Textus Roffensis, Foundations for the Magna Carta



Last year CHICC visited Rochester Cathedral to digitise the Textus Roffensis, a manuscript predating the Magna Carta, containing the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.

Historian Michael Wood talks about the manuscript on the Rochester Cathedral site here.

The digitised manuscript can be found on the Library’s digital collections here.

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The Glass Plate Negatives


The Newman digitisation project is progressing at a fantastic pace. We are well over 145 boxes in, with image totals reaching over 125,000 so far.

We have recently digitised a wonderful set of glass plate negatives from the collections. These include early copies of Newman letters, portraits of Newman himself, and ‘snaps’ from around the oratory. There is a wonderful box of 10x12in plates that document Newman’s room at the Oratory, showing exactly how he left it.

The room is exactly the same today, so the negatives are a fantastic resource to show what has changed in condition over the years.

Originally posted on Newman Archive:

We have just completed digitisation of the glass plate negatives from Batch Six, after preparation by the John Rylands Collection Care team. The plates were a mix of size and subject matter, ranging from 6x9cm to 10x12in, while the contents ranged from the formal to the informal; from snapshots to precisely posed.


A small selection is included below. The digitised negatives are inverted using our digital capture software in order to create the positive image. The negative image appears as below:


Many of the plates were an early endeavor to photographically record the Newman Archive, meaning that we found ourselves digitising glass plates of letters we most probably photographed in their original format earlier in the project! It is safe to say the digitisation process has improved over the years; as you can see below, drawing pins were used.


Not all attempts were successful, as seen below, flare on paintings…

View original 115 more words

A book 100 years older than the Magna Carta goes digital

Textus_Roffensis_0001 A manuscript predating the Magna Carta is to be seen, in full, online, by the public for the first time thanks to a project involving digital experts at The University of Manchester working in partnership with Rochester Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis, a 12th century legal encyclopaedia compiled by a single scribe at Rochester Cathedral, in Kent, in the 1120s has been digitised by the University’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care.

The medieval manuscript, which is almost 100 years older than King John’s Magna Carta and has been described as ‘Britain’s Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library, has never before been seen in its entirety by the public.
The University of Manchester’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care provides specialist and bespoke solutions for the digitisation and collection care of heritage and cultural collections.

Dr Chris Monk, a specialist at the University who worked with Rochester Cathedral on the project, said: “The team here has vast experience digitizing rare books and manuscripts.  To work with this particular national treasure, one of such historical significance, has been remarkable.  And it will be just as exciting and remarkable for the public to see it up close – no longer a hidden treasure.
“The Textus Roffensis is truly a unique manuscript: it predates the Magna Carta by almost a hundred years, contains the only copy of the oldest set of laws in English, and was penned by an English scribe within 60 years of the Norman Conquest.  That it is being made accessible to the public is worth shouting about, and is a tribute to all those involved with the project.”
Written in Old English and Latin in 1123-24 AD, the Textus Roffensis is so called because of a 14th century inscription within the book, The Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum (The Book of the Church of Rochester through Bishop Ernulf). It contains the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – it is the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.
The book was originally two manuscripts. The first has the only surviving copies of three Kentish laws, including the Law of Aethelberht who was the King of Kent, from 560 to 616AD, and seen by some as ‘foundation documents of the English state’. King Alfred’s Domboc (book of laws) and King Cnut’s laws are also in this section of the book alongside the oldest copy of the coronation charter of Henry I – the wording of which is echoed in the Magna Carta (1215) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776). 
The second part of the manuscript includes the earliest charters of England’s second oldest cathedral – founded at Rochester in 604AD, the oldest known catalogue of books in England and documents concerning the Danish conquest of England in 1016. 
A number of pages in the manuscript display signs of water damage after it became submersed, possibly, in either the River Medway or the River Thames, sometime between 1708 and 1718, when it was being returned by boat to Rochester from London.

The early legal codes are concerned primarily with preserving social harmony, through compensation and punishment for personal injury. Compensations are arranged according to social rank, descending from king to slave. The initial provisions of the code offer protection to the church. Though the latter were probably innovations, much of the remainder of the code may be derived from earlier legal custom transmitted orally.

The Textus Roffensis has been safeguarded by Rochester Cathedral since its inception and has been digitised by The University of Manchester team as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded renovation and community engagement project at the Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis itself will go on display in Rochester Cathedral next year, as part of the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery Fund project, ‘Hidden Treasures: Fresh Expressions’, and will enable public access to its remarkable library and other collections and include exhibitions, workshops, events and activities.

