John Murray Archive saved for the nation

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has today confirmed its support for the acquisition of the John Murray Archive, awarding a Stage Two Grant of £17.7 million to the National Library of Scotland. The archive is considered to be an incomparable piece of 19th-century British history and HLF's support will mean the archive will be open to the public for the first time and given a permanent home in Edinburgh, the first UNESCO City of Literature.

Patricia Ferguson, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport said: 'The John Murray Archive is a remarkable and rich record of British literary life and society over three centuries. Securing the archive for Scotland and indeed for the whole of the UK is a major achievement. This funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that future generations are guaranteed access to this important collection.'

Colin McLean, Manager for the HLF in Scotland said: 'The John Murray Archive is one of Scotland's national treasures and we're delighted to be able to support it with a £17.7 million grant. Not only will this grant support the acquisition of this comprehensive collection, but it will also ensure that access to the archive will be dramatically improved for members of the general public, creating an invaluable resource not only for the people of Scotland, but for the whole of the UK.'

Martyn Wade, National Librarian, said: 'We are delighted at the Heritage Lottery Fund's announcement. The John Murray Archive is the most important archive to become publicly available in the last 100 years, and is now secured for the nation. The Archive complements the Library's existing collections and will enrich the cultural life of Scotland, with initial research already revealing hidden treasures. The Library will continue to forge ahead with its fundraising campaign to achieve the final funding target of £6.5m.'

The John Murray Publishing House, established in 1768 by the company's Edinburgh-born namesake, was one of the greatest, and perhaps most influential, of all the British publishing houses, with an unrivalled list of authors. Since then, seven generations of the Murray publishing family have maintained an archive of business papers, correspondence and manuscripts, which has become an outstanding national treasure and captures a critical period of Britain's intellectual development.

The richness of the archive comes from the individuals represented and the evidence it offers of friendships, collaborations and influences across literature, exploration, politics and scientific and engineering discovery. The manuscripts, letters and papers collected by the family form an unmatched record of ideas and discoveries that have shaped the modern world. From George Elliot, Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to David Livingstone, Charles Darwin and Benjamin Disraeli, it also includes the most extensive and important collection of Byron's work in the world.

The collection has been housed at John Murray's family home in London where public access was severely limited. As a result of the grant from the HLF, a John Murray Archive Reading Room will be opened at the National Library of Scotland, as well as a permanent exhibition area for people to find out more out about the archive. Five thousand key documents will also be digitised for internet access in the first phase of the digitisation process, with another 10,000 items to be digitised within the following three years. Touring exhibitions will also be created so that more people across the UK can learn from and enjoy this unique piece of British history.

As well as the current home to the archive, John Murray's family home in London was also the historic venue of John Murray's 'Four O'clock Friends' meetings. During the early 19th century, afternoon tea in John Murray's drawing room was an extraordinary event. Each day some of the greatest writers, thinkers and adventurers would gather in Murray's home for a remarkable exchange of creativity, new ideas, invention and exploration - a tradition that was marked in the John Murray publishing family for over 200 years.

24 February 2006

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