Friday 5 May 2023

The Order of Service for a Coronation: A Mystery in the Register of Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York, 1374-1388

As we get ready to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III this weekend, our guest blogger Helen Watt investigates an intriguing set of entries relating to a past coronation, which she found in one of our medieval Archbishops' registers during a recent project.

On 6 May 2023, Charles, formerly Prince of Wales, will be crowned King Charles III, following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, last year. The coronation ceremony will take place in Westminster Abbey, where kings and queens of England have been crowned since 1066. Although King Charles is intending to have a shorter ceremony than that of his mother in 1953, the solemnities will presumably still largely follow that same order of service which has been used for English royal coronations since the fourteenth century. Details are found in the Liber Regalis, an illuminated manuscript belonging to the Abbey, thought to have been created around 1382, probably for the coronation of Queen Anne of Bohemia, the first wife of King Richard II.[1]

Colour image of the crest of Queen Elizabeth II on the cover of a coronation brochure, 1953. The image features the lion on the left and the unicorn on the right, flanking either side of the crest.
Cover of a programme for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953, from the author's own family papers. 

The Liber Regalis shows that the coronation ceremony is performed by the archbishop of Canterbury, with the bishop of Durham and the bishop of Bath and Wells as supporters of the new monarch. What then was the role of the archbishop of York in the proceedings? No particular actions by him are mentioned in the order of service and it seems likely that the archbishop at the time would simply have been present as the second highest-ranking member of the clergy alongside the archbishop of Canterbury. So it is all the more intriguing to find the order of service for the coronation of a king in the register of Alexander Neville, archbishop of York, 1374-1388, ‘Ordo coronandi Regem’ (Order of crowning a king).[2] This entry is found alongside two others relating to the coronation of King Richard II and a third relating to the manner of performing the coronation of a king and queen, ‘Qua solemp[nita]te ac sub q[ui]buz m[od]o & for[m]a Rex & Regina debeant coronari’ (By which solemnity and under what manner and form a king and queen should be crowned).[3] All four entries have come to light following successive projects to work on the registers of the Archbishops of York, 1225-1650, carried out by the Borthwick Institute for Archives and Department of History at the University of York. The first of these projects, entitled ‘Archbishops’ Registers Revealed’, completed between 2014 and 2015 in the Borthwick and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, resulted in the digitisation of the registers of the Archbishops of York, 1225-1650.[4] It produced high quality images of the registers contained in an online database and included entries from the register of Archbishop Neville, which had been indexed as part of the pilot for the project in 2012, also funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[5] Following on from that project and a subsequent project generously funded by the Marc Fitch Fund also carried out in the Borthwick between 2015 and 2016 to index the registers, 1576-1650, ‘The Northern Way’ project, generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ran from 2019 to 2022 and was managed by the Department of History in partnership with The National Archives, Kew, and with the support of York Minster.[6] That project carried out indexing of all the fourteenth century York Archbishops’ registers, and so further highlighted entries from Neville’s registers, including those relating to the coronation of Richard II and the order of service for coronations of a king and a king and queen.

Colour photograph of two grey boxes stacked one on top of another on a white metal shelf. The boxes read Reg A Neville I and II (registers 12 and 13) both covering the dates 1374-1388.
Registers of Archbishop Neville on the shelves in the Borthwick strongroom, 2023.

Colour photograph of a brown leather-bound volume sitting on a wooden table. The spine of the volume includes gold lettering stating it is the register of Archbishop Neville. The bottom of the spine includes a large gold-coloured number 12, reflecting the register number.
The register of Archbishop Neville containing entries for the coronation of King Richard II. 

