Category: Transcription

Continued evidence of interest in Great Parchment Book and the history of the Plantation

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The Great Parchment Book blog has been rather quiet over the last few months, but that’s not to say that interest in the content and the project has declined. To the contrary, the Great Parchment Book continues to prove relevant to research in the UK and across the globe. Page views to the Great Parchment Book website have now exceeded 160,000 and downloads of the XML data are also steadily increasing in number.

And it’s also good news for our partners Derry City & Strabane Museum and Visitor Services. Statistics recently received record that to 31 December 2017 nearly one and a half million visits (1,479,598 to be precise) had been made to the to the Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall. Just to put this in perspective and indicate the impact of the exhibition, this figure is many times the population of Derry itself and more than three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland. The exhibition is still going strong and we look forward to this year’s figures.

So, if you have done research based on the Great Parchment Book, why not share it more widely on this blog? Please contact the editor via for more information.

And finally, here are the updated statistics for the Great Parchment Book by numbers:

  • 1 Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society
  • 165 folios and fragments, stored in 30 bespoke boxes (originally 16)
  • 11 Great Twelve livery companies’ holdings recorded (should be 12, but the Merchant Taylors’ portion is missing)
  • 1095 personal names indexed on the website including variations in spelling
  • 992 place names indexed also including variations
  • 49 occupations and titles recorded such as barber-surgeon, fellmonger, muster master and winecowper
  • 120 entries in the glossary including occupations and titles, but also terms such as ballibetagh, creete, kill house, rampier, standall and vayle
  • Over 160,000 page views of Great Parchment Book website and blog to 9 November 2018
  • 148 blog posts published including this one
  • 270,000 visitors to Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall in the first year (opened 30 May 2013) when an original folio of the Great Parchment Book was on display. Nearly one and a half million visitors (1,479,598 to be precise) to the exhibition to 31 December 2017 (many times the population of Derry and over three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland). Still going strong.
  • 37 downloads in 7 countries across 3 continents of the Open Access set of 326 XML documents containing encoded transcriptions of the individual folios (2.56MB of data)
  • 6 presentations about the project in countries outside the UK across 3 continents, and innumberable links from other websites across the world
  • 20 project partners including 14 funders
  • 4 awards, 3 shortlisted/finalist, 1 highly commended
  • 1 inscription on UK Memory of the World Register (inscribed on 21 June 2016)

All summed up as 1 unique record of the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.

International interest in Great Parchment Book continues

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International interest in the Great Parchment Book continues unabated and here we share two recent connections with projects and programmes in France and Finland.

Les rescapés du feu

Colleagues in France were very interested to find out more about the digital reconstruction of the Great Parchment Book and invited the project to present at a study day in Chartres on 17 November 2017 entitled Les rescapés du feu: L’imagerie scientifique au service des manuscrits de Chartres (Fire survivors: Contribution of imaging techniques to the study of Chartres manuscripts).

The parchment collection at the heart of the study day has many parallels to the Great Parchment Book, being a form of doomsday book of the region of Chartres, and having fallen victim to a fire. The Municipal Library at Chartres was one of the great European libraries and home to a prestigious manuscript collection dating from the 11th century. On 26 May 1944 the library was bombed and fire destroyed many of the manuscripts. However, 220 of the 518 medieval manuscripts survived; some are almost intact, others as charred blocks or shrivelled fragments. Extremely fragile and often difficult to identify, the manuscripts remained inaccessible to researchers for more than seventy years.

The project REMAC – A la REcherche des MAnuscrits de Chartres – got underway this year. Like the Great Parchment Book project, the collaborative research has brought together a range of experts to work on the use of different imaging techniques to retrieve the written content in the damaged manuscripts. In parallel, research is being undertaken to set up new imaging and microscopy techniques to assess the degradation of parchment.

The study day aimed to present the research project from the perspective of historians, imaging scientists and conservators. It also included presentations from other research teams in Europe concerned with improving the accessibility and conservation of damaged manuscripts which is where the Great Parchment Book came in.

Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing and Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH) from project partner UCL, delivered a well-received presentation (in French!) on the Great Parchment Book at the study day. We hope that this will be available online in due course along with all the other presentations (watch this space).



Finland’s DIGIHUM programme

Tim has also been making connections with Finnish digital humanities researchers. On 4 October 2017 UCLDH were delighted to meet with delegates from the Academy of Finland’s multidisciplinary DIGIHUM programme, with the aim of sharing the latest British and Finnish research in digital humanities, and strengthening collaborations between the two. UCLDH presented on three projects including the Great Parchment Book.

