Category Archives: Collection Care

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.
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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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Spectral Imaging testing at The National Library of Scotland

Combe MS 7382 page 6 in visible light (left) and in UV light (right)

Combe MS 7382 page 6 in visible light (left) and at 365nm UV light with image inverted (right)

On 2nd July the CHICC photographers travelled to Edinburgh for some Multispectral Imaging testing on some George Combe letterbooks at the National Library of Scotland. Francine Millard of the NLS writes:

George Combe (1788-1858) was an Edinburgh lawyer who was among the first converts to phrenology. This was a science which believed that people’s characters could be read from the bumps in their skulls.

The National Library of Scotland holds a remarkable collection of George Combe’s papers from 1804 to 1872. The collection begins with his apprenticeship as a clerk to Writers to the Signet and charts his promotion of phrenology which included co-founding the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1820 and the works Elements of Phrenology (1824) and The Constitution of Man (1828). Combe’s outgoing and incoming correspondence document his efforts to spread the causes of phrenology, secular education, and criminal and prison reform.

 

Combe’s letterbooks contain a large proportion of his replies to his brother, Andrew Combe, who was also a fervent supporter of phrenology, and to those seeking his help and advice both in Britain and America. Combe’s replies were copied by wet letter press copying (or wet-transfer) and some pages in these books have now faded to the point of invisibility.

 

The National Library of Scotland teamed up with CHICC in July to see if multi-spectral imaging would be able to render Combe’s words visible. These tests would inform the Library on what approach to take to preserve the Combe papers through digitisation.

To find out more, watch this short film of the work in action:

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Rochester Cathedral’s “Hidden Treasures, Fresh Expressions” project wins £3.55 million in Heritage Lottery Fund support

The original storage box for the Textus Roffensis

The original storage box for the Textus Roffensis

 

The project will use the cathedral’s currently inaccessible and nationally significant archives as a catalyst for the development of exhibitions and workshops in the crypt and library.  These architecturally impressive spaces will be sympathetically opened up to allow access for all. The Textus Roffensis, older and considered by some to be a more significant document than the Magna Carta, is currently locked away for safety in the archives of Medway Council.  The project will make the Textus the jewel in the crown of an imaginative and dynamic treasury. For more info click here.

The CHICC team would like to send a huge congratulations to the team at Rochester Cathedral, on what promises to be a very exciting project!

(see below for a selection of image taken by CHICC at Rochester Cathedral – click on the thumbnails to see larger images)

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St Christopher Woodcut undergoes the National Gallery’s Infrared Imaging

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St. Christopher Woodcut being imaged using Osiris camera

    On Tuesday 15th January 2013 the Rylands were very pleased to welcome Rachel Billinge, from the National Gallery, and Ed Potten, Head of Rare Books at the University of Cambridge for some very exciting imaging.

Rachel brought with her an Osiris camera for high-resolution infrared reflectography. The camera was developed by Opus Instruments based on a prototype that was designed and built by the National Gallery‘s Science and Conservation departments. The Osiris camera records infrared light wavelengths from 900-1700 nanometres, reaching further in to the infrared light spectrum than a standard CCD sensor could. The camera takes many images of an item and automatically stiches each ’tile’ together, saving hours of post-processing time.

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St. Christopher Woodcut being imaged using Osiris camera

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View of Osiris capture as it happens, the camera automatically stitched together each ’tile’ to create a full high-resolution image of the page

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Rachel Billinge from the National Gallery working on a capture of the St. Christopher Woodcut using an Osiris camera

Rachel produced images of the St. Christopher Woodcut, in a bid to produce a legible image of the watermark to confirm, or otherwise, the dating of the Woodcut. The St Christopher woodcut, 1423, is the earliest dated example of European printing. It is preserved as an endpaper in a manuscript dated 1417 from Bohemia, the ‘Laus Virginis’. Rachel also imaged the Annunciation Woodcut, although no watermark is believed to be present in this print.

Members of staff from across the Library were on hand to support and analyse the images as they were produced. We await the results with bated breath… we will share the findings with you in a follow up post as soon as we possibly can.

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Analysing the results… watch this space!

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