Thinking of the latter two entries and taking into account the duration of the reign of Richard II, 1377-1399, and the period during which Neville was archbishop, 1374-1388, could the first entry relate to the coronation of Richard II in 1377 and predate the Liber Regalis, and the second, to the coronation of Richard II’s queen in 1382 and follow the Liber Regalis? As we shall see, the answer is not so simple. The first point to consider is that the initial entry firmly identifiable with the coronation of Richard II consists of the royal order to the archbishop, dated 26 June 1377, to attend that coronation, which was to take place on 16 July 1377 at Westminster Abbey. This order is identical to that sent out to the archbishop of Canterbury and presumably to all those dignitaries who were to attend.[7] However, the second entry in the register consists of a royal letter dated 4 July 1377, excusing Archbishop Neville from attending, for fear of invasions by the Scots and enemies approaching by sea. These reasons seem to make it very plausible that the archbishop would not travel to London at that time; nevertheless he is described as only ever having left his archdiocese during his first ten years in office, mostly for short spaces at a time to attend Parliament.[8] The only other period he spent outside his own diocese was to assist in defending the border with Scotland during threats of invasions in 1383 and 1384, and not in 1377.[9] Although taxation, specifically two clerical tenths from Canterbury and York, was to be raised at the very beginning of the reign of Richard II to finance resisting enemy invasions, this request may well have applied equally to naval attacks launched by the French, as to invasions by the Scots.[10] Therefore, it seems very likely that Archbishop Neville was simply not intending to make the journey to London for the coronation, but to stay in the north, probably at his palace at Cawood, on which he spent much time and money improving.[11]

Colour photograph of a page of parchment with brown writing on it. The writing is very small and in a medieval script, in Latin. There are headers for the various entries down the left hand side of the image (also in Latin).
The first two entries relating to the coronation from the register of Archbishop Neville: the Royal writ of King Richard II ordering the archbishop of York to attend his coronation on 16 July 1377 at Westminster, and copy of a letter of Richard II excusing the archbishop from attending his coronation.

Following the royal order and letter are the two entries relating to the order of service for the coronation of a king and of a king and queen, as already mentioned. These entries are undated, but are preceded by those noted above, dated in 1377, and followed by others, also dated in 1377, although not in strict date order.[12] Does this order in the register suggest that the entries relating to the coronation service also date from 1377 and so pre-date the coronation of Queen Anne of Bohemia? If not, could they have been copied into the register, but not in chronological order? One answer to these questions might be to look at the overall makeup of the register; as with most of the fourteenth-century registers of the Archbishops of York, it is divided into various sections and these entries fall within the section entitled ‘Diverse Letters’. This section contains entries, as the title suggests, covering a range of subjects, but generally dated between 1377 and 1384. Certainly, the first few folios of this section, ff. 100-7, including f. 104 in which the entries relating to the coronation are found, do appear to be arranged in chronological order between 1377 and 1382, although f. 105r includes an entry containing a copy of a document dated in 1222, and f. 107r, an entry dated in May 1378, in between others dated in 1381 and 1382, therefore perhaps out of place. Given this general arrangement, it is possible to conclude that the coronation entries, because they appear between entries dated in 1377, may well pre-date 1382, and so perhaps relate to an earlier period, perhaps to 1377 or before.

Colour photograph of a page of parchment with brown writing on it. The writing is very small and in a medieval script, in Latin. There are headers for the various entries down the left hand side of the image (also in Latin).
Entries relating to the order of service for the coronation of a king and of a king and queen, found in the register of Archbishop Neville, c.1377.

Turning back to the Liber Regalis, as well as existing in manuscript form, as described above, and as well as having been printed in volume 93 of the series of publications of the Roxburghe Club,[13] the manuscript also appears in print, in the original Latin with an English translation, alongside several other documents relating to coronations of English kings and queens in another volume, English Coronation Records.[14] Therefore, these two works provide ample means of comparing the text of the Liber Regalis with the entries found in Archbishop Neville’s register, in an attempt to discover the origin of the register entries. The editor of English Coronation Records also provides details of the recensions, or various forms which the medieval coronation service took and describes the Liber Regalis as the fourth recension of the text, the fullest thus far.[15] The editor was also of the opinion that this particular version was used at the coronation of King Edward II, which took place in 1308, but only contained short rubrics or criteria for the service, with more detail included later, perhaps in the reign of Richard II.[16]

