The manuscripts once formed part of an extensive private library at Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire, belonging to the Willoughby family, later Barons Middleton. The dispersal of the Wollaton Hall library began with a major sale in 1925, and items originally in the Library can now be found in many different institutions and private collections.
Their continuity of ownership and known archival context gives these manuscripts particular regional significance and relevance to the study of patronage, readership and provincial culture. Despite their importance, the manuscripts remained little known. The importance of the collection was noted by W.H. Stevenson in his Report on the Manuscripts of Lord Middleton (HMC, 1911). As a group, their significance was publicised locally in the University of Nottingham exhibition Image and Text (1996). Recent detailed work on the volumes and their history has revealed a wealth of new information, as reported in Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (ed.s), The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers (Boydell & Brewer, 2010).
The remnants of the Wollaton Hall library have been curated by the University of Nottingham since 1947 as a discrete element of a family archive (Middleton Collection). In 2007 assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) secured the future of the literary manuscripts at the University as a separate group, now named the Wollaton Library Collection. Development work was launched as an HLF-funded curatorial project led by Manuscripts and Special Collections staff. A parallel research project, led by Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre (University of Nottingham, School of English Studies) was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Next page: Items from the Wollaton Library Collection
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