Silencing the Music

picture of a medeival music manuscript
MS 95 f.6v – a fragment of a 15th century antiphoner (a book of the responses sung at different parts of a Catholic church service. The manuscript was subsequently used to cover other manuscripts)

One of the most disappointing aspects of coronavirus restrictions for a small group of students and staff at the University of Lincoln has been the postponement of our participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme (UROS). UROS has been running since 2016, and offers undergraduate students and members of staff a unique opportunity to collaborate on a summer research project. The application is written jointly by students and supervising members of staff, and successful applicants are given a grant to fund their research, which takes place over the summer.

Early in 2020, the Special Collections Librarian (Claire Arrand) and the Academic Subject Librarian for music (Hope Williard), collaborated with two undergraduate students, Megan Lomas and Valerie Arindra, to prepare the first ever UROS application put forward by the library. In her role of looking after the manuscripts of Lincoln Cathedral library, Claire had noticed the manuscript collections contained a significant amount of printed music and music manuscripts, which was incompletely catalogued and thus very difficult for performers, scholars, and students to access and use.

Together we made a plan to change this. Our project, ‘Distant Music: Uncovering the Music of Lincoln Cathedral Library’, involves investigation into Lincoln Cathedral’s incompletely catalogued manuscript and printed sacred music. Much is known about William Byrd, the outstanding English composer of his time and his surviving material held in the Wren Library but other Lincoln Cathedral composers have never been documented. Historic printed music is obviously valuable but the manuscript collection may reveal hidden treasures.  

Our aim is to describe what is in the collection and make it publicly available via the UK and Ireland database of music collections, Ceciliawhich is a catalogue of music collections found in libraries, museums, and archives, created by the International Association of Music Librarians in 1999. The Cathedral music collection ranges in date from the 1590s to the 1970s but the lists are not digitized. Uultimately, we hope that greater knowledge of the collection will make it more accessible and result in music being studied and played, which has not been heard for hundreds of years. 

Exchequer Gate home of part of Lincoln Cathedral Library

Coronavirus posed an unexpected challenge for the project. Megan and Valerie were due to prepare a collection-level description of the early music collections of Lincoln Cathedral Library, to potentially open-up the collection to other students and researchers but we ran into difficulties figuring how this could safely work. The music collections are housed in Exchequer Gate, a 14th century building. Exchequer Gate has small rooms, stone spiral staircases, no possibility of ventilation and no way of social distancing. Moving the collection is not feasible and the Cathedral Library is still closed to readers. While librarians and researchers have rightly celebrated the potential of research with digitised collections, research like ours has been unable to continue.

a music manuscript labelled organ book services
One of the many unexplored items in the collection.
a music manuscript
A manuscript from the collection










Needing to work with the collections directly, we had planned to have weekly project meetings in Exchequer Gate for the duration of the project. We had also hope to undertake research into the provenance and background of composers, pieces of music, and manuscripts at the University Library.

photograph of a young woman wearing glasses
photograph of a young woman with blue hair










Megan and Valerie are both classically trained musicians with 30 years of theoretical, and orchestral experience between them. This will no doubt prove valuable in this research, especially when cataloguing, and providing descriptions for each score in detail.

Although we are disappointed with the delay, we remain hopeful for the future. The music manuscripts and printed music will still be safe in situ, Cecilia ready to include the resulting information, the project is ready to start and two keen students are raring to go. Covid 19 is all that is preventing this happening and the hope is that the students can complete this project next summer, after their hard work on the successful application.

There has been a choir at Lincoln Cathedral for more than nine centuries and 2020 would have been an ideal time to explore and disseminate information on the music collection. Hopefully the silencing of ‘Distant Music’ will only be temporary. 

Uncatalogued music–we can’t wait to find out what this might be

Music images courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral. Post written by Claire Arrand and Hope Williard.

University of Lincoln unveils the mysteries of Lincoln Cathedral’s 1638 Comberford Chart

The vellum chart covers the North Atlantic and adjacent coastlines from the St Lawrence River to the mouth of the River Amazon and from Scotland to the west coast of North Africa. It was drawn by Nicholas Comberford of Stepney, originally from Kilkenny but apprenticed to a mapmaker at the London Drapers Company. He signed maps from 1626-1670, of which almost 30 survive.

To the naked eye only tantalizing glimpses are revealed of some of the text and coastlines. The chart is badly water damaged, which would be hardly surprising if it had been at sea during its youth, although we cannot be certain this was the case. When it was conserved and removed from its original oak boards in 1983 cleaning was not possible, due to dirt having penetrated the fibres.


It is known to have been at the Cathedral in 1967 and following its re-discovery in the Medieval Library in 1982 it travelled to the British Library Maps Division for assessment. Subsequently it was passed to the National Maritime Museum in 1983, where it stayed until 2007, when it was returned to the Cathedral. The Cathedral Librarian, Julie Taylor, was contacted recently regarding its whereabouts and an  entry will be added to the new Cathedral Catalogue when it is fully operational.

Permission was requested to use the University’s Crime Lite Imager (CLI), which was purchased as a result of the AHRC-funded forensic and historical investigation of fingerprints on medieval seals Imprint Project 2016-2018.

It was hoped that some of the text would become more legible using this equipment.

On the 1st May 2019 the chart was taken to the University and Dr Hollie Morgan gave a demonstration to History and Conservation staff and students. The CLI used advanced imaging and multi-wavelength illumination to reveal the faint text and coastlines. It was a rare opportunity to get up close and personal to a piece of documentary history, which might not be expected to be found in a cathedral library collection.

Normal photograph (actual size 1cm)

Red text is difficult to decipher but the CLI printout is always in black and white, which makes it far easier to read if you are familiar with 17th century handwriting!

Crime Lite Imager (green wavelength, actual size 1cm)

The above image is one of many taken by Hollie courtesy of the CLI, green being the most effective wavelength for clarity. This useful collection of images could be used for future research into 17th century cartography.

See also

Tyacke, S. (2007) Chartmaking in England and its context, 1500-1660. In:

Woodward, D. (ed.) The history of cartography volume three (part two). Cartography in the European Renaissance. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press, 1722-1753.

For further information please contact


Monster hunt!


Imagine being able to search through medieval manuscripts to select illustrations of monsters as part of your job. The Special Collections Librarian, Claire Arrand, was notified about the Monsters Conference to be held at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) in June and contacted by Renee Ward, a Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at the University of Lincoln, to contribute to Lincoln as Medieval Classroom week in March for our English and History students. This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of the monsters featured in Lincoln Cathedral Library.

Bat-like creature

Continue reading “Monster hunt!”