Could this identification of the text of the Liber Regalis provide further corroboration of the date of the entries in the archbishop’s register or not? The only way to find out was to compare the entries with the text of the Liber Regalis, line by line and word for word. This exercise proved very fruitful and although it answers the question in part, also raises other points. The results of the comparison appear to confirm that the register entries only contain the short rubrics of the coronation service, whereas the Liber Regalis is a much fuller version of the text. Therefore, it does seem likely that the register entries predate the more detailed order of service used in the coronation of Anne of Bohemia, but by how much? The editor of English Coronation Records also compared the Liber Regalis with another document, a fourteenth-century Pontifical of Westminster Abbey in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.[17] Looking at the variations in the text of the Liber Regalis found in the Westminster Pontifical, it is clear that the entries in the York archbishop’s register follow those variations very closely, if not exactly, and so the entries must pre-date the Liber Regalis. Indeed, the editor of a text for a coronation order of service printed in another volume, Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, specifically identifies the Westminster Pontifical variations as relating to the order of service for Edward II.[18] However, also published in English Coronation Records is a document entitled ‘Forma et Modus’, which is said to be reminiscent of the rubrics of the Liber Regalis, but is thought to date from the fifteenth century.[19] Although the first register entry relating to the coronation contains the words ‘m[od]o & for[m]a’, as noted above, so that the same words appear in the title and heading of each, the texts do not match and so the register entry may still relate to an earlier period.

Nevertheless, the register entries appear to have been copied from another text, since there are evidently copying errors, where the scribe has missed a line, realised his mistake, crossed out a few words and started again.[20] Another aspect of the register entries is that when compared with the Liber Regalis, they are not in order, but that the first of the entries, relating to the coronation of a king and queen, noted above, should fall within the second, relating to the coronation of a king.

Could it be possible that the register entries were copied from a manuscript belonging to Westminster Abbey, containing details of the order of service of the coronation, probably for Edward II, and if so, how and why? If Archbishop Neville rarely left his archdiocese, did his clerks also stay with him in the north or have access to manuscripts in the south? Or were there other manuscripts in York archdiocese containing the recension of the coronation service earlier than that fuller version thought to have been produced during the reign of Richard II? If the archbishop had no intention of attending the coronation ceremony, why was the order of service copied into his register together with the other documents in the first place? At present, all these questions are intriguing and remain unanswered, but still show that there was perhaps the same interest in the coronation of a new king in the late fourteenth century as there will be today. 

[1] See the illustrated description of the Liber Regalis on Westminster Abbey’s website, available via (accessed 14 April 2023). The Liber Regalis is printed in F. Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, ‘Liber Regalis’, Roxburghe Club (London, 1870), with a manuscript of a translation available in the Society of Antiquaries of London, SAL/MS/231.

[2] BIA YDA/2/Abp Reg 12, f. 104 r, entry 4, available via the York Archbishops’ Registers database (accessed 14 April 2023).

[3] BIA YDA/2/Abp Reg 12, f. 104 r, entries 1-3. All four entries are printed in J. Raine (ed.), Historical Papers and Letters from the Northern Registers (London, 1873), pp. 411-16.

[4] Details of the project are available via (accessed 20 April 2023).

[5] The York Archbishops’ Database is available via (accessed 20 April 2023).

[6] See ‘The Northern Way: The Archbishops of York and the North of England, 1304-1405’, available via (accessed 20 April 2023).

[7] See F. D. Logan (ed.), ‘The Register of Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1375-1381’, Canterbury and York Society, 110 (Woodbridge, 2020), p. 293, no. 798.

[8] R. G. Davies, ‘Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York, 1374-1388’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 47 (1975), 87-101 (93).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Two clerical tenths from Canterbury Province, granted 5 December 1377 and two clerical tenths from York Province, granted 22 March 1378, ‘to support the charges of resisting the invasion of [the king’s] enemies’, see the E 179 database, available via the website of The National Archives (accessed 14 April 2023).

[11] Dobson, R.  Neville, Alexander (c. 1332–1392), archbishop of York. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ( (accessed 17 April 2023); R. G. Davies, ‘Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York, 1374-1388’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 47 (1975), 87-101 (93).

[12] The entries immediately following those relating to the coronation service are dated 16 July, 12 August, 2 September and 24 August 1377, see BIA YDA/2/Abp 12, f. 104 v, entries 1-6.

[13] F. Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, ‘Liber Regalis’, Roxburghe Club (London, 1870).

[14] L. G. Wickham Legg (ed.), English Coronation Records (Westminster, 1901), XIII, pp. 81-130.

[15] Ibid., p. 81.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Wickham Legg (ed.), English Coronation Records, XVI, pp. 172-190 (81), the document being University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. C. 425, ff. 60-80.

[18] See W. Maskell (ed.), Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 3 vols. (London, 1847), III, pp. 1-48, ‘De Benedictione et Coronatione Regis’ (3, note 1); also cited in footnotes are other Pontificals besides that of Westminster Abbey.