XML dataset of Great Parchment Book now available

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LMA and UCL are pleased to announce that an open access set of 326 XML documents containing encoded transcriptions of the individual folios of the Great Parchment Book is now available via UCL Discovery.


Patricia Stewart transcribing a folio

The dataset has been made available as a source for the historical and social geographical scholarly community, to allow others to use the dataset for their own research. The files include transcription of the folios and XML coding using the Great Parchment Book schema created under the Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI) on oXygen XML Editor Professional software version 14; the data set is 2.56MB in total.

The data is provided with a Creative Commons Attribution-non Commercial (CC BY NC 3.0) licence. LMA and UCL would be delighted to be kept informed of how and in what context this data is being used, so do please get in touch. More information about using the data and contact details are available via UCL Discovery (use link above).

The final piece of the jigsaw is now in place. The XML dataset joins the transcriptions and digitally enhanced images available here on the Great Parchment Book website, and the free software and main academic outputs, including the complete overview of the project published in Oxford University Press’s Digital Scholarship in the Humanities journal. Together these provide full and publicly accessible documentation of this significant 17th century source for the history of the Plantation recognised by UNESCO, and of the project (conservation, transcription and digital reconstruction)which not only made it accessible to researchers for the first time in 200 years, but has provided a digital reconstruction solution for similarly fire-damaged historic parchment.

Great Parchment Book: major paper published

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EssenceOur partners at UCL have announced the publication of a major paper describing the process of conserving, imaging, virtually flattening, and finally reading the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable The Irish Society, held in London Metropolitan Archives. As followers of this blog will know the project saw archivists, conservators, imaging scientists, historians, computer scientists, and digital humanities experts working together in an interdisciplinary, international partnership. We developed a low-cost process for conserving, digitizing, 3D-reconstructing, and virtually flattening the fire-damaged, buckled parchment, enabling new readings and understanding of the text to be created.

GlobalThe paper, published in Oxford University Press’s Digital Scholarship in the Humanities journal, presents a complete overview of the project, detailing the conservation, digital acquisition, and digital reconstruction methods used. It is freely available in open access, meaning anyone can read the details of the project, and see our images and videos to understand the scope and scale of the project, and its contribution to the restoration of the Great Parchment Book. It is freely available online.

Note: Please use the hashtag #greatparchmentbook when referring to the project on social media.

Significance of the project for some of the key partners

ucl-veivProfessor Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing, Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group, Department of Computer Science, University College London, lead of the digital acquisition and reconstruction said: “I feel privileged having been able to conduct computer science and imaging research in the context of a project of such cultural importance. We were fortunate enough that the engagement with the humanities’ unique problem domain allowed us to go beyond mere application of known techniques, pushing the boundary in our own research field while making a tangible difference to the wider public.”

irish-society-coat-of-arms-colour-jpgEdward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said: “We are delighted that The Honourable The Irish Society has been part of a major collaborative project to bring The Great Parchment Book, one of its most historic documents, ‘back to life’. The Book is a marvellous testament to history and provides a detailed account from 1639 of the City of London’s role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration. It is a valuable tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland.”

lma-logoGeoff Pick, Director of London Metropolitan Archives said: “The City of London Corporation, through London Metropolitan Archives, has been delighted to be a major partner in the Great Parchment Book project, one of the most innovative in the archive sector in recent years.  It places great value on the Book, not least in helping the City’s support for the 400th anniversary of the building of Derry’s city walls in 2013 and the state visit to London of the President of Ireland in 2014.   The Book has also been recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding national importance this year when it was inscribed on the UK Memory of the World Register, the first on the Register concerning Northern Ireland.”

UCLDH logoProfessor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities said: “It has been a pleasure to work on this project, which has brought together expertise from so many different angles, allowing us to finally provide advanced access to this important, but very damaged, document. The conservation, imaging, and reconstruction have all contributed to the creation of a digital resource of lasting value for researchers, students, and the wider public. Our work encourages further understanding of the role of the City of London in the plantation, and the importance of the Great Parchment Book to its local, national, and international contexts. It also shows us the benefits of undertaking advanced digital projects in the area of cultural heritage.”

