National Library archive gets Unesco seal of approval

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A TREASURE trove of letters, manuscripts, business papers and drawings held by the National Library of Scotland has been officially recognised by Unesco as an archive of outstanding cultural significance.

The John Murray Archive, the historical records of the Murray family publishing company, includes documents from authors including Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Charles Darwin.

Bought by the library for 31 million in 2006, the entire archive has been selected to be included in the UK Memory of the World record - set up last year to establish an online database of cultural merit.

David Dawson, chairman of the UK Memory of the World committee, said: "We were incredibly impressed by the diversity and richness of these nominations to the register."

Last year the National Library of Scotland had four inclusions in the register, including maps from cartographer Timothy Pont and books from Scotland's first printers, Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar.

Martyn Wade, National Librarian and chief executive of the National Library of Scotland, said: "To have been included in the register last year was thrilling. To have been included again so soon is recognition of depth and quality of our archives here."

The 155,000 items in the collection include rare letters and manuscripts from writers, politicians and scientists. The archive was built up over 200 years by the Murray publishing business, founded by Edinburgh-born John Murray in 1768.

It includes the world's most extensive and important collection of Lord Byron items, including Lady Caroline Lamb's passionate love letters to the poet, most of his original manuscripts and about 1,200 of his letters.

A handwritten eulogy to Byron by Sir Walter Scott is also part of the collection, along with a clutch of the author's letters to John Murray, his friend and publisher. Other notable items include a letter in which Charles Darwin outlines his proposal for The Origin of Species, saying: "The book ought to be popular with a large body of scientific and non-scientific readers."

The collection also contains explorer David Livingston's manuscript Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries.

Among those who supported the campaign to buy the archive are Sir Sean Connery and Rebus author Ian Rankin, who said it gave an insight into "the ideas that shaped the world".