[19] Wickham Legg (ed.), English Coronation Records, XVI, pp. 172-190 (172).

[20] In the lines relating to part of the coronation oath, the words ‘Faciam ?concedis iustas consuetudines’ have been struck through (BIA YDA/2/Abp Reg 12, f. 104v, line 1), only to appear in the correct place later (BIA YDA/2/Abp Reg 12, f. 104v, line 3); the word ‘servabo’ which should appear in line 1 before the words that have been struck through, has had to be inserted above the line, pointing to another copying error.

Tuesday 2 May 2023

#YorStory: public history and the University Archive

Last term we hosted a Masters student from the University's MA in Modern History. As part of their Public History Placement module, students are asked to undertake a public history engagement project. In this blog our student, Izzy, reflects on her experience with us and the social media campaign she has created around the University's history and archive.  


Hi, I’m Izzy, a Modern History MA student at the University of York. For the last 10 weeks I have been undertaking a Public History placement with the Borthwick Institute for Archives. At the end of autumn term last year, we were asked to make a decision on our desired projects, choosing from a set of options provided by a range of heritage partners. The projects ranged from planning and delivering history lessons to children, to working with archives on their social media strategy. I chose to go more down the route of archives as they interest me a lot, and the project allowed me to research some valuable skills around social media engagement and communication of history to the public. The placement initially stood out to me as it matched with some of my interests and skills. I like archival research and, in another job role, I am responsible for communicating and marketing ideas to a team - something I thought I could bring to this. I also feel like this project was a lot about organisation and strategy (both of which I love), so I put it down as one of my top choices!

The project brief asked me to design a social media campaign that would engage the many audiences of the Borthwick Twitter account. There needed to be a coherent element and tweets needed to go out weekly. The tweets had to be interesting and allow for a two-way conversation between the archive and audience, and be based around the University Archive. They could showcase any University 'firsts' and link to wider events, such as LGBT History Month or Black History Month where possible. I realised quickly that the key to success would be focusing my efforts on one range of documents in particular - York's long-standing student newspaper, Nouse. The Twitter campaign had a dual-aspect as it would coincide with, and help celebrate , the University’s 60th anniversary. The anniversary provides an opportunity to look forward as well as back, and to reflect on the University’s past work in combating inequality and championing social justice, diversity and inclusion. I knew this was important to incorporate into the campaign and kept it in mind when I was reading the newspaper for information.

Masthead for the student newspaper, Nouse
Nouse masthead (1984)

Construction of the project

I decided early on to focus on the newspaper Nouse. I sat in the archive searchroom and surveyed Nouse from 1964-2004. I looked for key themes I thought I could use, any good cartoons, and trivia. As well as looking at the details, I also tried to focus on the project’s wider context. I created a spreadsheet which highlighted the tweet content and the date it would be released. I needed to fill in each week with a unique theme. Some weeks were obvious and related to wider national or University events, others were trickier. A particular issue was thinking of themes for over the summer as Nouse wasn’t published then. After having identified the majority of my themes, I went about searching for the material to populate the tweets.

Constructing the tweets got easier as time went on. I found a voice that I liked and rolled with it. The hardest part was trying to create something that people would want to engage with. I felt that the content of the tweets were interesting and people would like the campaign, but would it inspire them to respond or engage? Measuring the impact of the tweets was also hard and in the back of my mind I was thinking about the essay I had to write for my Masters which reflected on how I communicated the history through the tweets and the engagement as a result of that. I will go more in depth into how I tried to create engagement later in this blog.

Screenshot of the Tweet that launches the social media campaign.
Launch tweet for the YorStory campaign

The decisions I had to make while designing the project were also crucial. I had to think about what Nouse content I included and then how I would frame this in the tweets. I found myself feeling very conscious about my role as the curator of the project. I had the power to make the decisions as to the tweets’ content and therefore present a curated and highly selective history. I did not try to follow a specific agenda to shape the perception of the University’s history, but this will have happened unconsciously. The forward looking perspective in the University’s vision for the 60th anniversary led me to be more engaged with material on gay rights and environmental issues, and to move away from histories that required more nuance in their telling, such as Enoch Powell being invited by a group to speak on campus in 1968 (the invitation was quickly withdrawn). Students’ Unions and societies have often brought students into contact with challenging speakers, but this history requires more detailed explanation than a single tweet would allow. Therefore, it was left out, not through disengagement with that particular content, but a difficulty in communicating the nuances of this event to the readers of the campaign. I think that is where most of the tension came from in formulating this project. The inherently uneven weight I gave to certain aspects of the newspaper and the subsequent perception of these for the readers. The importance and responsibilities of the role of the curator is something I think that struck me most during this placement. I also learnt quite how difficult and strategic it is to design and run a social media campaign.

