UK Government

Department for Culture, Media And Sport: Culture Minister defers export of anti-slavery campaigner’s letters

Press Release   •   Feb 26, 2010 10:05 GMT

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on an archive of correspondence addressed to the British political radical Thomas Walker. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep this important archive in the United Kingdom.

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the archive is of outstanding significance for the study of British political history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Thomas Walker (1749-1817) was a Manchester merchant and political radical who fought for civil liberty, constitutional reform and the abolition of the slave trade. His archive, largely unknown to scholars, reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of radical Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It comprises about 160 letters addressed to Walker from luminaries of the day such as Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley and Thomas Clarkson. The letters are bound together in a quarto volume, the first of a pair, covering surnames from A to R. The whereabouts of the second volume are unknown.

The letters provide an extraordinary insight into British life during a period of intense industrial, political, intellectual and cultural activity. Walker had connections with many of the leading political thinkers of his day and it is this interconnectedness which makes the archive special. Collections of political correspondence relating to specific individuals from this time rarely survive because most such letters were destroyed. To have been found in possession of seditious material would have risked the recipient’s prosecution.

Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee said: “This fascinating archive is significant for study because it provides an insight into how the themes of liberty were being explored in Britain at this time. It is also of especial significance to the history of Manchester, demonstrating that major national campaigns, such as that for the abolition of slavery, derived power from the regions.”

The decision on the export licence application for the archive will be deferred for a period ending on 24 April inclusive. This period may be extended until 24 June inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the archive at the recommended price of £93,600 is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the archive should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270

Notes to Editors

1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk.

2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Frances Wilson, RCEWA Secretary, on 020 7273 8270, email frances.wilson@mla.gov.uk.

3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

4. The details of the archive are:

An archive of letters addressed to Thomas Walker, radical, reformer and Manchester merchant, and some to his fellow reformer Thomas Cooper, comprising autograph letters by Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley and an array of leading radical and intellectual figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with list of contents, arranged in alphabetic order (from A to R inclusive being the first volume, only, of two), over 160 letters bound in one volume (lacking covers), Quarto, Manchester, London and elsewhere, late eighteenth to early nineteenth century.

5. Further details about the archive can be found in the auction catalogue at the following link: http://www.bonhams.com/cgi-bin/public.sh/pubweb/publicSite.r?sContinent=EUR&screen=lotdetailsNoFlash&iSaleItemNo=1635467&iSaleNo=16869&iSaleSectionNo=1.

Contacts

NDS Enquiries
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department
ndsenquiries@coi.gsi.gov.uk