Manuscripts and Special Collections

2009-2010, AHRC: Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts

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Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) award for research project 'The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers'

The medieval manuscripts from Wollaton Hall encompass an exceptional range of texts, including important examples of Latin, French, Anglo-Norman and Middle English literature from the 13th to 15th centuries. This includes major literary works of significance such as L’Estoire del Saint Graal, a copy of Gower’s Confessio Amantis (and other works), a unique text of Le Roman de Silence, fragments of the South English Legendary, and a fragment of an English Life of St Zita. The Wollaton Antiphonal, which survived at Wollaton Hall until its return to Wollaton parish church in 1926, logically forms part of the group.

This AHRC-funded research project aimed to raise public awareness of the manuscripts and their relevance to regional and national history as the remnant of an important early regional gentry library. Researchers analysed and described the individual manuscripts, and their subjects, investigated the importance of the manuscripts as a group, and examined the development and survival of the much larger medieval library originally held at Wollaton Hall. A network of academic and curatorial specialists brought the necessary range of expertise to the study.

Research on the physical manuscripts included investigations of codicology, decoration and illumination and liturgical music, and the presence of family dedications, heraldic evidence, signatures, and annotations indicating provenance. Archival evidence at the University and elsewhere extended the analysis of the history of the family and the development of their library. The dispersal of the original medieval collection, which included such notable items as the 8th-century Ceolfrith Bible fragments (BL Add. 45025), was investigated.

The project complemented curatorial work undertaken on the manuscripts with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This involved preservation, digitisation, and the delivery of web resources and an exhibition.


AHRC project outcomes

This research project had several major core outcomes:

1. Volume of essays and descriptions of the Manuscripts. The publication The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers, ed. Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (Boydell and Brewer, 2010) includes detailed entries on each manuscript, and a number of essays by members of the project on research themes including the development and history of the Willoughby family's medieval library; Sir Thomas Chaworth's books; the Wollaton Antiphonal and regional art; lay readership of religious works, 13th-15th centuries; the manuscripts of Gower’s Confessio Amantis; and the artistic aspects of a collection of French romances and fabliaux.

2. Academic network contacts, meetings and workshops. 

3. Extension of outputs from the HLF-funded project, including curatorial input into the exhibition of the Wollaton medieval manuscripts in 2010, and enabling a concert featuring liturgical music from the Antiphonal. The research findings of the AHRC project enriched the lottery-funded web resources and e-learning packages, and the Research Assistant worked with the lottery project team in the delivery of texts and supporting material for the project website on medieval women


The research team 

Principal Investigator

Thorlac Turville-Petre, Professor of Medieval English Literature, School of English Studies, University of Nottingham 

Co-Principal Investigator

Ralph Hanna, Keble College, Professor of Palaeography at the University of Oxford

Curator/Keeper of Manuscripts

Dr Dorothy Johnston, Keeper of Manuscripts, Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham

Research Assistant

Dr Gavin Cole

Network/Advisory Group

An Advisory Group of scholars also steered the research project and contributed to the network and the published outcomes of the project.


Contact us

Any enquiries about the project can be addressed to Manuscripts and Special Collections


Next project: Wollaton Library Collection HLF Project

Manuscripts and Special Collections

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