Engagement and marketing

I never really thought about the role of marketing (in its broadest sense) at the beginning of the placement, but as I thought about the project’s objectives, Twitter as a tool for engagement, and the different audiences involved, I realised that the marketing of the tweets was as, if not more, important as the actual content of them. An objective of the campaign was the two-way engagement between archive and audience. We were defining ‘engagement’ quite broadly. We were wanting anything from a like and retweet to an audience member reaching out to donate material or collaborate on a project. This not only made the success of the project hard to define, but it made me aware of lots of different ways people can engage with online media. I wanted to encourage more ‘tangible’ forms of engagement. By this I mean people emailing the archive, asking to do projects, donating materials etc. rather than likes and retweets - although both were desirable. I found this quite difficult. My approach was to give clear routes on how to act if they wanted to i.e. a link taking them directly to the ‘Student Life Collection’ web page if they had photos or archive material to donate. I also wanted to build a community and, with that, trust. By doing online polls and nostalgia posts, I was attempting to build a rapport with the audience (whether they physically interacted or not). This was with the hope that when I introduced a call to action people would act on it.

Screenshot of part of the student life collection webpage listing the type of materials the archive is seeking
Detail from the Student Life Collection webpage

During the placement, I also engaged with the social media manager at the Library who gave me some valuable insights into his strategies to increase engagement. I was struck by how data driven he said social media marketing was. I was told that community and trust were the most important ingredients to an engaged audience. In the final part of this blog I will use my experience of the placement and the things I have learnt from the various people I engaged with to suggest some points for future social media campaigns.


I have very much enjoyed my placement with Borthwick Institute for Archives. Not only has it given me insight into archival material, but it has given me a chance to put research, communication, and social media skills into practice. It has made me think about some of the difficulties around curated campaigns with short-length outputs and different types of engagement styles. Most of all, it has taught me the difficulty of communicating the past to the public and the types of decisions you have to make while doing it. I want to thank Charles specifically for being an excellent mentor and always being there for our weekly meetings. He has been very clear in his vision while also flexible in how I wanted to shape and deliver the project. I have learnt a lot over these last 10 weeks and now all there is to do is the assessment!!!

Thanks a lot!


Tuesday 29 November 2022

The Retreat Letters Project: The Proctor family

Many researchers into the history of mental health treatment will already be familiar with the Borthwick’s Retreat Collection, an extensive archive from York’s Quaker mental health asylum, established in 1796 by Samuel Tuke.[i] But the collection should also be helpful to many others, including social, family and Quaker historians. Of particular interest to this group will be the Retreat’s incoming correspondence. Following a recent update to the catalogue, summary information on the 12,000 letters the Retreat received between 1795 and 1852 is now available online.[ii] Each letter can also be viewed online at the Wellcome Collection (bundled by year).[iii]

The Proctor family’s story of coping with mental illness in the family is one of many told in these letters.

An 1826 envelope from the correspondence series

 “Stockton 24 / 3mo 1826

Respected Friend,

I duly received thy acceptable favor this morning and it has indeed afforded us the greatest satisfaction to find that our dear son appears pretty comfortable and I trust that thro’ divine favor he will in time be restor’d to us. … … …

Thy Assured Friend, John Proctor”[iv]

John Proctor was plainly relieved to hear from the Retreat’s Superintendent that his son, also John, was settled and was optimistic about his chances of recovery. John Jnr had suffered from a fear of personal injury since he was twelve. Now, aged twenty-six, things had come to a head. His phobia was causing him such severe depression that after a particularly severe attack, his Quaker parents sought help from the Retreat in York.[v],[vi],[vii]

Sadly, despite many years of care and treatment, John never fully recovered from his mental anguish. Over his adult lifetime, John Jnr was discharged from the Retreat several times, only to be re-admitted following the recurrence of his symptoms.

