Every 9th June is International Archives Day, a chance for archive services across the world to try and increase awareness of the importance of archives.
Exeter Cathedral Archives may have temporarily had to close its doors to the public, but it still continues with its business of collecting, preserving, and giving access to the records of the Dean & Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. Exeter Cathedral has been creating and preserving records of its activities since its foundation in 1050 (in fact, the Cathedral Archives contains records which pre-date this by almost 100 years). The primary purpose of the Cathedral Archives has traditionally been to maintain the records of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, but these days we have a wider remit: to ensure that as much as possible of the life and business of the Cathedral and its people is preserved now and in perpetuity, regardless of format.
The Cathedral Archives does contain minutes from 640 years’ worth of Chapter meetings, and the formal accounts, leases, and correspondence that go hand in hand with the administration of a Cathedral and, historically, its estates, but it also contains the records of the stone masons, archaeologists, tapisers, flower arrangers, sidesmen, bell ringers, Friends, and many more who are so important to its life and functioning. In the strong room there are hundreds of parchment rolls and volumes, thousands of papers in bundles and files, as well as vinyl records, video cassettes, framed pictures and more. In addition to those more tangible formats stored in their boxes and drawers, there are also the growing quantities of electronic records; the digital photographs and videos, websites, email correspondence and much more besides. The oldest of the records are over a thousand years old, and the youngest are just a matter of weeks old (don’t forget, those 1000 year old documents were once new too).
Some of you may have been to the reading room to carry out research of your own, or come as part of a group visit, or you may have been to an exhibition of documents in the Cathedral, but many of you may never knowingly have seen any of the Cathedral Archives before. However, if you have ever read a book about the Cathedral, been on a tour, seen an image of an old document on a poster for a Cathedral event, or watched a television documentary about the Cathedral or some of its treasures, then you will – perhaps inadvertently – have been exposed to them or the information extracted from them.
The formal records of Chapter are transferred to the Archives regularly, but a significant part of the collection has been built up more organically, through the kind gifts of the people who know and love the Cathedral: a scrapbook of cuttings created by a grandparent a hundred years ago, a picture postcard or two found in the loft, photographs representing cherished memories of a childhood in the Cathedral Choir. So, next time you are rummaging in a box in the garage or the loft and find an old (or even not so very old) document relating to the Cathedral, please do bear us in mind. You might just have the next treasure to add to the Cathedral Archives.
The reading room may be closed for now, but we are still available to take your enquiries by email, and you can visit our web pages for more information and links to the catalogue and other online resources.