Not long after the Library of Birmingham opened, we received a query via a member of staff from another department. A visitor was requesting to see a document relating to Richard II, to which she had seen a reference on a plaque outside the Shakespeare Memorial Room.
The archivists were puzzled. We had not been aware of the plaque, as it had been squirrelled away in Central Library before being hung in the new building. A mild panic ensued. To what was the visitor referring, and could we track it down? The first step was of course to visit the 9th floor and look at the plaque for ourselves.
It seemed pretty clear that the deeds should be in the archives, but after 126 years, could we find them?
Once the archivists had recovered from our foray to the upper floors, we remembered that even though the material arrived in the library over a century ago it would have an entry in our cataloguing software, CALM. As part of our preparations for the move to the Library of Birmingham a small dedicated team had spent four years putting all our historical administrative information into CALM. Thus it was the work of a moment to view all the accessions we received in 1887:
As you can see, seven accessions deposited with the Reference Library in 1887 are now part of the Archives, Heritage and Photography collections – and one of them is our deed and licence.
A facsimile of the documents had been made at some point in the twentieth century, as the seals on the originals are quite delicate. Therefore if a researcher requests these documents they would be given the facsimiles, unless they had a particular reason for wanting to see the originals. This allows us to preserve the documents and their seals for the future.
These documents are written in Latin, as all legal documents were in the fourteenth century, and the handwriting and abbreviations can also be intimidating barriers for researchers. But in this case, and fortunately for those who don’t read Latin, there is a transcription and translation available in a published book, Memorials of Old Birmingham.
So in the end we found our researcher the deeds she was interested in, and a transcription and translation to assist her in reading them. A successful case all round, we feel.
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