Throughout that time, his family’s support and feelings for their son are evident in the letters they sent to the Retreat. In fact, the Proctor family were prolific writers, and their letters chart the highs and lows of their experience.

Many of the letters are very practical, and his family often advised the Retreat of parcels of food or clothing they were sending to make John comfortable. New coats were especially popular! Others share items of news that may interest him, such as family events or alerting him to their upcoming visits.

Letter from Jane Thomas to Thomas Allis, 1836

But the letters also reveal tensions. Two years before admission to the Retreat, John had married Jane Spence, and she often disagreed with his parents on his treatment. On one occasion in 1836, Jane was keen to see him return home, where she felt he would be less anxious and have a better chance of recovery.[viii]

His parents, especially his mother, Mary, disagreed with this, although later said there had been a misunderstanding.[ix],[x] On another occasion, John Snr was so frank that he ended his letter asking that it be burnt after perusal.[xi] Several more bursts of letter-writing can be found lobbying the Retreat regarding John’s discharge. Such family disagreements were not limited to the Proctors. For instance, in 1848, Isaac Wright asked that his sister-in-law Elizabeth Wright be prevented from meeting her husband and removing him from the Retreat.[xii]

Most letters in the Retreat collection use a distinctive writing style; kind, considerate, humble and supportive. However, the writer rarely gives you a glimpse of their underlying emotions, making you wonder, “what are you really thinking?” or “how do you really feel?”

Long-term correspondents like the Proctors occasionally relax their writing style, giving you a glimpse

Letter from John Bright to John Candler, 1845

of their underlying feelings. For instance, in her later letters, Jane’s writing strays beyond a ”functional” exchange about clothing and provisions. Instead, you get a deeper insight into her feelings for John and how his absence affects her. In a touching letter addressed to her “dearly beloved Husband”, Jane tries to lift his mood, assuring him, “thou are not forgotten, my love”.[xiii] She talks in poetic terms about the arrival of good weather, recalling his enjoyment of hay-time and how he used to like its “getting up”. “I hardly know what is sweeter than new made hay”, she says. In another letter, Jane is remarkably open with John Candler, the Superintendent at the time.[xiv] She explains that she had been unaware of John’s condition when they married and that “the sympathy of our friends is a mitigation”. However, she now finds herself quite embittered at their fortune and feeling “hardly [unfairly] dealt with in 19 years out of not quite 21, being so bereft”.

John died at the Retreat aged fifty-two, and Jane sent her final letter in July 1852, ending twenty-six years of correspondence.[xv]

Letter from Proctor and Son, 1849

The archive’s incoming correspondence is a fantastic research resource and is not limited to family letters. For example, there are regular letters from a wide range of Friends’ Meetings across England, sending subscription payments to support the Retreat’s work or paying the accounts of Friends they have placed there. In addition, prominent Quakers often made contact. Sometimes they requested admission for Friends in need or sought advice on setting up and running their own asylums. Occasionally they engaged in discussion about important topics of the day. For example, the 1845 Lunatics Bill prompted a flurry of letters expressing concern that the introduction of new commissioners could interfere with the smooth running of the Retreat.[xvi],[xvii]

The correspondence also gives a flavour of life in the early nineteenth century. For example, visitors

from afar often explained the types and routes of transport they would take, whether road, river, or rail. In addition, the postal options appear to be very efficient, with many letters being received the next day. Some even arrived on the same day!

There are letters relating to running the Retreat, such as introductions for potential employees or purchasing goods and provisions. The records show that the Retreat was a big consumer of cheese. It received regular deliveries from Proctors of Selby, transported by steam packet along the Ouse. A typical order could amount to 4cwt of cheese, costing the equivalent of £1,400 in today’s money.[xviii]

The catalogue has been created by a small team of volunteers whose work has not always been plain sailing. They developed a skill in reading a wide variety of handwriting – some of which appears to have been done under candlelight using a broken ink quill! The writing of William Nainby is particularly challenging, closely followed by the cross-writing some authors used as a way of saving precious paper.[xix],[xx]

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Borthwick’s Retreat Collection, information can be found at

