UK archives awarded United Nations Recognition International Archives Day - 9 June 2020

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has inscribed three archival collections onto the UK’s Memory of the World Register - the documentary heritage equivalent of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Collections have been inscribed following an independent process by the UK Memory of the World Committee, supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Ambassador Matthew Lodge, UK Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, said:

“On behalf of the UK Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, I am delighted that these rich and varied examples of the United Kingdom’s documentary heritage will be inscribed onto UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. In UNESCO’s 75th anniversary year, and for the UK as a proud founding member of the organisation, the inscription of these documents marks a further positive step in our international efforts to preserve and share material that tells the story of modern humanity’s journey. From the records of the textile dye houses in the 18th century, to James Watt and IK Brunel’s inventions that shaped Britain and the modern world, these documents remind us all of our nation’s history and our shared heritage. We look forward to continuing to support UNESCO’s work and this valuable programme over the coming years.”

What is the Memory of the World Programme?

In 1993, a United Nations advisory committee met to produce an action plan to preserve significant documentary heritage from across the globe by cataloguing and protecting historical archives for future generations to learn from and enjoy. The result was the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, the documentary heritage equivalent of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Programme’s vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected and be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

Being inscribed onto the Memory of the World Register is a statement by UNESCO of the national significance of the documentary heritage (written or audio/visual) and its contribution to the collective memory of humankind.

The UK Memory of the World Register honours the documentary heritage of national significance to the UK. Nominations for the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register are considered by an independent committee of UK archival experts against a range of criteria, including authenticity, rarity, integrity, threat and social, spiritual and community significance.

On International Archives Day, 9 June 2020, we are delighted to announce that UK Memory of the World Committee and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has endorsed the inclusion of three significant archives which will join the wealth of national material already on the prestigious UK register.

Master Dyers of wool fabrics in Southwark, London 1716-1744

Nominating Institution: Southwark Archives

Date of Inscription: 2020

Textile dye houses of old were secretive, protected places where dyers learnt from each other through practice and in written instructions from masters of their trade.

Thanks to descendants of the Crutchley family who owned and ran a dye company on the south bank of the River Thames 300 years ago, rare records from this era have survived.

Dr Anita Quye, Senior Lecturer and Head of History of Art, University of Glasgow:

"I knew the Crutchley dyers' books were rare and special the instant I saw them in June 2014. Their colours, detail and completeness after 300 years were astounding. As a heritage scientist, the research needed to appreciate and preserve this amazing archive was immeditately clear to me"

The Crutchley archives provides a unique, important and detailed record of a once ubiquitous industry which has all but vanished from the UK. The provision of measured recipes for dyes and the survival and preservation of quality samples makes this collection very significant in understanding an important 18th century UK industry, both at home and internationally.

James Watt Papers and the Separate Condenser

Nominating Institution: Library of Birmingham

Date on Inscription: 2020

James Watt’s (1736-1819) separate condenser was the greatest single improvement ever made to the steam engine.

In 1758 Watt went to the University of Glasgow where he was employed to repair scientific instruments. In 1764, a professor at the University asked Watt to repair a model of the Newcomen steam engine. His scientific curiosity led him to begin his experiments to see how he could make the engine work more efficiently. This led to the discovery and invention of the separate condenser and for the first time, steam engines were economical to use and no longer required vast amounts of expensive fuel.

It is these experiments and correspondence with peers that are documented in the inscribed heritage. On 5 January 1769 he was granted Letters Patent ‘For a Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines’. In 1774 James Watt entered into partnership with Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham, giving him financial backing to continue to develop and commercialise his engines.

James Watt had an exceptional mind and was very methodical in his experiments. Taken together, the notebooks and letters represent the progress of engineering across the country, utilising the emerging techniques of a mathematical and logical approach to calculating and experimenting with steam and different materials, to achieve the desired efficiency. As a direct result of these experiments, these engines became integral to the advancement of the Industrial Revolution.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Screw Propellor Report

Nominating Institution: SS Great Britain Trust

Date of Inscription: 2020

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's (1806-1859) Screw Propellor Report marks an immensely important turning point in UK and world history.

