UK Archives awarded United Nations recognition Image: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised six examples of the UK’s documentary heritage as a significant part of the UK’s memory.

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

Michael Ellis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:

"British history is truly brought to life by the personal stories, documents and images of our past. Inscribing these stunning examples onto UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register recognises their national and global importance. This will protect them for future generations."

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. As a founding member state of UNESCO and a country with a long and proud history, the inscription of these documents is an important moment, and a positive step in our collective efforts to preserve and share material that tells the story of modern humanity’s journey. The remarkable range of the documents inscribed today reminds us of our shared heritage – from medieval manuscripts to a Tudor choirbook to modern photographs of the Antarctic. These documents will now be more accessible than ever before. We look forward to continuing our support for this important programme over the coming years.”
The Vaux Passional, an illuminated manuscript from the late fifteenth century, was inscribed on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2010. Image: National Library of Wales

What is the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme?

The Memory of the World (MoW) Programme was established in 1992 in response to the destruction of documentary heritage globally through conflict, lack of funding, and/or neglect.

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.

The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies (1695-1707) was an overseas trading company connected with the history of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Its archives are inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register. Photo: Royal Bank of Scotland

new collections have been inscribed onto the UK Memory of the World Register in 2018.

The yard of stonemasons T. Hodgkinson and Son, Preston, United Kingdom, full of CWGC headstones waiting for shipment to France, circa 1922

1. The Commonwealth War Graves Casualty Archive

The CWGC Casualty Archive consists of over 300,000 documents which record the details and commemoration location of each casualty the Commission is responsible for commemorating, some 1.7 million individuals in total from both world wars.

This commemoration details were provided by various Labour Companies and Graves Concentration Units who were set up under the control of the military authorities. They were tasked with searching for the graves and remains of the war dead and conducting the battlefield exhumation and reburials which resulted. The Commissions task was later extended to cover British and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War.

Photos clockwise: Erection of a Cross of Sacrifice in an unknown cemetery in France, c. 1922-23. Group photo of IWGC gardening staff, c. 1921-22. The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium, c.1955. A pilgrim paying respects at the graveside, c. 1923. The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium, c.1925

The records include grave registration documents and headstone schedules. In many cases, these represent the earliest recorded information that the Commission was able to gather about those who came under its care.

Photos: items from the CWGC Casualty archive, including Grave Registration Reports and correspondence with the next of kin
Image: British Antarctic Survey

2. The Base and Field Reports, and related Photographic material of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors

The series of base and field reports and photographs forms the backbone of the archive collections of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and its predecessors, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (145-62) and the Second World War expedition Operation Tabarain (1943-45).

Image: British Antarctic Survey

It is a unique and comprehensive account of these organisations’ activities, illustrating the UK’s leading role in the modern era of Antarctic scientific exploration from the establishment of the first UK Antarctic stations in 1944 to the end of the 20th Century.

The material contains ten thousand reports and approximately nineteen thousand photographs, covering all twenty of the UK’s Antarctic stations past and present.

Data underpinning globally significant discoveries, such as the hole in the ozone layer, is included. So too are accounts of the challenges of living and working in an extreme environment, and of prolonged journeys into the field to research and map the unknown.

Created by and documenting the experiences of little-known individuals, from leading scientists to the mechanics who provided heat and warmth in this hostile environment, it constitutes a rich and irreplaceable record of UK scientific endeavour of fundamental and continuing global importance.

The Vespasian Psalter, Sir Robert Cotton Collection. Image: British Library

3. Sir Robert Cotton's Collection of Manuscripts, British Library

The library of manuscripts assembled by Robert Cotton (1571-1631) and now held at the British Library includes many of the most famous historical and literary treasures of the United Kingdom.

Among these manuscripts are items with national and international significance, including Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the only surviving copies of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the autograph papers of a number of British monarchs. Collectively they form a key part of the intellectual heritage of the nation.

The Cotton library was acquired by the British government in 1702, the first occasion that any library had passed into national ownership in Britain – an important step in the creation of a national, public library. Most of the collection survived a major fire in 1731, which formed part of the impetus for the creation of the British Museum in 1753.

