Going, going... Bid to stop medieval documents going under hammer
The Mendham Collection at
Canterbury Cathedral Library
by Jamie Bullen
Medieval documents taken from the Canterbury Cathedral library
will be auctioned off unless academics can raise enough money to
buy them back.
The University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral campaigned
together to stop the removal of 300 books and manuscripts from the
Mendham Collection by The Law Society.
Nineteenth century clergyman Joseph Mendham formed the
5,000-strong collection, which details early tensions between
Catholics and Protestants.
It has been in Canterbury since 1984, attracting academics and
researchers from across the world.
The Law Society said they needed to sell the documents to raise
much-needed cash and have given the university and
cathedral until November to submit a bid to reclaim the
Spokesman Emma Alatalo said: "In these challenging times, we can
no longer justify the ongoing cost of maintaining the collection,
which despite its great value to academics does not form part of an
archive useful to our members.
"We owe it to our members in these hard-pressed times to get the
very best price that the market can offer."
Officials from the university and the cathedral (pictured
below) launched a petition to preserve the entire collection,
but despite 1,600 signatures could not prevent the removal.
Dr Alixe Bovey, director of the university’s Centre for Medieval
and Early Modern Studies, said: "They took 300 volumes last
Wednesday and out of those I would say they are worth more than
half of the total collection.
"They are by far the earliest, rarest, most important books and
it has really punched a hole in the collection.
"I wrote to them yesterday asking them to share their valuation
as a basis for us to put together some sort of package. They
invited us to make an offer in May but gave us only 72 hours,
making it impossible to do so.
"Were they just paying lip service by giving us the chance to
make an offer. I think their main priority is to get some cash by
the end of the year."
Cathedral spokesman Chris Robinson said: "We are sad that the
Law Society don’t seem to appreciate the intrinsic value of the
collection, they are just looking at it as pounds and pence.
"We know they need money and we appreciate that, but we are sad
they are doing it in this way. We assume they will take the rest of
A valuation was not revealed as it may dissuade potential
bidders at the auction.
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