Full citation details

Pal, K., Avery, N., Boston, P., Campagnolo, A., De Stefani, C., Matheson-Pollock, H., Panozzo, D., Payne, M., Schüller, C., Sanderson, C., Scott, C., Smith, P., Smither, R., Sorkine-Hornung, O., Stewart, A., Stewart, E., Stewart, P., Terras, M., Walsh, B., Ward, L., Yamada, L., Weyrich, T. (2016). “Digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book: 3D recovery of fire-damaged historical documents” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Oxford University Press.

Great Parchment Book goes to South Korea

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seoul-1At the International Council on Archives Congress at Seoul, South Korea Friday 9 September 2016, London Metropolitan Archives’ Tim Harris presented on the collaboration and cooperation which resulted in the successful outcomes of the Great Parchment Book Project.

The audience was excited to see the transformation of the Great Parchment Book and several members of the audience noted the excellence of the blog.

seoul-2One member of ICA, Gerard Foley from the Archives of Western Australia, revealed that he had found two of his ancestors who had been carpenters in Londonderry.

People were pleased to learn that the products and outcome were continuing to be shared and developed.


For another view from Seoul, go to the Borthwick Institute of Archives blog post Up and AtoM: The Borthwick Institute Goes To South Korea.

Studying digital humanities in London

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In London we are fortunate to have two leading centres for the study of digital humanities, the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities. The Great Parchment Book project and follow-on research is very closely allied to the former, but we also have had links to the latter.

UCLDH logoDigital Humanities research takes place at the intersection of computational technologies and humanities and is a relatively new field of research and teaching. It is highly collaborative and typically works across a wide range of disciplines, involving different institutions, both nationally and internationally. It has a crucial role to play in developing the use of advanced technology in the arts and humanities, making possible new kinds of research which positively impact on cultural heritage and memory institutions, libraries, archives and digital culture.

King's College LondonBoth UCLDH and King’s College Department of Digital Humanities offer MAs in Digital Humanities for which applications are currently open. Both have also produced very accessible videos which explain more about Digital Humanities research and study and are well worth viewing. Find out more via the links below:


UCLDH MA/MSc in Digital Humanities

UCLDH video

MA in Digital Humanities at King’s College London

King’s College Department of Digital Humanities video


Great Parchment Book retrospective: the legacy and the future

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With the successful outcome of the Great Parchment Book project well-established and in the public eye once again, we’ve been reflecting back on the different elements which made up the project and trying to make sense of the journey.

Over the past few weeks we have looked at conservation, digital imaging, transcription and textual encoding, historical importance and synergy with other sources, outreach and public recognition. To round up, we’re going to look at legacy and the future.

Great Parchment Book foliosThe conservation, digital reconstruction and resulting transcription of the Great Parchment Book have provided a lasting resource for historians researching the Plantation of Ulster in local, national and international contexts.

A schools programmes associated with the exhibition is underway in Derry. The Great Parchment Book is also being used in undergraduate teaching at the University of Ulster and is proving to be a vital resource for postgraduate and post-doctoral research. The website and project blog are also used extensively by students of conservation and digital humanities.


On the digital imaging side, UCL has enabled free access to the digital reconstruction process through a stand-alone version of the software (available on the UCL project page). The open-sourcing of UCL’s platform should enable other institutions to access the acquisition and restoration process themselves. Meanwhile LMA wants to explore the possibility of developing our role as a centre of expertise for the conservation, imaging, and digital restoration of distorted parchments and other damaged material, working in tandem with UCL to maintain the trajectory we have built up working on this together.

LMA is continuing to post updates on the project on the blog making connections with other digital projects and technologies revolutionising access to archives and cultural artefacts, and exploring the synergies with other documents relevant to the story that the Great Parchment Book has to tell. Watch this space!

Great Parchment Book retrospective: public recognition

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The successful outcome of the Great Parchment Book project is now well-established and the project has been very much in the public eye. This post, in our occasional retrospective, is about public recognition.

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking and each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different funders were approached for each aspect of the project:

  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded a four year Engineering Doctorate in the Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation programme at University College London for the digital imaging and virtual reconstruction of the Great Parchment Book from September 2010.
  • The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust awarded a grant for conservation in 2011.
  • The Marc Fitch Foundation, the Irish Society and several of the Great Twelve City of London livery companies (Clothworkers’ Company, Drapers’ Company, Fishmongers’ Company, Goldsmiths’ Company, Ironmongers’ Company, Mercers’ Company, Merchant Taylors’ Company and Skinners’ Company) gave grants towards the transcription and textual encoding of the document and its online publication in 2012.
  • Advice and support was given by Professor James Stevens Curl, The British Library, The National Archives and The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library.
  • Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service, LMA and UCL also provided funding and staff time and resources.

