Exhibition marks King John Charter milestone

Anthony Carroll The last thing you would expect to see in one of Norfolk's most important historical documents is pin holes where it was hung up.

Anthony Carroll

The last thing you would expect to see in one of Norfolk's most important historical documents is pin holes where it was hung up.

But look carefully enough at the 800-year-old King John charter granted to Yarmouth and the pinprick holes are clearly visible.

In 1208, the parchment gave the right for Yarmouth to charge fees for its market and run its own legal system, enabling the small community to spread it wings to become one of the most vital trading centres in England.

And now, after a bit of tender loving care, the document is to go on display until June to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the charter, which gave Yarmouth the freedom of the borough in return for an annual fee of £55 to the monarch.

For conservators at the Norfolk Record Office the greatest challenge in exhibiting the charter was not fighting back hundreds of years of decay - but earlier efforts to preserve it.

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During the last century, well- meaning conservators damaged the charter with adhesive fluids and hung it up on pins so people could admire it.

Staff at the record office by County Hall lovingly used their preservation skills to reverse the damage so the charter looks its best for the Yarmouth: A Sand in the Sea exhibition, which runs from Tuesday to June 21 and chronicles life in the seaside town.

Conservator Antoinette Curtis said: “Sadly the charter was in a poor condition. It seems that early 20th- century preservation techniques did a lot of damage to this wonderful document.

“Although I am sure past conservators only wanted to take care of the charter, it appears they may have engaged in a little bit of overkill.”

The charter, which was stored by Yarmouth Borough Council until 2006, has now been preserved in such a way that it can be displayed in a controlled atmosphere of 15C and it is hoped that it will now last another 800 years.

Yarmouth: A Sand in the Sea also features a replica of the Hutch map of Yarmouth in 1000AD, displays of the town's fishing, silk and holiday industries and the story of kindhearted 18th-century jail visitor Sarah Martin.

Christopher Lloyd Owen, chairman of the record office, said; “This is a very exciting time to be celebrating the sealing of the first royal charter to Yarmouth.

“As we look back at the growth and history of the borough it is fascinating to think how Yarmouth will develop and change over the next 800 years.

“It is interesting to consider that such a small piece of parchment held the key to the future prosperity of the town.”

The free exhibition is open from 9am to 5pm on Monday and Wednesday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm on Tuesday, and 9am to noon on Saturday.