The Art of Writing and Manuscript Production

This project is producing new research to investigate our extensive collection of artefacts that illustrate this fascinating theme. Finds, found in York, that are being explored include:

  • A clockmaker seal matrix from 62-68 Petergate.
  • Seal matrices from Bedern, Fishergate, Aldwark and Rawcliffe.
  • Papal bullae from St. Leonards, All Saints Peasholme Green and Haymarket.
  • Parchment prickers, styli and lead points from Swinegate, Fishergate. Coppergate, Tower Street, Bishophill Senior and Bedern.
  • Book clasps and mounts from Bedern and Fishergate.
  • Wax tablets from Swinegate.

A new exhibition at Barley Hall will ultimately display the collection of objects and reveal how they were involved in document, manuscript and book production and care. The project also aims to reveal who was literate in the medieval period? How dominant was the church in this period? Do we know if the owners of seal matrices – some of whom were craftspeople – would have been literate and who wrote on the wax tablets?

 

ftf buttons resilience-4

 

 

The Wooden Writing Tablets from Excavations at 12-18 Swinegate, by J.M. McComish

Wooden Writing Tablets from 12-18 Swinegate, York, by Steven J. Allen

Papal Bullae from Peasholme Green, York by N. Rogers, with thanks to Dr. T. Pestell

Writing and Literacy in the Medieval Period, By Nicola Rogers

 

Wax tablets

  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Mid-14th century wax tablets, found at Swinegate.
  • Replica of the Swinegate tablets.

Papal bullae

  • These papal bullae made of lead alloy were attached to documents issued by the Pope.
  • Papal bullae bore the images of Saints Peter and Paul and the name of the issuing Pope.
  • This papal bulla bears the name of issuing Pope Urban VI.
  • Reverse before conservation.
  • Reverse after conservation.
  • Obverse before conservation.
  • Obverse after conservation.

Seal matrices

  • In the Middle Ages, seals were used by the upper classes and craftsmen to validate a document. The matrices could be highly decorated.
  • Medieval seal matrices made of copper alloy.
  • Seal matrix made of copper alloy.
  • This seal matrix, found at the Vicars' Choral site at Bedern, depicts a squirrel with a legend which reads 'I CRAKE NOTIS' (I crack nuts).
  • Seal matrix found at Low Petergate depicts a central motif of an eight-spoked wheel, and an inscription which reads 'The seal of Robert the clockmaker from (?) Yarmouth.
  • Mid-12th century ivory seal of Snarrus the toll gatherer.

Parchment prickers, styli and lead points

  • A medieval writing desk could have featured objects such as bone pens and parchment prickers, copper alloy seal matrices, candleholders and stone lamps.
  • Iron stylus found at Bedern site.
  • Writing implements such as bone pens were used in medieval document production.
  • Bone pen.
  • Bone parchment prickers like this one are thought to have been used for making tiny holes to mark the position of the lines of the text.
  • Parchment pricker made of bone.
  • Bone parchment pricker with iron point.
  • Parchment pricker made of wood.
  • Lead alloy point.
  • Lead alloy point.

Book clasps

  • Leather straps with metal clasps such as these helped to keep books shut. Clasps came in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Book clasp made of copper alloy found at the site of Fishergate.
  • Medieval book clasps could be decorated.
  • Copper alloy  book clasp.

Installing the artefacts at Barley Hall