Great Parchemtn Book public recognition and awards

The Great Parchment Book project has been nominated for a number of awards, evidence both of the importance of the document and the strength of the project.

Finally, the importance of the Great Parchment Book project has been recognised at the highest level. First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA, wrote in 2013 that “I cannot praise the work of the LMA & UCL highly enough. In completing this mammoth project they have succeeded in opening a veritable treasure trove of information relating to a most significant period in the history of Ulster; and illustrating as never before the central role played by the London Guilds in the creation and preservation of the city of Londonderry and its environs.”

President of Ireland

Also in 2013, the Lord Lieutenant of the city of Derry, Sir Donal Keegan, was shown a folio relating to the city when he was presented with the Freedom of the City of London. During his visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, viewed a display of folios from the Great Parchment Book at a State Banquet in his honour at Guildhall.

You can find out more about awards and other project updates connected with the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective: outreach

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The Great Parchment Book had been inaccessible to researchers for over 200 years owing to its fragile state. Our overriding objective with the project was to make the manuscript available again to as wide a range of people as possible, not just for the benefit of scholars and other researchers, but also for the communities to which it was most relevant. In our occasional series of posts looking back at the project, we turn our attention to engagement and outreach.

The original ambition was to produce a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls during Derry’s year as UK City of Culture.

Overall, the project was more successful than we could have hoped. The Great Parchment Book website went live on 30 May 2013 on the eve of the opening of the Derry Guildhall exhibition; it features a blog and an embedded video. Since its launch it has attracted 87,000 page views to date and counting, and has been a great success with a whole range of people around the world including academic researchers, local and family historians, conservators and those interested in the digital humanities.

Bernadette and Edward looking at an original folio of the Great Parchment Book

The exhibition curated by Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service entitled Plantation: People, Process, Perspectives opened in Derry’s Guildhall in June 2013. The exhibition had nearly 270,000 visitors in its first year and has had over 864,000 visitors to the end of 2015 including school groups. Such has been its popularity that it is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Visitor feedback has been very positive, including high praise for the original archive material which for the first ten months included an original folio of the Great Parchment Book and other documents from the Irish Society archives.

Great Parchment Book Day 2014

All aspects of the project have been celebrated and presented by LMA and University College London at various conferences and events including the Archives and Records Association Conference, Brighton 2012; Digital Humanities Conference, Nebraska USA 2013; Plantation Families event, Belfast/Derry, 27-28 September 2013; Opposites Attract: Science and Archives, LMA 21 March 2014; STEM from the City careers day, City of London Guildhall 27 June 2014; Great Parchment Book Day, LMA 25 July 2014; International Council on Archives annual conference, Girona, Spain 15 October 2014; University of Melbourne, Australia 31 October 2014; ARA Conservation Training Committee and Instructors, LMA 20 November 2014; Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography’s annual conferences, London 27 November 2014 and 22 October 2015.

The project has been published in a range of publications (the UCL project page has a list of the most significant and provides access to the free software produced in the course of the project) and is featured on many websites including the European History Primary Sources (EHPS) website and that of the International Council on Archives and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. The Great Parchment Book project has featured in an article in the Observer, 5 July 2015 on conservation technology.

It is used in teaching history at all levels especially in Northern Ireland, as well as for teaching students of conservation and digital humanities around the world.

You can find out more about events connected with the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective: transcription and textual encoding

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As we reflect on the different elements which made up the Great Parchment Book project in this continuing series of posts, we now turn our attention to transcription and textual encoding.

Alongside the conservation and digital imaging work, a palaeographer, Dr Patricia Stewart, was employed by London Metropolitan Archives partly funded by the Marc Fitch Fund and some of the Great Twelve City of London livery companies to prepare a readable and exploitable version of the text. The aim was to produce both a transcription of the original text as found in the Book, the ‘original transcript’, and also a modernised version, the ‘modern transcript’ with an accompanying glossary.

To enable the Great Parchment Book to be as comprehensively searchable as possible, it was decided to encode the text in XML compliant with the Textual Encoding Initiative. TEI is a set of guidelines which specify encoding methods for machine-readable texts. It is widely used by archives, libraries, museums and individual scholars to present texts for online research and preservation.

