Nostalgia: Rare treasures capture Lancaster life of bygone days
In their day, they would have seemed nothing out of the ordinary.
But now items like a letter from Charlotte Bronte, watercolour paintings of Lancashire landmarks, a ship’s logbook and lost property registers from Blackpool trams, are considered such gems they feature in a new exhibition.
75 Years, 74 Treasures includes some of the county’s rarest historic items, brought together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Lancashire County Council’s archive service.
Archives as diverse as a volume of patients notes from Prestwich Asylum, Frank Matcham’s plans for alterations to the Royalty Theatre in Morecambe, the oldest document held in the archives – Henry I grant of lands to Robert d’Arcy dating from 1115, and Morden’s map of Lancashire from 1695, are all now on show.
The free exhibition runs until January 2016, at various venues across Lancashire.
And bosses at the archive service are still looking for one more piece – a sort of X Factor of historic artefacts, to complete the line-up and make it 75 treasures.
Neil Sayer, Lancashire County Council’s archive access manager, said: “To recognise the milestone we’ve reached, we’ve identified 74 important archives to represent the nine miles of treasured objects, items and records we currently hold at Lancashire Archives.
“We’re hoping the 75th is still out there – perhaps in someone’s garage, loft or workplace. We’d like people to donate pieces to us, and the 75th treasure to showcase will be chosen from these.
“We have some fascinating items in the exhibition so far.
“At the time, they would probably have been fairly ordinary, but to us now, 300 years or so later, they are incredibly interesting – they create a picture of what life was like in Lancashire in the past.
“Most of the items can be handled – some with gloves or using other means to ensure preservation.
“The thing is with artefacts like this, how do you display them? They need to be seen – and touched.
“We have plans to put all the pictures online of the artefacts in the exhibition, on Pinterest, so even if people can’t physically get there, they can see them through the virtual world.
“Among the highlights are artefacts such a sketchbook belonging to the artist Patience Arnold, an illuminated manuscript from around 1500 belonging to a Catholic priest – with the delicate illuminations and gold leaf, a register of electors from Preston and an Edwardian family photo album from East Lancashire.”
Among the gems from Lancaster and Morecambe, include Frank Matcham’s theatre plans – the blueprints from 1899, detailing the alterations to the Royal Theatre, Morecambe.
Neil said: “This is a working document, showing an example from Britain’s pre-eminent theatre architect.
“Matcham was consultant for the Morecambe Royalty when it was built in 1897.”
There are also plans for Morecambe Tower, dating from 1898.
Neil said: “Archives are often the only evidence that something once existed.
“Buildings may be demolished, but plans and photographs remain.
“The original scheme for Morecambe Tower appears to have included some kind of helter-skelter tramway!”
The exhibition also features the King John Charter, regarding the forests in the honour of Lancaster – a confirmation of a grant of forest ‘liberties’, dating from 1199, and a 1418 illuminated manuscript from Cartmel Priory.
Among the other items on show are stained glass watercolour cartoons, from Lancaster dated around 1900, a Fenwick estate survey book from 1813, and the logbook of the ship, The Dolphin, which sailed to Jamaica in 1775.
The volume details the voyages undertaken, actions taken by the crew, inventories of goods on-board – and there are even small drawings depicting landmarks and landscapes passed along route.
There were no maps of course, so the sketches would help the crew navigate.It includes a reference to the War Of Independence beginning – so the document itself is older than the USA.
There’s even a “wanted poster – runaway husbands”, from around 1850.
While it might raise a smile by today’s standards, at the time it would have been very serious. These men had deserted their families and a substantial reward was offered for their capture.
It’s not all ancient history in the display. The artefacts date from the 12th century, right up to the 20th.
They include photos of contestants in the Miss Great Britain competition, in Morecambe in the 1950s and 60s.
In Neil’s words: “This is a fantastic archive, showing a very recent, but very different, past.”
The exhibition will be on display at the Museum of Lancashire, Stanley Street, Preston, until Saturday, September 27, and Lancaster Maritime Museum, Custom House, St George’s Quay, Lancaster from October 3 until January 10, 2016.
For more information about Lancashire County Council Archive Service, visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/archives or call 01772 533039.