THE little-known keepsakes of one of Blackburn’s foremost industrial figures have become the subject of a large national arts project due to be showcased in London.
Scholars from around the country will take some of Blackburn Museum’s vast collection of 800 manuscripts, books and coins that were donated by rope maker Robert Edward Hart to be shown at a stand alone exhibition in November.
He acquired the elaborately designed early medieval pieces, which includes 400 early medieval books, on trips to London kept secret from his family before leaving them to be cared for by the museum and enjoyed by the community after his death in 1946.
It is the first time in more than 15 years that the artefacts, which also includes the only known full run of Roman coins held outside of the British Library, have been on show.
The collection will also be the subject of a large conference later this year which has attracted interest from academics as far away as Harvard in the United States.
Hart, who was born in Blackburn in 1878, was chairman of the family business Thomas Hart Limited, a firm of rope makers founded by his forebears in 1789.
He was a keen member of the Blackburn Society of Antiquaries, and a well regarded benefactor to local causes, making donations worth more than £60,000 to the town during his lifetime.
Cynthia Johnson, one of the four people behind the year long project to have his collection displayed, helped secure a £3,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to ensure it could go ahead.
Ms Johnson, a Phd student from the Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, said: “I came to look at two books from the collection for my dissertation but was blown away by the beauty of the illustrations so decided to apply for funding to exhibit some of them.
“I was told that I was only one of a handful of people who had asked to see the items over the years so I hope that by drawing attention to them it will enable the museum to apply for more funding so that it can digitise them and thereby introduce them to a much bigger online audience.”
Several of the manuscripts were recently photographed by staff at John Rylands Library in Manchester to accompany 10 physical books that will be featured in the exhibition.
Museum curator Vinai Solanki said: “We’re very pleased his collection has been chosen because it will open it up to more people which we’ve been unable to do previously due to a lack of funding.
“He had a great eye for stunning, fashionable designs and was a huge benefactor to Blackburn so it’s great that we can help fulfil his aim of attracting more attenting to the possessions he wanted to share with his hometown.”
C E Hart’s collection has captivated fortunate visitors since it was bestowed to the people of Blackburn upon his death in the 1940s.
It consists of over 800 rare and diverse books, manuscripts and coins from East and West that he collected whilst on frequent visits to London from his home in Blackburn.
Some individual pieces date back as far as 2055BC, such as transcribed Tablets from Egypt that give detailed accounts from the royal kitchens and fragments from the Papyrus’ 'New Kingdom' Book of the Dead, written around 1300BC as a 'guide book' to a happy afterlife.
It also includes the only known full run of roman coins outside the British Museum.
Twenty two medieval manuscripts and 400 early printed books depict, amongst them, key religious scenes.
The brilliantly coloured and intricately drawn illustrations, have rendered some, such as one 1240 book called the Blackburn Psalter and the 15th century Ars Morendi, or the ‘Art of Dying', priceless.
Written in Latin on vellum - a thin, smooth parchment made from animal hide - the 12-page Psalter illustrates the Nativity, Crucifixion, the Stages of the Cross and rare mentions of Saints Ivo and Osyth.
The two texts narrowly missed out on a British Library digitisation scheme in 2007 which would have allowed them to be viewed online around the world.