Volunteers sought to read Flodden’s secret histories

Archivist Linda Bankier with a 16th centuary guild book
Archivist Linda Bankier with a 16th centuary guild book

AMATEUR historians from both sides of the border have been invited to lend their skills to a new archives project unearthing the circumstances around the Battle of Flodden.

As part of the heritage and Lottery funding towards Flodden 500, the commemoration of the battle in this its 500th anniversary year, a volunteer service is being set up to study mediaeval documents pertaining to the build-up and aftermath of Flodden, as well as the battle itself.

Volunteers are asked to attend a six week course at the Berwick Record Office, where archivist Linda Bankier will teach them the skills of basic palaeography - the art of reading old handwriting.

The aim, says Linda, is to build up a database of sources that have been transcribed - not translated.

“We want to keep the original spellings and phrasings, that’s the essence of the documents,” she says, “because even in the 1500s there was a recognisable border dialect. When you’re trying to decipher a word, it helps sometimes to say it in a northern or a Scottish accent.

“Of course, the sources, when you can find them, mention family names that are still around today, but on a larger scale I’m not sure people always realise what an impact the battle had on Europe at the time.”

The project is planned to have a lifespan beyond the battle’s quincentenary.

“We want to give people the skills to do research like this on their own,” Linda said, “and after two years we should have the information to go out and show people in the area the history they might not even suspect is there.”

In preparation, Linda and Rachel Hosker of the Heritage Hub at Hawick visited archives in Durham and Edinburgh, as well as the National Archives and British Library in London, searching for the documents to make the scheme feasible.

Pertinent sources, in particular financial accounts, state papers and correspondence from both England and Scotland, have been digitalised, so that volunteers can read them at their leisure at home, so there is no need for dust-free rooms or white gloves.

Linda hopes that the volunteers will be able to meet up regularly and share their discoveries with each other.

This approach helps, she says, when a reader is poring over a medieval manuscript, where the scribe has been using ‘y’ for ‘i’ and ‘f’ for ‘s’. “ We’ll teach them how to recognise letter shapes, which have changed dramatically, and phonetic spellings. Of course, with two people looking at the same word, one can sometimes just not see it while the other would get it at first glance.

The first meeting of the project is on January 22, in Berwick’s Records Office, Wallace Green, at 2pm. For more information, contact Linda on (01289) 301865 or at lbankier@woodhorn.org.uk.