Telling the Stories of York

Sarah Griffin writes about how we produced a beautiful book featuring some of the treasures of our collections.


This particular story starts when the previous University Librarian, Stephen Town, asked me if I would prepare a short leaflet that would be image heavy and text light, and would be something that could be handed out to visitors and other people interested in the unique and distinctive collections at the University of York and York Minster Library. I worked with Sarah Slinn and Alexandra Medcalf from the Borthwick team, photographer Paul Shields, and designers Karen Smith and Jessica Stephens; we chose a few gorgeous pictures, wrote a few lines and thought we had completed our task. However once Stephen saw the initial idea he knew that we could go bigger and better and produce something much more substantial.

At first the plan was to produce a "Treasures Book", showing the highlights of the collections. It was certainly no hardship selecting stunning and internationally significant items for this. We decided on a telegram from Ghandi, theatre designs for an Alan Ayckbourn play, a hand coloured edition of the first printed atlas, a child's scrapbook from 1819 and many many more diverting and exciting items.

However as we went through the selection process we gradually realised that something else was going on. I know myself that if I go on a visit or a guided tour, it's always the stories that I remember. Sometimes I have no idea of dates or even the context of what I’ve heard, but the stories around an object stay in my mind and encourage me to go and find out more. That is what we decided to try and capture in the book and, from that moment, Stories of York really began to take shape.


York is full of great stories but our starting point obviously had to be the collections at the Borthwick, Special Collections and York Minster Library. There were some easy choices, arsonist Jonathan Martin was an obvious one as the collection is particularly rich down at the Minster, and we also had some fire boxes in the Raymond Burton collection.

York and chocolate cannot be separated and the Terry's and Rowntree's archives at the Borthwick had so much wonderful material that it was a hard job to decide what not to use. Here's a couple of the ones we reluctantly left out! Leaving things out was probably the hardest part, the book is 100 pages long but could easily have been a 1000.


Interestingly there were also things we were determined to include that in the final cut didn't quite fit. We wanted to tell the stories of the Mount School and the York Musical Festivals. There is wonderful material in the Mount archive and in the Raymond Burton Collection but we couldn't pull out that all important story. However we haven't given up so watch this space for a follow up!


Producing the book, discovering more about the stunning collections at the University and York Minster and being able to share some of their stories was a joy for all of us, and I hope that everyone else will get as much pleasure out of the Stories of York.


Interested in reading more? You can buy your copy of our book online or in person:

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