Waterford Charter of 1372 - Unique and Earliest Depiction of an Irish City

Waterford Charter of 1372 - Unique and Earliest Depiction of an Irish City

14 February 2012

Last week saw the official launch of ‘Cois tSiúire: 9000 years of Human Settlement in the Lower Suir Valley'; a new book that tells the story of the archaeological landscape around Waterford in a refreshing and straightforward style. The 8th Scheme Monograph published by the National Roads Authority (NRA) contains 148 colour illustrations and maps and presents the results of the N25 Waterford Bypass Scheme in a popular and accessible format for public consumption.

One of Ireland's leading archaeological companies, Rubicon Heritage Services, who excavated a number of important sites in this scheme, were heavily involved in the visual aspect of the new publication, formatting and standardising all the archaeological graphics for the book, including what the Waterford Charter (or Great Charter Roll) might have looked like in its heyday.

The Waterford Charter, dated to 1372 and currently housed in the medieval gallery in the Waterford Museum of Treasures, was originally drawn up as a propaganda exercise between Waterford and New Ross in a bid to confirm charter status from King Edward III. The King is depicted at the top of the roll, receiving the key of the city from the city sheriff and two bailiffs; while underneath this scene, the medieval City of Waterford is painted, depicting features such as churches, Reginald's Tower, whitewashed walls and brightly coloured roofs, all meant to highlight the city affluence. This roll is unique in Ireland and is the earliest depiction of an Irish city.

Rubicon's reproduction of the Waterford Charter was purely based on a visual assessment of the Charter, rather than any technological methods such as x-rays or infrared scanning. The process started in summer 2010, with a comparison of a 19th century Du Noyer's sketch, to a modern photograph of the Charter scene. The two images were placed on top of each other in a digital format, and the two versions were compared, with the differences between the images traced and recorded. After the initial sketch had been done it was concluded that there was indeed additional information that could be gleaned from the Charter which was not present on the Du Noyer sketch, and so it was decided to try and work this up to a finished image of the Charter, rather than just presenting it as a sketch.

Describing their work on the Waterford Charter, Rubicon archaeologist Sara Nylund said "To familiarise ourselves a bit more with the Charter, our graphics team visited the Waterford Museum of Treasures, where we investigated and examined the original Charter, as well as a model of the medieval city itself, which helped us understand what details might be present on the Charter. The city model was especially helpful as aspects like perspective and scale were not approached in the same way during the medieval period as today, and it can therefore sometimes be confusing to infer details from a medieval image and apply it to a modern environment, before we even begin to consider all the new elements added since the creation of the medieval image."

All the extra data collected from this exercise was incorporated into the developing sketch. And after the final layout was agreed on and all features of the map had been sketched in, the image was worked up digitally in a style aimed to mimic, rather than replicate the Charter scene. Sara added "The scene from the Waterford Charter remains one of the most exciting and interesting projects our graphics team have been able to participate in to date and Rubicon Heritage Services are very proud to have been involved with it, the first of many collaborations in print between us and the NRA."

The official launch of ‘Cois tSiúire: 9000 years of Human Settlement in the Lower Suir Valley' including the exciting reproduction of the Waterford Charter, took place in the Large Room of Waterford City Hall, and was hosted by the Chairman and Board of the Waterford Museum of Treasures and the NRA. Officially launched by Dr. Maurice Hurley, one of the leading archaeologists in Ireland, the evening was opened by James Eogan, NRA Project Archaeologist for the N25 Waterford Bypass Scheme; while other speakers included the Lord Mayor of Waterford, Pat Hayes and Fred Barry, CEO of the NRA, Fred Barry. Soprano Anne-Marie Dawlins, accompanied by Maeve O'Callaghan on piano, performed a touching rendition of ‘Cois tSiúire' - a very fitting Irish folk song given the occasion.

‘Cois tSiúire: 9000 years of Human Settlement in the Lower Suir Valley' is available now from major bookshops and throughout the Waterford region.

For further information on Rubicon Heritage Services visit www.rubiconheritage.com.