While Brunel did not invent the screw propellor, his experiments and the production of this meticulously evidenced document enabled its adoption and were pivotal in creating the modern world economy through trade.

James Boyd, Brunel History Fellow for the SS Great Britain Trust said:

“Brunel’s development of the screw propeller on the SS Great Britain helped create the world’s first great ocean liner. We are honoured to care for the historic report on behalf of the nation, alongside the SS Great Britain herself. Its recognition on the UK UNESCO register reflects that pivotal moment of UK innovation and the key role that Bristol and Brunel had in defining the modern era of global travel.”
“It’s even more poignant today as we press pause on transatlantic passenger travel and on welcoming visitors to support the SS Great Britain Trust. But those forward-thinking innovations and solutions of the past will help to inspire a positive future.”

More from the Inscriptions

Horseshoe Island station complex, 1956, British Antarctic Survey, UK Memory of the World Register

Industry, Innovation and Science

From the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer to the production of the early steam locomotive and far-reaching advances in communication technology–the UK Memory of the World Register includes the key moments in the development of the industrial world which would transform societies and fundamentally, for better and worse, shape the world we live in today.

Many of the collections on the UK Memory of the World Register, illustrate the role and impact of the Industrial Revolution that was sweeping over Britain and sparking revolutionary innovations, dramatic social change and pioneering discoveries in the 18th and 19th centuries. But some of these inscriptions also celebrate and document present efforts in the fields of industry, innovation and science, such as the challenges of living and working at British Antarctic research stations. We are proud to have these new collections inscribed onto the UK Memory of the World Register in the field of science, industry and innovation.

They are joining:

Tyne & Wear Shipyards Collection

Nominating Institution: Tyne and Wear Archives

Date of Inscription: 2012

The shipbuilding collections deposited at Tyne & Wear Archives are the major source of information on the many shipyards in the North-East of England that helped to shape the unique identity of the region and made shipbuilding one of the key economic activities on Tyneside and Wearside. The industry also made a significant contribution to world maritime history.

Royal Mail Archive

Nominating Institution: The Postal Museum

Date of Inscription: 2014

The archive shows the development of the postal service and the impact it had on villages, towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom (and Ireland to 1922). For example, maps show how postal routes grew over time; the status of becoming a postal town had an economic impact, the records show how the postal town network grew.

Robert Hooke's Diary, 1672-1683

Nominating Institution: City of London

Date of Inscription: 2014

The private diary of this major scientific figure. It covers all aspects of his life and scientific research, including experimenting with his own body, his relationships with other well-known individuals at that time, his work with Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire and a detailed description of life in seventeenth century London. Held by London Metropolitan Archives.

The new inscriptions join 84 on the UK Memory of the World Register

The new inscriptions join 84 UK collections on the UK Memory of the World Register and 14 inscriptions on the International UK Memory of the World Register.

Viewed in its entirety, the UK Memory of the World Register is a gateway into the rich and turbulent history of the British people. The UK's Memory of the World Collection includes Bath's Roman Curse Tablets which record the personal and private prayers of ordinary people from the 2nd to the late 4th century AD, and the World War 2 London County Council Bomb Damage Maps which document building-by-building, street-by-street bomb damage during the War.

Archives on the UK Memory of the World Register include (from top left to bottom right): the Women's Voluntary Service Archive, The Royal Mail Archive, Robert Hooke's Diary (1672-1683), Dutch West India Company Archives, Robert Cotton Archive, The Eton Choir Book, and the Manuscript Collection of Shota Rustaveli's Poem "Knight in the Panther's Skin".

Find out more about UNESCO in the UK

The UK is home to a diverse network of UNESCO designations and projects. From UNESCO Biosphere Reserves which act as model regions for sustainable development, to UNESCO Creative Cities which draw together vibrant creative communities using culture to make cities thrive, we help the UK’s existing UNESCO projects and designations make the most of their UNESCO status.

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