Ever since the collection was formed, the Cotton manuscripts have been made available for consultation by scholars worldwide, and they continue to support scientific research into the preservation and digitisation of fire-damaged artefacts.

Matthew Paris Map of Paris. Image: Sir Robert's Cotton's Collection of Manuscripts, British Library
The Eton Choirbook. Image: Eton College

4. Eton Choirbook

The Eton Choirbook (Eton MS 178) is a volume of manuscript music created between 1500 and 1504 for use in religious services in Eton College Chapel. The large and handsome volume played an integral part in the worship of the chapel, resting open on a lectern whilst the choir stood around to sing its music.

Most of the music is finely wrought settings of the Magnificat or of motets devoted to the Blessed Virgin, responding to the Marian cult as practised at Eton as a site of pilgrimage.

The Choirbook contains a repertory which is almost unique, as it is the earliest and most complete Tudor Choirbook to have survived to the present. Through its survival – at the site for which it was made – the Choirbook gives us access to a form of worship and a musical tradition that was violently disrupted and almost obliterated by the Reformation. Its music is the subject of considerable scholarly attention and its music has been performed and recorded repeatedly over the last 120 years. It captures a sound-world of late medieval England which would otherwise have been lost to silence.

The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd. Image: National Library of Wales

5. The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd, ‘Soldier of Calais’, National Library of Wales

The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd was written in Welsh, c. 1550-52, by a soldier and administrator serving in the English garrison at Calais.

The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd. Image: National Library of Wales

Ambitiously aiming to chronicle the history of the world from the Creation to his own time, Elis Gruffudd based the medieval part of his Chronicle partly on a unique body of traditional Welsh legendary matter, including the Taliesin and Myrddin legends. His account of events of the first half of the 16th century relied on hearsay and eyewitness testimonies of incidents in London, France and elsewhere as encountered by a campaigning soldier.

It is this latter aspect of the Chronicle that is of particular national importance, and deserving of the further attention by historians of the Early Modern period.

Elis Gruffydd was born c. 1490 in the parish of Llanasa, Flintshire. He joined the English army and fought in Holland and Spain. By 1518, he was working for Sir Robert Wingfield, and in 1520 moved to Calais where Wingfield was an Ambassador. After a five-year sojourn in London, Gruffudd returned to Calais in 1530, where he remained for the rest of his life as a member of the English garrison. His Chronicle is his magnum opus.

Early Gaelic Manuscripts of the Advocates Library, National Library of Scotland

6. Early Gaelic Manuscripts of the Advocates Library, National Library of Scotland

A group of Gaelic manuscripts written or owned in Scotland in the 14th-17th century, which were collected by the Advocates Library, and gifted to the Scottish Nation to form part of the foundation collection of the National Library of Scotland in 1925.

Early Gaelic Manuscripts of the Advocates Library. Image: National Library of Scotland

Most of them had been assembled by the Highland Society of Scotland (now the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland) from the late 18th to the middle of the 19th century.

A range of subjects is covered: Gaelic traditional medicine, theology, tales and poetry are particularly strong areas, but linguistics, history and genealogy are also represented. The collection is unparalleled in its scale and coverage.

The corpus of surviving Scottish Gaelic manuscripts is small, and there are no major early collections elsewhere. The collection is invaluable for the insights it offers into learning and culture of traditional Scottish Gaelic society before it came to an end at the beginning of the 18th century.

Like no other collection it provides a key to understanding the culture, and cultural orientation, of a large part of Scottish society that informs our understanding of the history and identity of Britain as a whole.

The Royal Mail Archive (1636-1969) was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2014 . Image: The Postal Museum

The new collections join 58 on the UK Memory of the World Register

Video: St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle. A filmed voyage by steamer from Glasgow to St Kilda, containing scenes of the ports en-route and life of the population on St Kilda, was inscribed onto the UK UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2010.

The new inscriptions join 58 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 entierty, 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.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi was inscribed onto the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register in 2007. Image: Hereford Cathedral

Find out more about UNESCO in the UK

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