The Great Parchment Book is a major survey, compiled in 1639 by a Commission instituted under the Great Seal by Charles I, of all those estates in Derry managed by the City of London through the Irish Society and the London livery companies. It represents a hugely important source for the City of London’s role in the Protestant colonisation and administration of Ulster. As the result of a fire in 1786 it has been unavailable to researchers for over 200 years.
The manuscript consists of 165 separate parchment pages, all of which suffered damage in the fire in 1786. The uneven shrinkage and distortion caused by fire has rendered much of the text illegible. As a result traditional conservation alone would not be sufficient to make the manuscript accessible or suitable for exhibition, since the parchment is too shrivelled to be returned to a readable state. It was therefore decided to flatten the parchment sheets as far as possible, and to use cutting edge digital imaging to gain legibility and enable digital access.
The digital imaging produced high quality 3-D digital images which now feature on the fully searchable Great Parchment Book website (www.greatparchmentbook.org) with images of the pages before conservation and a transcription. The virtually restored book was also the centre point of an exhibition in Derry to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of city’s walls in 1613.