Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent have joined forces in a bid to prevent a unique historic collection of several thousand manuscripts, early books, and pamphlets being broken up.
The Mendham Collection, which is owned by the Law Society of England and Wales, contains about 5,000 invaluable items including medieval manuscripts, rare books and unique copies of some of the earliest books to have ever been printed. It has been held under the custodianship of the University and Cathedral for nearly thirty years.
Despite an agreement that Cathedral and the University will retain the custodianship of the Collection until the 31 December 2013, the Law Society has given notice of its instruction to Sotheby's to remove the most valuable items on 18 July 2012 as part of a fundraising drive.
The collection was formed in the nineteenth century by Joseph Mendham, an Anglican clergyman with a keen interest in the history of theology. Since 1984 this collection has been accessible through the Cathedral to students and researchers from around the world. A full scholarly catalogue was published with public funds from the British Library in 1994; a condition of the funding was that the collection should not be dispersed.
The collection was donated by the Mendham family to the Law Society at the end of the nineteenth century on the understanding that it would be kept intact, and both the Cathedral and the University are deeply saddened by the Society's disregard for the family's wishes as well as its determination to break up a collection of such national significance.
Dr Alixe Bovey, Director of the University's Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, said: 'The collection is a valuable witness to the development of Protestantism and Catholicism, and the tensions between them, from the time of the Reformation up to Mendham's lifetime.
‘The imminent removal of the most valuable items will cause irreparable damage to the coherence and richness of this historic collection. While we appreciate the need for the Law Society to raise funds, we ask that the Society works with us to find a way to preserve this invaluable collection.'
The University has a world-wide reputation for its work in medieval and early modern research and offers a number of postgraduate programmes including an international doctoral programme in early modern studies which is funded by the European Union under the Erasmus Mundus scheme.