Encoding the Great Parchment Book

Patricia already had some familiarity with TEI, but had to think about how it would work in the context of the Great Parchment Book, and to think about transcription conventions and methodology. To begin with, though, she had to learn about the historical and archival context of the manuscript and its structure and arrangement. There was also a steep learning curve getting to grips with Irish personal and place names and some of the less familiar terms used. Last but not least there was the distorted text itself which in places was illegible or even missing.  Patricia was able to supply some text through her knowledge of how the manuscript was arranged and its use of formulaic text. She was also able to re-order some of the folios and identify a few of the fragments.

Transcribing the Great Parchment Book

Patricia worked with Kazim Pal, the doctoral student, to test the flattening software as it was being developed to see whether it made deciphering and transcribing the text any easier. She also was involved in the discussions with the website designers Headscape on how the transcripts and glossary would be presented on the website alongside the original and flattened images of the individual parchment folios.

This painstaking work took longer than expected and so the original six month project was extended to eight months running from September 2012 to May 2013 to enable the transcripts and glossary to be completed and uploaded to the website.

Patricia continued to be involved in the project by presenting papers at events such as the Plantation Families: People, Records and Resources event held in Belfast and Londonderry on 27–28 September 2013 and the Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on 25 July 2014.

The digitisation of the Great Parchment Book was recognised in 2014 when the project received a European Succeed Award (for digitisation focussing on textual content) Commendation of Merit.

You can find out more about the transcription and encoding of the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective

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When we embarked on the Great Parchment Book project, we were very uncertain that we would be able to achieve our aim: a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls.

Great Parchment Book partners

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking committed to exploring new techniques and technologies; nothing else had any chance of success. Each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different partners and funders were approached for each aspect of the project.

Now with the successful outcome well-established and the project in the public eye once again, it seems a good time to reflect on the different elements which made up the project and look back on the journey.

Over the next few weeks watch out for posts about –

  • Conservation
  • Digital humanities: imaging, transcription and textual encoding
  • The history of the Plantation and synergy with other original sources
  • Public engagement and recognition
  • The legacy and the future

And to help you get your bearings here is the Great Parchment Book project timeline –

  • Initial discussions between LMA, University College London and other potential partners, March/April 2010
  • Imaging – Four year EngD at UCL, September 2010-September 2014 (first year taught so project got underway in September 2011)
  • Conservation, April-September 2012
  • Transcription and encoding, September 2012-May 2013
  • Great Parchment Book website launch, 30 May 2013
  • Derry Guildhall exhibition opened, 10 June 2013
  • Public engagement, recognition and future developments – ongoing

Technology meets Scholarship: Handwritten Text Recognition

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If like us you are excited by ways to revolutionise access to archives through the use of new technology and innovation, you might be interested in a conference on Handwritten Text Recognition in Germany early next year (2016) as part of the co:op project.

Technology meets Scholarship, or how Handwritten Text Recognition will Revolutionize Access to Archival Collections.

Hessian State Archives, Marburg, Germany

19-21 January 2016

Participation at the event is free, but please register on the project website where you will also find the detailed programme.

If you want to get an idea of the possibilities of Handwritten Text Recognition, take a look at the website of the EU project tranScriptorium, as well as the Virtual Research Environment TRANSKRIBUS.

We’ve posted before about HTR – see also Magic in Action which refers to tranScriptorium and Update in developments in HTR technology which looks at the READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) project.

Update May 2016: The presentations at the Marburg conference were all filmed and have been published on the co:op blog and co:op Youtube channel.

Update on developments in Handwritten Text Recognition technology

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At its heart, the Great Parchment Book project is all about enabling access to archives using innovative techniques and technology. As previously reported in this Blog (Magic in Action), and in pursuance of this, our partners at University College London are also involved in the tranScriptorium project which aims to develop innovative, efficient and cost-effective solutions for the indexing, search and full transcription of historical handwritten document images, using modern, holistic Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology.

Now a large European project proposal has been developed as a follow-up. Called READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents), it involves a multidisciplinary consortium of 13 partners, including UCL, working in Computer Science, Pattern Recognition, Machine Learning, Image Processing and Humanities. The consortium plans to start work in January 2016. You can find out more about the project on the tranScriptorium website.


Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669

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Dr Bríd McGrath of Dublin, who is editing an edition of the Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669 for the Irish Manuscripts Commission, has written to say how useful she has found the Great Parchment Book:

 “I really wish to congratulate everyone involved in this project on an extraordinary achievement. It’s an exceptionally useful source for the history of the period, including the extent and layout of the town and the defence obligations, not to mention the bits about women, about whom we have in general very little information.

It’s amazing how many members of Coleraine’s town council could not sign their names.  Quite astonishing, but absolutely in line with my view of them.”

The Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669, which is still in private hands, records the decisions taken by the Common Council of Coleraine for the period 1623–1669. Sources for Coleraine are rather limited and the Great Parchment Book is invaluable in providing some identification and personal information about some of its citizens.  Dr McGrath is referring to it in the footnotes to her edition, identifying Coleraine’s inhabitants.

 It is hoped that Dr McGrath’s book will be published within the next few months. We will post more information here – watch this space!

Magic in action

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software could be developed to read handwriting as well as printed text? University College London is part of a consortium aiming to do just that. The aim of the tranScriptorium project is to develop innovative, efficient and cost-effective solutions for the indexing, search and full transcription of historical handwritten document images, using modern, holistic Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology.You can find out more about the project on its website.

Bentham 1

To see the magic in action, take a look at some of the examples on the website (click on this link and then on a picture to start). The examples are in constant development as the computer code behind the process is being uploaded and tweaked, so it’s worth revisiting the site to keep an eye on what’s going on.

Bentham 2

It’s good to get feedback!

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It’s great to get feedback from people who have used the Great Parchment Book website. We are always keen to hear the results of your research or what you think about the website. You can email us by clicking on the Get in touch tab at the foot of every page.

Gordon Cox emailed to express his delight at the results he had got from searching the People index:

“I sat amazed as I looked at the search results for my surname in my home town in the digitized GPB. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that the Irish Society has contributed to this project, and that the LMA and others have worked so hard to bring it to fruition. I am sure that this will prove to be one of the most important local history projects of recent times. It is certainly very significant for the history of Ulster, and the LMA has placed every Ulster man and woman in their debt. Thank you.”

Programme announced for Great Parchment Book Day

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LMA is holding a Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.



10.00am Registration, coffee and housekeeping

10.15am Welcome (Deputy Catherine McGuinness)

10.20am Introduction to LMA, collections overview, where the Great Parchment Book sits within those collections, why it became the focus for the project and why it mattered (Philippa Smith)

11.00am  TEA/COFFEE

11.15pm Accessing History through Innovative Technologies:
The Great Parchment Book Project Story
Conservation (Dr Caroline De Stefani)
Transcription/textual encoding (Dr Patricia Stewart)
Digital flattening (Kazim Pal)



14.00pm Welcome and introduction – impact, outcomes and wider context (Dr Tim Weyrich)

14.30pm Display of damaged original materials including Great Parchment Book and LMA Rogues Gallery; demonstration of digital flattening software; opportunity to discuss further possible applications of flattening software and other techniques being researched on LMA material; demonstration of textual encoding (Dr Caroline De Stefani, Marie Poirot, Dr Tim Weyrich, Kazim Pal, Dr Helen Graham-Matheson, Dr Patricia Stewart)

15.15pm TEA/COFFEE

15.30pm HISTORY FUTURES PANEL (Professor Melissa Terras – UCL, Chair, Dr Tim Weyrich – UCL, Emma Stewart – LMA, David Howell – Bodleian Library)
How new technologies can and may impact on challenging materials, access and availability, preservation issues – how can we take projects forward? HLF partner bid proposal, Q&A and expressions of interest

16.30pm  CLOSE

The event is already full, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please go to

Great Parchment Book website viewed more than 50,000 times

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This week the Great Parchment Book website passed the landmark of 50,000 page views since it was launched on 30 May 2013.

In addition, the Derry Guildhall exhibition – Plantation: Process, people, perspectives – which until recently displayed an original folio of the Great Parchment Book, has had 323,033 visitors from its opening in June 2013 until the end of March 2014.

We are really pleased that the Great Parchment Book has been seen and appreciated by so many both as an original folio in Derry, and remotely through the website. There will be a further chance to see the real thing at the Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on 25 July 2014 so book your place now at

Booking opens for Great Parchment Book Day on 25 July 2014

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LMA is holding a FREE Great Parchment Book Day on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies. A more detailed programme will be posted as soon as it is available.

