Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library

Even though the cold of winter is still very much with us, Christmas itself seems a long time ago. The Christmas season ends with Candlemas; then we start to look forwards to Lent, and also anticipate warmer, longer days and the first flowers of spring appearing in the Precincts here at Canterbury. After the busy-ness of Christmas, I always think the first weeks of the New Year will be quiet and allow for some time to catch up with tasks hanging over from the previous year. However, this year that certainly hasn’t been the case.

In the Cathedral itself, scaffolding is being erected in preparation for the restoration and conservation works which are part of The Canterbury Journey, a £24.7 million project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund; also part of the project is the archaeological trench on the south side of the Cathedral, a preparation for the installation of new drainage. The project will very much engage all cathedral staff in the years ahead. The project’s theme of ‘opening up collections’ has particular relevance for the staff of the Archives and Library and of other collections departments: it will be opening up physical, digital and intellectual access to collections through exhibition, interpretation, learning and participation, reaching out to new and diverse audiences.  A further implication for the Archives and Library is the need to care for and manage the records which the project will produce, ranging from archaeological reports to digital images and drawings.

Working here is certainly never dull and it offers great variety. Groups already welcomed this year to the Archives and Library range from delegates of a Gender and Medieval Studies conference to a group of 10-year olds on a school trip focussing on Becket and pilgrimage. We also hosted a workshop discussing possible items for inclusion in loan boxes for school and community groups, funded by the Journey project. Opportunities to share our collections are always enjoyable, bringing us away from our screens and back to the core of our work. The collections can also remind us all, as the Journey takes us into a new chapter, of the foundations on which we build. In the Archives and Library, we house some documents which are older than any of the buildings within the precincts. Canterbury Cathedral was founded in the year 597, but the earliest buildings standing on the site date from the late 11th century. The Cathedral’s archive, however, holds charters dating back to the 9th century, with some 20 dating from before 1066. These documents have (with some exceptions) always been kept here, passed down from one generation to another, kept safe through centuries which saw much change and many challenges. These Anglo-Saxon charters such as the Godwine Charter shown here (datable 1013×1028) are extraordinary survivals, vulnerable items which our predecessors wrote, read, touched and cherished. They have a power to bring us back into the past.

ChAnt/S/458 Godwine Charter
The Godwine Charter (c)Canterbury Cathedral

Ironically, their care presents less challenges than the care of today’s digital information.

Cressida Williams

Head of Archives and Library, Canterbury Cathedral