Last chance to keep Norfolk letters in UK

PUBLISHED: 08:17 12 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010


A battle to keep the fascinating and historic archive of a Norfolk clergyman in the UK has been bolstered after a ruling by a government minister.

A battle to keep the fascinating and historic archive of a Norfolk clergyman in the UK has been bolstered after a ruling by a government minister.

Letters which belonged to Rev William Gunn (1750-1841) provide a detailed portrait of Norfolk society over a long period, comment on Lord and Lady Nelson, and also shed light on other correspondents including the sculptor and illustrator John Flaxman.

Now the gossip-filled records - tabloid stuff of the time - have been given a last chance to remain in this country after culture minister David Lammy placed a temporary export bar on them.

If someone can raise the recommended price of £83,050 and purchase the archive before October 22, it will stay.

The minister's ruling follows a recommendation by the reviewing committee on the export of works or art and objects of cultural interest, run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

It recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the record is of outstanding significance for the study of history, art history and antiquarian scholarship at both a regional and national level.

William Gunn was a Church of England clergyman and scholar and the archive features more than 1000 letters, all dating between 1774 and the 1830s, and five volumes of his diaries and one of his wife's when they were travelling in Europe from 1792-93.

Also included are legal papers arising from his having officiated at the clandestine marriage of Prince Augustus Frederick, 6th son of George III, including letters from the Duke and his son concerning the latter's claim to the Dukedom of Sussex, in which Gunn - at the age of 80 - found himself called as a key witness.

The papers give "an exceptionally detailed picture" of Norfolk society during an extended period from the late 18th to the early 19th century, both in terms of its local workings and the impact of larger events on the region.

Of particular interest are said to be the letters from his fellow Norfolk antiquaries, Sir John Fenn, the first editor of the Paston letters, and his wife Ellinor (Frere), the children's author, and Anthony Norris of Barton Hall and his wife Sarah.

Letters from London include literary and cultural comment on Samuel Johnson and his circle and Jane Austen's novel Emma.

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