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A family trust has reneged on its promise to keep priceless manuscripts at Lancaster, with repercussions likely to be felt throughout the university.
The Second Baron Hesketh’s Will Trust originally agreed to a ten year deal with the university back in 2005 which gave the university the possession of a myriad of priceless Renaissance works, including letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I and an original folio of William Shakespeare.
But last year the trust officially gave Lancaster University 12 months notice that they planned to withdraw the collection, as permitted in the terms of the loan. Many here at Lancaster feel that this withdrawal will starve the university of both resources and funding.
Speaking to The Times, Dr Robert Appelbaum, senior lecturer in Renaissance Studies at Lancaster, said “Having access to these kinds of books put us on a level playing field with older universities. It allowed us to provide a quality of resources that wouldn’t otherwise be available because we are a newer institution.
“Students at Oxford can look at a Shakespeare folio any time they want to; students in Birmingham can. Students in the North don’t have that access.”
There is mounting concern that losing the rare works will also negatively affect the amount of research funding Lancaster will get in the future as the funding body, the Research Excellence Framework, takes such factors into account.
Among the valuable works in the collection is a four volume set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, kept within its own ornately carved bookcase and valued at up to £8 million.
Items from the collection have subsequently been viewed by interested academics in the University’s Rare Book Archive and have been the subject of research and study by a number of scholars.
The loss of the works has divided the students.
Jon Wilby, of Lonsdale, said “It’s a selfish move by the trust to rob the North of such priceless books and hollow of them to not fufill a promise.”
Josh Clearly, also of Lonsdale, said “To be honest, I had no idea that we even had any rare books. I think that the university could have done a lot more with them.”
Fiona Aiken, University Secretary, said that the university has no plans to acquire any other collections to replace the Hesketh Collection.