Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society News     


Unesco status for Wakefield court rolls

It was announced today that the Wakefield court rolls held in the YAS archives will be amongst the new additions to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register

The Wakefield court rolls record the business of Wakefield manor (one of the largest in England) from the 13th to the 20th century and offer a unique insight into the life of the manor's inhabitants. Covering not just Wakefield, but a huge area of the West Riding from Holmfirth to Halifax, Heptonstall, Dewsbury and Normanton (31 miles from east to west, 21 miles from north to south), these historical documents are probably the most complete set of surviving English court rolls.

The rolls are written in ink on parchment and after 1737 on paper, bound together at the top and originally rolled up (hence the name “court rolls”). Until 1733 the rolls are written in Latin (with the exception of the Commonwealth period), and thereafter are in English.

UNESCO's (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) UK MoW Register aims to highlight documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK. The UK Register helps raise awareness of some of the UK’s exceptional, but lesser-known documentary riches by awarding them with the globally-recognised Memory of the World status.

The majority of the 670 court rolls were gifted to the Society by the the Lord of the Manor the Earl of Yarborough in the 1940s along with other historical documents relating to the manor. A few rolls which got detached from the main collection are held in other archives including the University of Leeds, Sheffield Archives, the British Library and The National Archives.

As the manorial administration was centred in Wakefield, the rolls were originally stored in the Wakefield Rolls Office, an eighteenth-century building (demolished in 1913). After 1913 the records were stored in the cellars of the offices of the manor steward, where the damp conditions led to considerable deterioration in the condition of the documents. A conservation appeal was launched by the YAS in the 1990s and many of the rolls were repaired thanks to grants and private individual and corporate donations. Today the rolls are housed in a secure and climate-controlled environment at the YAS's headquarters.

We are delighted at being awarded this prestigious status and hope that it will highlight the importance of our archive collections and encourage more people to use them.