Index of Incoming Correspondence

Images of Incoming Correspondence

Written by Paul Wainwright, Retreat Letters Project volunteer

[ii] Incoming Correspondence subseries RET/1/5/1

[iv] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/30 (1826)

[viii] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/40/5/22 (1836)

[ix] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/40/6/8 (1836)

[x] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/40/7/2 (1836)

[xi] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/40/5/1 (1836)

[xii] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/51/9/14 (1848)

[xiii] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/48/7/16 (1845)

[xiv] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/48/5/17 (1845)

[xv] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/55/8/23 (1852)

[xvi] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/48/7/2 (1845)

[xvii] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/48/7/20 (1845)

[xviii] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/52/5/11 (1849)

[xix] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/60/6/20 (1857)

[xx] Incoming Correspondence RET/1/5/1/44/2/17 (1840)

Thursday 23 September 2021

Changes to our Service

Written by Gary Brannan, Keeper of Archives

As the autumn rolls in, it’s time for a new academic year here at the University of York. We’re pleased to say that we’re able to make the following changes to our opening times and services here at the Borthwick, as of the 27th September:

  • Onsite access to archives and microfilm resources remains Monday to Wednesday (9.30 - 4.30); but with extra researcher space, longer appointments, & improved document and resource access.

  • Introducing morning and afternoon appointment booking slots.

  • Additional microfilm research space and the reintroduction of self-service microfilm retrieval, plus self-service access to hard-copy searchroom documents.

  • Bookable access to the ESRC Safepod.

  • Resumption of paid research services, including elements of previous transcription and translation services, as part of a wider suite of services aimed at serving our remote research community. This will also involve new virtual consultations to solidify dedicated service for researchers who might never visit the Borthwick.

The pandemic has touched all of our lives in different ways, and we at the Borthwick are no exception. From our enforced onsite closure in March 2020, to the development of the York COVID-19 archive; to the various openings/closings through late 2020/early 2021, we have had to adapt to the pandemic’s impacts repeatedly over the last 18 months. 

The above changes have significant impacts - they more than double our daily onsite researcher capacity based on our pandemic-era occupancy, and means you can see the same number of documents each day as you could pre-pandemic, too. Changes in national guidance related to document quarantine mean we can now be more responsive and produce documents more frequently; and also reintroduce self-service for our microfilm resources and open access to our lists, indexes and onsite library resources.  

So - why aren’t we resuming our former five-day service? That’s a good question, and we wanted to be totally open with you about why that may be, as our experience is very common over the whole of the archives and special collections sector. 

Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a marked and sustained increase in remote researcher demand and onsite demand for resources for teaching. In terms of remote researchers, this has led to long turnaround times for enquiries and reprographics, with our searchroom team becoming stretched to deliver services. We’re committed to taking a data-led approach to our planning, and so we thought we would share some of this with you.

Over the last quarter of 2020-21 

  • 227 onsite research visits (91% of our COVID-capacity); but 22,631 virtual visits to our online resources, leading to 401 income generating requests and 1,661 enquiries to the searchroom team. 

  • enquiries increased by 47% on the previous quarter,  77% increase on the same reporting period 2019/20, and 38% increase on the same reporting period 2018/19.

  • Most of these enquiries are about our remote services such as document copying, as opposed to visiting us here onsite. 

We also know from our data that on average 38% of our weekly researcher spaces were used pre-pandemic. Our offering at 3 days per week still provides more onsite research spaces per week than we needed pre-pandemic, while allowing us to ramp up our services for our global offsite audiences who may never be able to visit us here in York.

How big is the global Borthwick user community? We know from our web data that it has increased by over 50% since March 2020, with just short of 30,000 users in well over 150 countries around the world. Crucially, this increased online use is sustaining, with over 2,300 non-York users of our online catalogue in August 2021 alone. 

Beyond this, the archives and special collections research climate is changing, with a general move to an expectation of remote access and delivery via digital means by the research community, a change that was in evidence pre-COVID but one has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Changing the balance in this way also means that we can offer new opportunities in the future for volunteering, engaging with our collections, and designing new services which can help connect our global research community with the archives in our care. One thing remains certain, however - you’ll alway be able to access our archives onsite, for free, to get your hands on crucial pieces of our national story and undertake your research, whether it’s a large academic research  project or the crucial building blocks of your own family story. We’re looking forward to going on that journey with you.