University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Exploring our archives – uncovering hidden collections at the Botanic Garden

Collections can only be useful if they are discoverable; that is, if we know what’s in them and where it can be found. There is much information about the Botanic Garden’s living collection (the plants!) and its collection of printed books (the Cory Library) in the databases and catalogues maintained here. However finding and drawing on the possibilities of the eclectic array of archive material onsite has until now been rather more tricky, a situation that Dr Sam Brockington has been keen to address since he took on overall responsibility for the Garden’s collections as Curator last year. To this end, in January 2016 we initiated a volunteer project to sort and list the archive material, much of which has been boxed in the attic of Cory Lodge for many years.

The project is ongoing, and has so far proven to be a rewarding and worthwhile exercise, with many interesting and unique finds which enhance and enrich our knowledge of the Garden’s history. No sooner had the project begun than its value was demonstrated by the discovery of several old maps and plans which throw light on the history and development of the Garden’s Systematic Beds, the arrangement of which is currently under review.

There are a variety of types of material to be recorded, ranging from slides and photographs, art works (originals and prints), maps and plans, to correspondence and administrative documents. There are even what appears to be a wooden scale model of the Glasshouse range, and a number of preserved plant specimens which were originally in the collections of the long since dissolved Cambridge Botanical Museum. With a new database it is possible to search the data so far recorded, making responding to enquiries much more straightforward than before, when the main method of searching was to head up the stairs and rummage in the rather confined space of the attic!

The Garden has a rich history, knowledge of which goes hand in hand with planning for future development, and educating and engaging with those who visit and use it. By exploring and recording the archive collections, we increase the potential for their access and use, and ensure that the possibilities for drawing on our past in future planning, interpretation, education and outreach, are present when we need them.

Enormous thanks are due to Graham Harrison, our Archive Volunteer, who has met the challenge with great tenacity, and created order out of relative chaos! After completing a top level survey and record of the material, Graham will delve a little deeper into some of the more important and interesting finds, creating detailed records that increase the potential for discovery, access and use of these fascinating collections.

Jenny Sargent, Cory Library Manager, Cambridge University Botanic Garden
(Contact me at, or follow us on twitter @corylibrary)

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This entry was posted on July 25, 2016 by in Behind the Scenes, Culture, Goal 1, News, Research and tagged , , .
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