In the meantime, you can book your place at


Friday 25 July 2014

London Metropolitan Archives

9.30 am – 4.30 pm

FREE, booking is essential; tea and coffee available, but bring a picnic for lunch.

Great Parchment Book project receives Succeed Award Commendation of Merit

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LMA and UCL are pleased to announce that the Great Parchment Book project has received a European Succeed Award Commendation of Merit. The winners were selected from 19 nominations world-wide and, due to the high quality of the project, the Board decided to distinguish it with one of two Commendations of Merit.

Succeed is funded by the European Union. It promotes the take up and validation of research results in mass digitisation, with a focus on textual content.

You can find further information about the awards by clicking on and

The project represents a major partnership of international significance between a number of institutions. LMA and UCL gratefully acknowledge the support of the following:

Clothworkers’ Company; Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service; Drapers’ Company;  ETH Zurich; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Fishmongers’ Company; Goldsmiths’ Company; The Honourable The Irish Society; Ironmongers’ Company; Marc Fitch Fund; Mercers’ Company; Merchant Taylors’ Company; National Manuscripts Conservation Trust; Skinners’ Company; The British Library; The National Archives; The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library.

Save the date!

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Planning is underway for a Great Parchment Book Day at London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.

Save the date now! A more detailed programme and details on how to book will be posted as soon as they are available.

Complete transcription now available

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The original and modern transcriptions of all the folios are now up on the Great Parchment Book website.

We still have a few fragments to decide what to do with, and one page to insert, but essentially, it’s all there now.

If you need help to explore, there is a guide to Finding your way around the book. To get the most out of the text, go to Transcription Methodology and Conventions to see how the transcriptions work.

You will find useful background information in the Ulster PlantationProject History and Book History pages, as well as in previous Blog posts. To access relevant posts, go to the list of Categories on the right hand side of the Blog page and choose the area you are interested in.

The images accompanying the transcriptions will follow. We will let you know when they are available.


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You can now start to explore the Great Parchment Book for yourself.

A good place to start is the video on the Home Page which illustrates the challenging nature of the project.

To continue your exploration, click on “Take a look inside the book” or search for a person, place or livery company.

If you want to know more about the historical background, book or project history, investigate the history tabs at the top of the Home Page.

The website is dynamic. Work is continuing on the transcription, and transcriptions and images will continue to be added to the site. Once the transcription is complete, the book history page will be expanded to take account of new insights into the codicology of the book, and to explain the arrangement of the folios.

The Great Parchment Book Blog is now embedded into the website and you can subscribe to the Blog on the website. Work is continuing to align the original Blog and the website Blog.

If you have any comments on the website, or can offer additional insights into the Great Parchment Book and what it reveals about the people, places and organisations involved in the history of 17th century Ulster, please share via the Blog or use the comment form at the bottom of the website Home Page.

Plantation Society

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The charters in the Great Parchment Book offer some fascinating insights into the different types of people who lived and held land in the county.  In each grant, the property-holder named is distinguished by their social status, office held, occupation, familial relationships, or a combination of these.  Many of those holding larger pieces of land in the Proportions – single and multiple townlands – were described according to social class: gentlemen, esquires, yeomen, and knights.  On the other hand, most of the people holding land in the town of Coleraine and the city of Londonderry were described according to their occupations: clerks, lawyers, carpenters, sailors, tailors, fellmongers, shoe-makers, glove-makers, innkeepers, barber-surgeons, butchers, brewers, cutlers, tanners, labourers, or according to their office, such as alderman, chamberlain, member of the privy council, or swordbearer.  Women, too, held property by these grants.  Although always described as widows or daughters, these women held land either under their own names or jointly with a man whose relationship to the woman is not often specified or clear.  Some properties are also held jointly by pairs or groups of men, sometimes fathers and sons, sometimes men with other links, such as a group of aldermen, yeomen, or husbandmen.  The names, too, give an indication of whether the land-holder was Irish, English, or Scottish.  While the ‘native’ Irish peasants were originally meant to be displaced and re-settled, the grants in the Book show that some Irish families, in particular the O’Cahans, were granted large amounts of land.


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As the transcription of the Great Parchment Book continues, a range of types of landholdings is becoming apparent.  The charters in the Book are largely grouped  according to the Livery Company holding the land, but there are also sections for lands held in the city of Londonderry and the town of Coleraine, and for those lands held by the ‘native’ Irish. These charters grant a variety of holdings, ranging from ‘smale parcalls’ measured in perches to urban tenements to townlands covering hundreds of acres.  Although there is reference to specific parishes, albeit the use of the term ‘parish’ is rare, and to churches, vicarages, and chapels in a more general sense, so far there has been no mention of lands granted to any church, nor has anyone been instructed to build or maintain any churches.

