Grant gives public access to 300-year back issue archive

By Sarah Lagan

The Rutland and Stamford Mercury has received a £300,000 lottery
grant so that it can display its 300-year-old archive of back copies to
the public.

The Heritage Lottery Fund will provide the grant to give the public
access to a complete microfilm record of the Mercury, which launched in
1695 and is the country’s oldest newspaper.

The money will also
help to carry out crucial preservation work on the collection of bound
volume copies going back nearly 300 years.

For the last eight
years the public has been unable to view the archive due to the damage
caused to the papers through continuous use.

Mercury publisher
Welland Valley Newspapers, part of Johnston Press, encouraged the
creation of an archive trust that drew up a business plan and grant
application to make a presentation to the fund.

In that plan, the
trust said: “The importance of the archive is not merely the
information it contains on national, regional and local events – this
is also available elsewhere – but in its being virtually complete and
still held in the town of the newspaper’s birth. It is of major
importance to the nation’s cultural heritage.”

Mercury editor
Eileen Green, who took up her post in February, said: “I know a lot of
hard work went into preparing the bid, and it is a credit to the
project team here that the fund acted as it did.

“Everyone at the
Mercury is very excited about the conservation work We appreciate what
a wonderful and valuable archive we have, and look forward to being
able to have members of the public use it again.”

Among the
stories now available on microfilm is that of a man who sold his wife
at Stamford market, which inspired a scene in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor
of Casterbridge.

There are also international eventsincluding the
American Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Trafalgar, Waterloo
and the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Former editors of the
Mercury, Tim Robinson and Tor Clark, both played important roles with
the archive project, which was spearheaded by conservationist and
former Stamford Museum curator John Smith.

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