The records that are at the heart of the ‘Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers’ (LACR) project are kept in the beautiful Charter Room on the third floor of Aberdeen’s Town House where they are cared for by the staff of Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives. Of course the Archive service, formed in 1980, is the latest in a long line of guardians who have ensured the survival of the city’s unique UNESCO-recognised Burgh Registers.
A question that is frequently asked by visitors is: why does Aberdeen have such a remarkable collection of late-medieval records whereas only fragments remain for other Scottish towns during this period? This is probably the result of three things: the geographical location of Aberdeen which meant that it, and its records, escaped the worst excesses of the Reformation, a culture of good record keeping within the burgh and a healthy dose of good luck. In particular, their survival is testament to the fact that successive town clerks, the predecessors to the current Archive team, saw the records as having important evidential value and were therefore worth preserving. That evidential value persists and is the focus of the current project.
One of the primary functions of the Archive service is to make the records in its care as widely available as possible. A major hurdle to realising this aim for the medieval Burgh Registers is that the language and handwriting of the original text makes them well-nigh impenetrable to all but the expert palaeographer. Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives sees the current LACR project as the essential foundation for making the fascinating information contained within the records available to those who are not experts. If you follow this blog regularly, you will already have read some riveting stories of life within medieval Aberdeen. Such vignettes are captivating and can help tell the story of the city to tourists, school pupils and locals with a fascination in how their town has developed.
The task of opening up the records to this wider audience is too large for the Archive service to achieve on its own and we are immensely proud to be in partnership with the University on the LACR project. The partnership is already having significant knock-on benefits with the Archive participating in many associated public engagement activities. In September Phil Astley, City Archivist, presented a paper about the project at the annual Archive and Records Association Conference in London while November will see the Archive hosting a meeting of the UK National Commission for UNESCO at the Town House. Major regional cultural events taking place in 2017 in Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland such as Spectra, Look Again and the Granite Noir writing festival will all have input from the Archives. All this follows the much higher profile that the service has achieved through the recognition of its records by UNESCO UK and the positive publicity surrounding the LACR project. We are confident there will be many more exciting opportunities to come.