Those properties held in the city of Londonderry and the town of Coleraine are often specified as being on a specific street. Londonderry had four main streets: Gracious Street, Queens Street/Bishopsgate Street, Silver Street, and Shambles Street. This last was also known as Butchers Street or Butchers Row as the term ‘shambles’ refers to either stalls to sell meat or a place to slaughter animals.  At least one butcher, James O’Gallagher, is recorded with a holding on Butchers Street, however, the only slaughter-house mentioned is found on Gracious Street and belonged to a cutler called John Knox. 

The properties in Londonderry and Coleraine were not strictly urban, since they also included a ‘backside’ or back-yard and garden of unspecified size, and often a piece of land in the Liberties of Londonderry or Coleraine, or in the Island of Derry.  The Island of Derry refers to the hill upon which Londonderry is located, surrounded by the River Foyle and an area known as ‘The Bog’ which was at one time under water but had become marshy and silted up by the seventeenth century.  The Liberties of Londonderry and Coleraine extended for a distance of three miles on all sides, and some of the holdings located in these areas were much larger, up to a few hundred acres.

The largest holdings, however, are found in the Proportions held by the various Livery Companies.  Each Proportion was divided into townlands which varied in size. The majority of the landholders were granted a single townland, but a number held multiple townlands comprising, sometimes, thousands of acres.

Puzzling Place Names

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The Great Parchment Book contains many types of places used in different contexts. Land in Northern Ireland was divided into counties, parishes, and townlands of varying sizes, and it is the townland designation that is largely used in the Great Parchment Book to describe which pieces of land are held.  However, there are also other sorts of places named including estates, manors, castles, towns, streets, mountains, bogs, rivers… Once the place names have been transcribed – and they are not always obvious, especially when part of the name is missing or illegible – we have to decide what ‘type’ of a place it is and then identify the modern equivalent if possible since anyone searching for a specific place will use the modern terminology. Of course, there is also no guarantee that both the current and the Great Parchment Book place names refer to the same place. For example, folio G2v mentions the two townlands of ‘Lismakerell Bogge and Lismakerell Moore’ but there is currently only one townland called Lismacarol. In addition, the name as found in the Great Parchment Book may not exactly match modern place names and some deciphering may be necessary: Tarquiny vs Tirkeeveny; Moymucklemurray vs Moy mc Gillwory; Mullagh vs Meola. Some of the place names are used to identify landholders, such as William Wray of the city of Dublin; Radcliffe Kirk of Blessingbourne in the county of Tyrone; and Edward Hill of Farsetmore in the county of Donegal. Helpfully, Dublin, Tyron, and Donegal have been specified a bit further, and a quick search on the internet reveals that Blessingbourne refers to an estate and Farsetmore is a townland.  However, some names refer to many types of places. Coleraine is a town, a parish, and a townland, while Londonderry is a county and a city, and these are not always specified. One can only hope that the writers of the book knew which places they were talking about!

Beginning the transcription

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Now that the conservation work is completed, we have begun the transcription and encoding of the folios. We are beginning with the six folios on the Goldsmiths’ proportion and will use these to plan out the website and the particulars of the encoding into XML using TEI. But first they have to be transcribed!

The text itself is formulaic, which means that it is usually possible to fill in the text missing from those areas that are illegible, burnt, shrunken, torn, or covered in dirt. This also means that the transcription involves much rereading of the folios to fill in the gaps, but it is very satisfying to have a complete transcription.

Whilst the text itself is in English, there are lots of varieties in the spelling (for example, the use of ‘howse’, ‘fower’, ‘cabbyns’) so we are going to include a modernised transcription on the website, with modernised spelling, punctuation, and names (as far as is possible). We also plan for the website to include a glossary of terms that may be unknown or not immediately obvious to the reader, such as ‘quicksett’ and ‘fireboot’. The place names present extra challenges as some of the names mentioned correspond to current Northern Irish place names, but some of them do not. In addition, there is no guarantee that the 1639 boundaries of places such as townlands and counties correspond to the modern ones. Fortunately, the script itself is a large, neat, clear, secretary hand, and this makes the transcription a little easier.