New home for internationally important Yorkshire archive

A unique collection of manuscripts, archives and books relating to Yorkshire’s history has a new home at the University.

Image: Dick Turpin: a register of deaths of prisoners in York Castle, which records the execution of notorious highwayman Dick Turpin in 1739


The Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society Collection (YAHS), probably the largest single resource for research on Yorkshire’s past outside the British Library, has been entrusted to the University’s Special Collections on long-term loan.

With items dating from the 12th century among its 45,000-plus works, the collection reflects the society’s dedication to the study of Yorkshire’s archaeology, history and society over more than 150 years.

The archive, a catalogue of which is being made available online, fills more than a third of a mile (550m) of University library shelves. Its highlights include the document that signalled the end of the Battle of Waterloo, in the Duke of Leeds Collection, and letters patent of Queen Elizabeth I, adorned with a delicately drawn and brightly coloured portrait of the monarch and with the Queen’s seal still attached by silver cords.

Other items of international importance include the Wakefield Court Rolls, which were included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Memory of the World register in 2011. The 670 rolls provide records of society and industry in the West Riding from 1274 to 1925.

University Librarian Dr Stella Butler said: “This is an important moment for both organisations, representing a strong partnership which will safeguard historical material of international importance.

“It is an impressive collection of manuscript and printed material built up by the Society over more than 150 years and it has a broad appeal to researchers in many areas of history, providing a rich and varied resource for local, family, architectural, economic, social, religious and landscape history.

“We are honoured to be custodians of it on behalf of the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society.”

YahsCollier and Woman Spinning: two of George Walker’s famous 39 watercolours of local scenes and people which were published in 1814 as 'The Costume of Yorkshire'.

Society President Dr Gill Cookson, who is also an Honorary Research Fellow in the University’s School of History, said: “The partnership with Leeds University Library promises to bring our collections to wider notice around the world.

“Academic researchers and anyone interested in Yorkshire history will now be able to explore the society’s archive in the University Library Special Collections reading room. The YAHS library will be shelved in a special Yorkshire section at the Brotherton Library.”

YAHS continues to build its collections. A new set of documents bought at auction last February complements one of the jewels of the YAHS archive, the original George Walker images published in 1814 as The Costume of Yorkshire.

Joanne Fitton, Head of the University’s Special Collections, said: “The collections provide a fantastic unique resource that is accessible to students and academics in the University and we welcome the new opportunities this brings for teaching and research.

“The Special Collections reading room is open to all members of the public and the resources of the YAHS will encourage more people to visit our service for the first time.”

The archive contains major family and estate documents, original records of all kinds and secondary manuscript material such as antiquarian notes, heraldry, pedigrees, transcripts and copies of documents, drafts, notes and reports.

It is being released to the public in stages, with the first items now available to view. These include the Wakefield Court Rolls, the diverse Bradfer-Lawrence Collection, and the Ralph Thoresby Collection of correspondence from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The society began to acquire books and manuscripts for its members to consult in the 1860s. Today it continues to promote the study of Yorkshire’s past through talks, excursions and publications. The collection has been relocated from the society’s base at nearby Claremont, in Clarendon Road.

See the catalogue of the contents. Details about how to visit Special Collections and view items is available here. Please note that 24 hours advance notice is required to access YAHS material.

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