Janet Wilkinson is The University of Manchester’s Librarian and Director of The John Rylands Library. She said: “The University of Manchester Library has long recognised the need to preserve its digital material, as well as print, for future generations. I am reassured that this significant piece of history will now survive for future research purposes.”
Find out more in this film produced as part of the project by Manchester Lights Media.
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Movember at the John Rylands Library

Preparing the moustache: thread sewn on plastazote

Preparing the moustache: thread sewn on plastazote

Adhesion of plastazote to the moustache

Adhesion of plastazote to the moustache

Moustache propped and ready to go!

Moustache propped and ready to go!

The Collection Care department in the John Rylands library has the main purpose of looking after the preservation and conservation of the collections within the University libraries.
Our team of conservators covers a variety of tasks, including the maintenance of adequate standards of temperature and relative humidity within the historical building, the preparation of the books for exhibitions within the marvellous spaces of the library, the organization of loans and, of course, the active conservation of books.
Collection Care oversees the preservation of any historical object in the John Rylands library, including the marble statues of Enriqueta and John Rylands in the historic reading room, which have now grown some lovely moustaches, as the library is supporting Movember.
Movember is organized by the Movember Foundation, a leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health http://uk.movember.com/?home
To date, 4 million moustaches have been grown worldwide, and now even John and Enriqueta have grown them!
The Collection Care team has contributed to the preparation of the moustaches and even had a risk assessment in place for the day the moustache were going to be applied to the statues!
Linen thread was sewn through the width of a small piece of plastazote (inert dense foam, with numerous applications to protect historical objects), then lined with double sided tape on one side and attached to the back of the moustache.
Our Collection Care manager, Caroline Checkley-Scott couldn’t help having a trial at fitting the propped moustache.
The Collection Care team is quite happy to get involved in such important event, ensuring that adequate materials are used for the moustache-fitting of John and Enriqueta.

Caroline Checkley-Scott testing the fitting of the moustache

Caroline Checkley-Scott testing the fitting of the moustache

John Rylands looking very dapper in his moustache

John Rylands looking very dapper in his moustache

Enriqueta supporting Movember

Enriqueta supporting Movember

Let The John Rylands Library inspire your Mo!

Noblewoman St Wilgefortis, or Uncumber, grew a moustache & beard to avoid marriage to a Pagan king. Her father was so furious he had her crucified. Women who want to get rid of their husbands still pray to her for help! Be warned!

Noblewoman St Wilgefortis, or Uncumber, grew a moustache & beard to avoid marriage to a Pagan king. Her father was so furious he had her crucified. Women who want to get rid of their husbands still pray to her for help! Be warned!

#jrlphotoaday continues with a distinctly moustachioed theme! Every day throughout November, The John Rylands Library is sharing images from our collections to inspire and motivate all those taking part in Movember 2014.

From the full and thick to the perfectly trimmed, we’ll be sharing moustaches on Instagram and Twitter. Keep an eye out for famous moustaches of World War I poet Wilfred Owen and William Shakespeare!

You can also get involved by visiting the Library and taking a selfie with our statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands, who will be wearing moustaches for the month.

Take a selfie with one of our statues!


Follow us today @TheJohnRylands and search #jrlphotoaday.

Movember is a leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health. You can find out more about the charity on the Movember website.

The photo a day campaign supporting Movember will run from 1 – 30 November.

Digitising Newman

The Newman Digitisation Project is steaming ahead, we’ve produced nearly 100,000 images so far. The NINS team have produced a fantastic video which gives a great overview of the project.

Photo a Day #02

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Photo a Day


This Freedom of the City of Manchester scroll presented to Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in October 1899. Mrs Rylands built the John Rylands Library as a gift to the people of Manchester. Thanks Mrs Rylands!

Throughout October The John Rylands Library will be running a Photo a Day campaign to increase the digital reach and exposure of the Library’s collections.

Each day, an image from the Library’s collections will be shared on Twitter and Instagram. The images will range from portraits of Alexandre Dumas to postcards from a Buffalo Bill scrapbook, and where possible, we will be supporting local, national and international festivals and anniversaries (such as Manchester Literature Festival and Gandhi’s birthday).

Please support the campaign by following us on Instagram and Twitter, retweeting images, commenting on Instagram or sharing your own images using the campaign hashtag #jrlphotoaday.

The account is @TheJohnRylands on both Twitter and Instagram.

