We continue to add to the manuscripts collections, mostly to the Additional series of manuscripts. These, together with the Egerton MSS, are usually searchable via the Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue. The printed Index of Manuscripts reproduces the indexes of the majority of the published catalogues listed below.
Spine of Manuscripts Catalogue (detail). Copyright © The British Library Board
The Additional series is by far the largest collection of manuscripts and comprises all the manuscripts acquired by gift, purchase or bequest since 1756 (with the exception of those which form part of the closed collections already listed and the Egerton manuscripts described below). The numbering of the Additional manuscripts begins at 4101, following on from Sloane manuscripts 1—4100.
There is a series of catalogues and indexes to the Additional series, which from the latter part of the 19th century have been published in 5-year volumes. These catalogues also contain entries for other ongoing collections — Egerton manuscripts, as well as charters and rolls, papyri and seals.
A number of special catalogues describing and indexing important archives that form part of the Additional manuscript series have been published separately:
The Gladstone Papers
The Cecil of Chelwood Papers
The Yelverton Manuscripts
Lord Chamberlain's Plays (from the early 19th century)
The Blenheim Papers
The Petty Papers
The Shaw Papers (forthcoming)
In 1829, Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater (b. 1756, d. 1829), bequeathed to the British Museum 67 manuscripts and £12,000 (the Bridgewater fund). This sum was augmented in 1838 by £3,000 (the Farnborough Fund) bequeathed by Egerton's cousin, Charles Long, Baron Farnborough (b. 1761, d. 1838). The income from these bequests is devoted to the purchase of manuscripts which, together with the original Egerton collection, make up the Egerton series of manuscripts.
The Egerton collection is for the most part catalogued and indexed in the Additional series of catalogues.
The charters and rolls form separate series with their own numeration. It is important to remember, however, that many documents which would now be treated as charters and rolls have been given manuscript numbers and are therefore described and indexed in the catalogues of manuscripts. There are also separate collections of charters and rolls relating to the named manuscript collections:
- Additional Charters and Rolls
- Cotton Charters and Rolls
- Egerton Charters and Rolls
- Harley Charters and Rolls
- Lansdowne Charters and Rolls
- Sloane Charters and Rolls
- Royal Rolls
- Stowe Charters
There are also distinct collections which do not correspond to catalogues of manuscript collections:
- Lord Frederick Campbell Charters
- Topham Charters
- Wolley Charters
- Church Briefs
- Shrewsbury (Talbot) Deeds are now part of the Additional Charter collection
- Thoresby Park Charters and Rolls now form part of the Egerton Charter collection
The Index Locorum, 2 vols. (London, 1900 & 1912) is the only catalogue that treats charters and rolls as a whole. It is an index of places in the British Isles to which the charters and rolls refer. It contains all of the above collections, but only the Additional and Egerton Charters and Rolls acquired up to 1900. The unpublished 'Index Nominum' (available in the Reading Room) contains references to persons cited in the charters and rolls included in the Index Locorum. It also includes foreign charters. The main Index of Manuscripts includes the 'Index Locorum' but not the 'Index Nominum'.
Additional and Egerton Charters are to a large extent also described and indexed in the main Additional series of catalogues. The Reading Room also holds also other, mostly unpublished, descriptions to the separate charter collections outlined above. Royal Rolls and Stowe Charters are described and indexed in the published catalogues of the Royal and Stowe Manuscripts.
There are two main classes of seals: original impressions which are attached to charters and other legal or official documents, and detached seals which may be either original impressions detached from their documents, or casts of original impressions, or modern impressions from surviving matrices. Seal matrices, which were used to create seals, are kept in the British Museum Department of Prehistory and Europe.
Attached seals form an integral part of the documents to which they are attached and have no separate numeration. Detached seals, however, do have their own numeration, whilst the Doubleday Casts collection is numbered separately.
The 6 volume, geographically arranged, published catalogue, Catalogue of Seals in the Department of Manuscripts... (London, 1887-1900) covers all types of 'seals' acquired up to the date of publication of each volume. Detached Seals (after Seal XXXV.196) are also included in the Additional series of catalogues and in the Index of Manuscripts. There are separate handwritten catalogues of Doubleday Casts and Laing Casts.
The 'Lord Chamberlain's Plays' and the Modern Playscripts collections together form an unbroken sequence of texts of plays performed in Great Britain from 1824 to the present day. The Lord Chamberlain's Plays from 1743 to January 1824 (the Larpent Plays) are in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. They may, however, be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room on microfiche (MS Fiche 253/1-1297 and MS Fiche 254/1-1070).
There are separate collections for Lord Chamberlain's Correspondence files and Unlicenced Plays.
Lord Chamberlain's Plays 1824-1968 have Additional manuscript numbers and a card index of titles in the Manuscripts Reading Room. A separate published catalogue within the Additional series covers the plays for 1824—1851.
Modern Playscripts, 1968—the present, are accessed through card indexes of titles and authors available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
The Manuscript collections comprise Greek and Latin papyri. Egyptian papyri are preserved in the British Museum Department of Egyptian Antiquities, and Coptic papyri in the British Library Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections.
About 4,000 ostraca were transferred from the British Museum Department of Egyptian Antiquities in 1932, 1933 and 1967, and still retain the inventory numbers allotted to them in that department.
Papyri are for the most part catalogued in the Additional series of catalogues, although there are also specialist catalogues available. The Egerton Papyri form a separate sequence.
There is no printed catalogue of ostraca, but 3,000 of them were published in U. Wilcken, Griechische Ostraka aus Aegypten und Nubien, 2 vols. (Leipzig & Berlin, 1899).
A considerable number of manuscripts have been deposited on loan by their owners.
The Manuscript collections also include both published and unpublished selected facsimiles of manuscripts (both British Library manuscripts and those of other institutions).
For published digital facsimiles see the Electronic Resources available in the Manuscripts Reading Room; for unpublished digital facsimiles (such as "The poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt in Egerton MS 2711"), consult the Superintendent of the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Microfilms and microfiche of manuscripts (held by the British Library and other institutions) are also held within the collections and made available through the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Photocopies and microfilm are also deposited in the collections under the Export Licence Regulations now administered by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (these are historically known as reserved photocopies, or 'RPs'). Many recent deposits are unavailable as it is usual for new owners to reserve the copies from public use for an agreed period of time (normally seven years).
Catalogues for these collections mostly exist as unpublished handlists with supporting card indexes available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7513 / 7702
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7745
E-mail: Ask the Reference Team