Wednesday 15 May 2013

The Borthwick at 60

15 May 2013 is the 60th anniversary of the Borthwick’s official opening. To  mark the occasion we have added a small ‘vintage’ showcase - made for the Borthwick in 1953 - to the current “Best of the Borthwick” exhibition (see 17 April post).

In here, we have put a little display about the opening day. This includes a couple of photographs of the occasion – not the glossy colourful and posed publicity shots we’d have today, but black and white snaps taken by an unknown photographer, showing a rather stiffly formal occasion.

The Borthwick was opened by HRH the Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood. A veritable galaxy of berobed VIPs took part in the opening ceremony, including the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the Lord Mayor of York, the Archbishop of York, the Deputy Keeper of Public Records, and many senior academic historians.

The Borthwick was then, of course, at St Anthony’s Hall, one of York’s medieval guildhalls, which was home to the Borthwick up to the end of 2004 when it moved to campus.
The press coverage was extensive. Banner headlines such as: “Making York World Centre of History” and “National as well as Local Importance” hint that this was more than just the opening of an archive office.
Why was the Borthwick so important? And why is it ten years older than the rest of the university, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year?
Oliver Sheldon
The Borthwick represented a major step in York’s aim to develop academic study within the city – something which it was hoped would eventually lead to the founding of a university. 
A campaign for a university at York had begun in earnest in 1946, led by Oliver Sheldon, a director of Rowntrees and one of the co-founders of York Civic Trust.

His masterly direction of publicity and support led to a petition from York to the University Grants Committee in 1947. At that point York was turned down, but told that if it could show evidence of academic activities its case might one day be reconsidered.

As a result, academic plans were developed by the Academic Development Committee of York Civic Trust: first for summer schools in archives and in architecture, which began in 1949, followed, it was hoped, by academic institutes at some future date. But when in 1949 Oliver Sheldon suddenly heard that the Archbishop of York’s plan to house his rich and extensive diocesan archive at the Minster Library had fallen through – and a large grant from the Pilgrim Trust might be on offer – he moved quickly to develop an alternative archive scheme.

Out of this the Borthwick was born: a home for the Archbishop’s archive, which would be available for scholars, and a building which would provide an HQ for all York’s academic ventures. 

Tragically, Sheldon died unexpectedly in 1951 before the Borthwick was opened, but his vision was carried on by the Academic Development Committee, and after 1956, by the York Academic Trust. These bodies were run by men of great ability and vision, most notable of whom was JB Morrell, a towering and important figure in the history of both the city and the university (the university library is named after him).

In 1963, the efforts of this group of York citizens bore fruit when the university opened and the Borthwick became one of its founding departments.

Since then, the Borthwick has developed in all sorts of ways. In the autumn, there will be a larger ‘Borthwick at 60’ exhibition, to tie in with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the University. This will include more about Sheldon and about the Borthwick’s first director, Canon J.S. Purvis.
Canon J.S. Purvis

Purvis was an archivist, teacher, scholar, artist, poet and author of the text for the revived York Mystery Plays of 1951.

Until then – note that the ‘Best of the Borthwick’ exhibition has now been extended until mid September!

Oh, and why are we called the Borthwick? Come and see our exhibitions and find out!

This blog post was written by Dr. Katherine Webb, Archivist at the Borthwick Institute and author of Oliver Sheldon and the Foundations of the University of York (2009).

To find out more about the Borthwick's holding, have a look at our Best of the Borthwick post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.