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William Caxton’s second edition of The Canterbury Tales Online

The John Rylands Library has the second largest collection of works printed by William Caxton, the man credited with bringing the first printing press to England in the fifteenth century. The very first volume to be produced at Caxton’s Westminster press was a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1476 and although this particular digitised Rylands copy is the second edition printed c.1483, this is the first copy with additional illustrative woodcuts and with corrections to errors in the first edition text.

The entire volume can be viewed online in LUNA.

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Further digitisation of Mary Hamilton Papers

Over the last month I have being working on the Papers of Mary Hamilton adding to the existing items on the library’s online image collection: LUNA.  Around 200 further items from the Mary Hamilton Papers have been digitised and cataloguing undertaken by Dr Lisa Crawley added to the images.

Hamilton was the granddaughter of Lord Archibald Hamilton, the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton and Lady Jane Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Abercon.  In 1777 Hamilton became a member of George III ’s court, acting as assistant governess to the Princesses, a position she held until 1783. In 1785 she married John Dickenson, only son of John Dickenson of Birch Hall, near Manchester.  A courtier and a diarist, she was a friend of many of the prominent Bas Bleu (the bluestocking circle) and counted Hannah More, Frances Burney, Mrs Delany and Mrs Garrick among her literary friends. She dined frequently at the houses of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole and met Dr Johnson on several occasions.

George III, Printed Illustration, HAM/1/1/2111

George III, Printed Illustration, HAM/1/1/2/11

The archive was acquired by the University in 2007 and the letters and diaries of Mary Hamilton are being used by the School of Arts,  Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester to engage undergraduate and postgraduate students in enquiry-based learning methods.  The papers are also of interest to researchers in the social, cultural and linguistic history of Georgian England.  Hamilton’s  correspondence provides unparalleled insights into the day-to-day life of the royal household and of the artistic and social elites during a period of rapid change in the nation’s political, economic and cultural life.

The items are a selection of letters and cover a time period where Mary Hamilton was the Queens consort to when she was married and in her later life. It includes correspondence from Queen Charlotte, John Dickenson to Mary Hamilton (both before and after marriage), the Dickenson family, relatives and from the Clarke sisters and Murray sisters and a selection of correspondence both to and from Margaret Gunning. They highlight many different subjects within the time period including court life, George III’s health, gossip, courtship, marriage, death, travel, health and medical cures of the day.  One letter to Hamilton from John Dickenson contains advice from a doctor that Dickenson was travelling with detailing how to deal with their daughters rickets. The advice was that her legs should be bathed up to the knees and to rub them with ‘peats foot oil, the former every other night, the later every night – and give a little physich once a week’. (HAM/1/2/25).

Letters were kept by Hamilton’s descendants prior to being deposited to the library.  Some items have script crossed through which is intriguing, but which is unable to be deciphered through spectral imaging as the same pen was used for writing and editing.  There are some notes that have been tipped onto one sheet and others bundled together, and some items are missing but this constitutes a great resource for students and researchers alike.

One letter from Elizabeth Palombi, Hamilton’s sister-in-law who married and moved to Naples, talks about all four of her children contracting smallpox and the frustration that she has with the servants not seeming to be very helpful.  In the first half of her letter she apologises profusely and the language and terms used are interesting in their structure.

Reference: HAM/1/3/2/4

A letter from Hamilton’s father-in-law just after Hamilton’s marriage to John Dickenson talks light-heartedly about her marriage and how he ‘detests’ his son and has transferred all the affections he once had for him onto her.  The relationship that Hamilton had with her father-in-law must have been close to enable him to talk in this way to her.

Reference: HAM/1/3/2/2

The script varies through time and from person to person and will be an interesting resource for the students studying the linguistic codification of the English Language.  Letters to and from Charlotte Margaret Gunning show a more informal discourse between herself and Mary Hamilton where code names are given and letters are passed with strict instructions not to pass them on.  Gossip on courtiers, unwanted attention from would be suitors and members of the Royal Family are contained within this section. In one letter, Gunning tackles worries that she has heard Hamilton has that her friend is ignoring her

Reference: HAM/1/15/1/6

Some notes were written on the same day regarding visits and appointments due to take place that day which made me think that servants were employed to deliver letters as they were written, something we take for granted in the age of text messages.

Coinciding with my start on this project was a BBC programme In our Time about the Bluestocking group which helped provide a background to the time period and importance of this socially elite women of the time.

Jane Donaldson


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