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A very important letter

Letter from Rocket man Stephenson in Liverpool Records office makes it into UNESCO top ten of history

Published on July 14th 2010.


A RARE hand-written letter by George Stephenson, which sits in Liverpool Records Office, has received international recognition as one of the most important historical documents in the UK, even though it is a bit messy, quite frankly.

The letter, describing the dawn of the railway age by the inventor of the first steam locomotive, was written to his son Robert in Columbia. It is dated February 1827, during the hectic period of construction of the world’s first regular passenger railway between Liverpool and Manchester.

Believed to be one of only a handful in his own writing (Stephenson only started to learn to write aged 18), the letter details, with great energy and passion, challenges such as the crossing of Chat Moss, the design for the Sankey Viaduct and the creation of the two-mile long Wapping tunnel – the world’s first tunnel under a city – which all paved the way for the 35-mile line that also incorporated 64 bridges and viaducts.

Three years later the first train left Liverpool for Manchester on September 15 1830, which also resulted in the word’s first train fatality with the death of Liverpool MP William Huskisson, who was taken by train to Eccles aboard ‘the Rocket’ by George Stephenson himself.

The 183-year-old item is one of only ten from across the country selected as examples of the UK’s outstanding documentary heritage, spanning nearly 1,000 years of history, and were chosen for embodying pivotal moments and periods that have shaped the nation.

These items are the first inscriptions to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage across the UK and the world.

The register is part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) programme to support and raise awareness of archives.

Liverpool Record Office houses more than 14 kilometres of archives including the original 1207 “Charter” from King John, papers from leading statesmen and key cultural leaders and patrons, archives of a wide range of businesses, societies, churches, and charities, and even the recently unearthed award-winning essay by Paul McCartney, when he was 10, about the Queen’s coronation.

The 183-year-old item is one of only ten from across the countrBased in Liverpool Central Library, which sits within Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Record Office will handle more than 70,000 visitors per year. It is due to move temporarily with the library service to the 2nd floor of World Museum Liverpool once the green light is given for the £50m transformation of the 150-year-old library, which will create 18km of new archive space meeting the very latest exacting standards.

Davis Stoker, Head of Liverpool Record Office, added: ‘’It’s a huge honour to have received this recognition by UNESCO and to have the Stephenson letter inscribed to the UK Memory of the World Register is a great coup for Liverpool. We have many wonderful items for the public to research and we look forward to displaying and making accessible more of them once the transformation of the Central Library is completed.’’

The UK Memory of the World Programme is part of the UK National Commission for UNESCO’s work to promote preservation of and access to the world’s archive holdings and library collections.

The next round of nominations to the UK Register will be launched in Autumn 2010.

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