives of the archbishopric of York, records of important families and politicians, the archives of hospitals, schools, businesses, charities, and much else, from the 13th century to the 21st century. Among many important individual documents are Charlotte Bronte's will and the marriage bonds of Anthony Trollope and William Wordsworth.

The Borthwick Institute, part of the University of York since 1963, applied for the grant to enable it to move its collection, housed on more than two miles of shelving, from the medieval St Anthony's Hall in York, its home since 1953. The building is now overcrowded and some facilities are increasingly unsuitable for the preservation of delicate documents.

The new home for the Borthwick will be alongside the University of York's new Raymond Burton Humanities Research Library, where readers will benefit from the archives and books being next to each other.

The new building will:

  • meet BS5454 (2000), the most modern standard for archive buildings
  • provide environmentally controlled strongrooms, large enough to allow new acquisitions of archives for the next 40 years
  • provide public access to the archives in the evenings and weekends for the first time
  • have public search rooms three times the size of the present search rooms, eliminating the present waiting list to see the archives, and removing the necessity for making appointments
  • be fully accessible by wheelchair users and people with other mobility impairments
  • have new study rooms for schools, adult education organisations and local societies to hold classes at the Borthwick, using the archives, either during the school day or in the evenings.
  • The building will also house the Borthwick's renowned Conservation Laboratory, which takes in work from regional archive collections, including those of local authorities and museums.

"This grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will help to establish an international centre of excellence for research in the arts and humanities," said Professor Sir Ron Cooke, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York. "The grant enables the University of York to bring together one of England's most important public archives and the collections of the Raymond Burton Humanities Research Library."

"This is a wonderful opportunity to improve public access to a fascinating archive," said Acting Director of the Borthwick, Chris Webb. "One in ten families with English ancestors will find family archives relevant to them at the Borthwick. I am looking forward to making this collection more widely available to local historians, family researchers, scholars from around the world, and schoolchildren."

"Thanks to this generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Borthwick Institute will be able to sit alongside the University's new Raymond Burton Library, forming a world-class facility for research in the Humanities", said University Librarian, Elizabeth Heaps.

The lives of ordinary people are revealed in startling detail in a current exhibition to mark 50 years of the Borthwick Institute in York. Amongst the archives on display are court records of trials relating to marriage annulments and violence, together with letters, wills and diaries which illuminate the lives of small children, famous people and battered wives.

Childhood and poverty grip the imagination in these archives. The Borthwick has records from a number of institutions which tell us about children's lives in hospitals, orphanages and schools.

The exhibition also shows the Borthwick's numerous papers relating to war and conflict across the centuries. These include the private diary of Lord Halifax, a leading figure of the Second World War.

"This exhibition demonstrates how archives preserve and reveal the dramatic lives of individuals centuries ago," said Chris Webb.

Notes to editors:

  • The Borthwick Institute was established by the Archbishop of York and York Civic Trust to make available the enormous ecclesiastical archives of the north of England, dating from the 13th century. Because the Church regulated many areas of life until the mid-19th century, these records reveal many aspects of the social and legal history of England.
  • Since the Borthwick was founded in 1953, the archive holdings have grown enormously in quantity and variety. Much material has been received from private individuals, businesses, charities and families, and the archives are constantly being added to.
  • Since the Borthwick was founded in 1953, the archive holdings have grown enormously in quantity and Archives at the Borthwick include:
    • Diocesan and provincial records The records of the archbishops of York, including judicial records, the estate papers of the Church Commissioners, papers relating to clergy, and the correspondence and papers of individual archbishops.
    • Probate records Wills, inventories and associated records at the Borthwick form the largest set of probate records outside London. They span the period from the late 14th century until January 1858, when the business of granting probate was removed from the Church to a new civil probate court.
    • Genealogical sources The Borthwick's archive of Anglican parish and Nonconformist registers is an important resource for family historians and is complemented by parish register (or bishop's) transcripts. The Borthwick also holds marriage bonds and allegations, and probate records.
    • Private and business archives Notable amongst these are the Halifax Papers, including the diaries of the first earl during his period as ambassador to the USA in the second world war; the social survey papers of Seebohm Rowntree; the archives of Vickers Instruments; and the archive of Rowntree Mackintosh Ltd.
    • Health archives The Borthwick holds the archive of the York Retreat, which pioneered mild methods of treating the insane in the late 18th century, and had a world-wide influence on the care of the mentally ill. Also held are the archives of past and present York NHS hospitals and local NHS managing bodies. They include the records of Yorkshire's oldest hospitals and are particularly strong in 19th-century psychiatric sources.
    • Southern African Archives Archives from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, mostly for the twentieth century, including material for the Zambesi railway and relating to political liberation movements.
  • The relative humidity and temperature of the new Borthwick Institute and Raymond Burton Library buildings have been designed in the latest style of passive environmental control, by which the construction and fabric of the building ensure that temperature and humidity fluctuations are slow and kept within very tight tolerances.
  • The Raymond Burton Humanities Research Library is currently under construction. The main building is funded by a £2 million benefaction from the Raymond Burton Charitable Trust and £1 million from the University of York.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153