THE Kings and Scribes exhibition in Winchester might be stalled due to the pandemic, but highlights of the cathedral archives were open recently [April 30] to anyone given a link to log on to the Friends of Winchester Cathedral website.

Future historians might look on the event as a landmark in social habits, when the Cathedral came to be visited by as many virtual visitors as those who tread its stones. The archives were shown via Zoom, the software that looks set to change the way we live.

The speaker was cathedral archivist and Hampshire Archives Trust Newsletter editor, David Rymill, who was introduced by Friends chairman and former BBC presenter Bruce Parker. The technology put a full-size picture of the treasures on-screen, with a view of the speaker on a small sub-screen alongside.

Since 2014 the cathedral archives have been in the hands of Hampshire Record Office, where conservators and archivists have worked to make them an enduring and accessible record of more than 1,000 years of history.

The oldest item dates from 957AD, though is not directly concerned with the cathedral. It perhaps came to what was then the priory of St Swithun in the 16th century. An apparently older charter of 854AD was in fact written much later to codify a grant that had probably involved a simple handover.

David gave examples of records at all times, including medieval account rolls, though unfortunately a mere 80 examples have survived from the estimated 2,000 accounts of office-holding monks (obedientiaries ) that were generated in the period 1280-1537. Other records have survived in the most surprising fashion – like the fragments of medieval music manuscripts held in the Record Office and possibly originating from the Cathedral or another local monastery or parish church, and reused to wrap wills.

Especially interesting was a diet roll, which contains accounts of food bought and served on different days of the week and on certain feast days.

The charters issued by Henry VIII to the Dean and Chapter after the Dissolution are handsome documents with elaborate capitals, including one showing Dean William Kingsmill and others giving court to the king in the process of making the momentous change, and receiving from him the statutes for the running of the Cathedral.

Very useful for tracing Cathedral personnel are the Chapter Books, which survive in an unbroken run from 1553, with the exception of the Civil War and Commonwealth years, and also of 1600-1622, a gap which is fortunately plugged to some extent by the diary of Dean Young, excerpts from which have been published.

David told the story of Chapter Clerk John Chase, traumatised when soldiers during the Civil War threw records in the river – some of which were supposedly later fished out downstream by the brothers of St Cross! – and others were fashioned into kites.

There was much more, including the story of the register of banns recently recovered walled up in the cathedral. Also highlighted was the site, which gives access to all issues of the Winchester Cathedral Record, with the 24 publications of the Friends recently added, according to Tom Watson, who gave a vote of thanks.

Commenting on the event, Director of the Friends, Lucy Hutchin, said: “We were at first concerned when the coronavirus pandemic came along about the impact on our talks, which have always been in the Paul Woodhouse suite with everyone together, but then I joined my first Zoom meeting and I saw the opportunity to use it with the Friends. It was a learning curve for some but a great success.

“We had 65 participants who could listen to David’s excellent talk at home! This may be a sign of the future especially for our members who are unwell and frail, though it’s always a pleasure to meet others. The next talk will also be via Zoom and is on medieval graffiti in the Cathedral by Dr Cindy Wood on May 19 at 7 pm. All members - and others - welcome!”

Time will no doubt tell whether this pioneering event is what the future will look like, or whether the social instincts of people will triumph.

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