There are many well-established and wonderful institutions providing safe havens for private diaries. These institutions are excellent resources, see links below. They do not actively seek to preserve private diaries and some smaller institutions simply don’t have the capacity to do so……the Great Diary Project hopes to be the Great Diary Safety Net, providing a place for ALL private diaries.
1. The National Archives
This is a link to the National Archives. The National Archives holds a large collection of private, unpublished diaries and is an excellent resource.
2. The Isle of Wight Great Diary Project is a partner of the Great Diary Project, Mr Frederick Fisher can be contacted for more Isle of Wight deposit information. The March 2010 article, from the Ventnor News, below provides more information on the collection’s ethos and history. The article brings into sharp focus the historical importance of written, personal memories.
Donors of diaries may contact the County Archivist and Island Heritage Manager, Mr. Richard Snout on 01983 823820 or 01983 823821 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“On January the first in 2003, five experts from the British Museum sat round a table on national television to decide on which British archaeological find was our greatest treasure.
The choices ranged from hoards of gold and silver to the famous Sutton Hoo burial ship.
What was surprising is that our perception of treasure i.e. gold and silver only rated third and fourth place.
The experts rated the Sutton Hoo burial as our most important treasure followed by something which most people had never heard of.
The Vindolanda tablets.
What was more surprising, was when the significance of these tablets had been explained to the nation they were invited to “phone in” their own top ten order, The tablets were given first place.
Voices from the Past
So what are these tablets and why did they capture the publics’ imagination to warrant our “Top Treasure”?
The Vindolanda Tablets are personal letters and military accounts written in ink on thin wooden sheets at the roman garrison Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. When the garrison left they discarded the tablets and by good fortune these fragile sheets of wood were preserved by the peat.
As to why they were voted number one treasure by the public, Adam Hart-Davies who presented the programme suggests that the tablets presented an opportunity for us to “see” into the minds of our ancestors. What was important to them. How a community lived and loved. In short they are a personal record of how people lived and what they thought nearly 2000 years ago and are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.
Personal records such as the Tablets are invaluable from both the historical and cultural points of view. They give an insight into how society is shaped, influenced and changed, in much the same way as famous diarists such as Pepys, Anne Frank have been studied.
The tablets, however, can be compared more to our modern day personal diaries. They are a snapshot in time, describing everyday events which otherwise would not have been recorded in epics, poems or sagas.
Diary writing captures what is important to the people who write the diary. Outwardly, these jottings may seem mundane and of no interest to anyone other than the writer themselves. However, over the period of time, the diaries give us something which is just as important and fascinating as the Vindolanda Tablets. They give us insight to what was important to one individual in their own lifetime.
If, as with the Tablets, we have many different diaries we can then begin to see a picture of society at that time.
In the short term this may be of little interest but in the long term diaries can be “Our Greatest Treasure” to understanding society as it was.
Sadly the modern diarist is fast becoming a dinosaur as social websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter become the chosen medium for jotting down our daily thoughts.
The pen has been overtaken by the keyboard and with the pressures of modern life, the younger generation are not inclined to record their daily thoughts on permanent media like diaries.
There are fewer diaries now than ever before.
When we lose someone close to us it can difficult to know what to do with their diaries. We often read through them and find the person is still alive in just these few pages; telling us about their life and daily routines. The dilemma is what to do with the diaries. Keep them or throw them away. The latter choice is heart rending but more often as not they are discarded to the bonfire or become landfill.
Isle of Wight Diary Repository
There is another alternative. Recently there has been a co-ordinated effort between the Isle of Wight Public Record Office and the British Museum to rescue diaries for long term storage. The scheme is known as the National Diary Repository and the objective is to save diaries for future study regardless of their language, date or content. Directly associated material such as letters, photographs or address books is also accepted and housed with any given diaries.
Some people may be concerned about the content being too personal which may offend people still alive. In these cases the donor can place a caveat on the diaries ensuring they will not be accessed for a period of time. This may be several decades which would still be acceptable, as the diaries are of interest only in the long-term.
Diaries really can be our Greatest Treasure and it is possible for each donor to contribute to this unique record of our time at the same time preserving the memory of someone who is close to them. All diaries and associated material will be stored locally on the Isle of Wight and be catalogued for future reference.”
3.Another awesome collection of diaries can be found at
The Edward Hall collection at Wigan Archives Service
The incredible Alex Miller at the Wigan Archives Service has beautifully curated this wonderful collection. Edward Hall was, in a diaroid sense, Dr Finkel’s grandfather; his collection spans the very beginnings of the modern era.
Edward Hall Collection, James Hole 1698:
Who Sally is:
A word from Sally:
It’s been 25 years now since I’ve started collecting antique diaries and in that time I’ve have the privilege to read around 6,000 original handwritten journals. I’ve been fortunate enough to get many of those diaries placed in good homes in museums, historical societies and universities and some even back to the original families. Some of course have stayed in my private collection.
What I’ve learned while reading and researching these precious pieces of history is more then I could even begin to express here. Nor could I fully do justice trying to express what an incredible wealth of historical, valuable and entertaining information they hold between their pages. I am honoured to have the privilege of reading these prized treasures. In this technological era, writing in a diary is truly becoming a thing of the past. We are able to send emails and texts so easily and with one push of a button those thoughts can and are usually are quickly “deleted.” To actually hold in your hand an antique diary, to read and experience the author’s life from so many years ago, well, it’s really a life changing experience. It’s as if you were right there with the author. You’re actually holding a piece of their life in your hands. Diaries are treasured pieces, coveted and cherished by the original author and I believe because of these very reasons and more that diaries should be preserved. I believe there is no where else on earth, even with the spoken word, that history comes alive more or where the reader experiences a sense of stepping back into time for a brief moment, than while reading a handwritten diary. You become one with a total stranger, the author, who then becomes a beloved friend and even though they have passed on; their thoughts; emotions and lifetime events live on forever.