The Long Paper Trail

How excited most of us would be if we discovered a little room under the roof that no one knew about before! … In one corner there was a curious old chest. It was a romantic moment. Would there be Spanish doubloons or emeralds from the newly-discovered land of Peru lying in that ancient coffer? Eagerly the old fastening were undone, and to everyone’s disappointment nothing was seen but a bundle of letters.

Quaker House Library D1-5 f4

This undated cutting from an unknown newspapers announce the discovery of Captain Thomas Bowrey’s papers to the world about 1927. They had been discovered almost 15 years earlier. Despite the reported disappointment the discovery does have a romantic attraction for historians of every hue. When I started to follow the trail of this find I did not expect to uncover a saga of just what not to do with such an important find.

Shuffled to destroy any context for undated documents, forcefully straightened and chemically treated it is surprising that so many manuscripts survived their discovery. Split up, sold and donated – shared around multiple archives and families, many documents can no longer be traced. By some good fortune the bulk of the find now resides in just two repositories – the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library. However, despite being known to many academics and other researchers, there is difficulty in accessing much of the information contained within the papers.

Much of this information relates to ordinary people of interest to family and social historians. There are hidden gems of interest to other researchers. I have attempted to bring some of these into the light by my posts here, especially in my year of On This Day post. However, there is so much more which my manuscript catalogue, when completed, will make the papers fully accessible. I just need to get it finished, Meanwhile, the discovered of the papers and their subsequent journey will be the subject of my third talk.

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