Kent County Council's new History Centre and Library (above) is due to open in Spring 2011. © Kent County Council
Jane Austen's correspondence, a handwritten letter Lord Nelson sent to his mistress and an anonymous note warning of the gunpowder plot are among the national treasures set for a major new history centre in Kent.
Building work is underway for the new Kent History Centre and Library in Maidstone, which will house around 14 kilometres of historic material relating to Kent dating back to 699 AD.
The purpose-built centre will protect and display these and many other documents, photographs, images, maps and records in carefully controlled conditions to ensure they survive for future generations.
Many of the letters from Austen are to her niece, Fanny Knight, and talk about Fanny's suitors, Austen's novels and the author's declining health in the year of her death in 1817.
(Above) © Kent County Council
Lord Nelson's letter to his mistress, Emma Hamilton (above), dates from 1804 and was written on his flagship The Victory a year before the Battle of Trafalgar.
The letter alerting Lord Mounteagle to the gunpowder plot urges him to find "some excuse to shift of youer attendance at parleament", but the author of the letter remains a mystery and has been the subject of great debate.
As well as the national importance of the documents, TV Historian David Starkey is backing the project, highlighting the Library's "matchless collection of local records".
"Everyone in Kent should be proud of our county, its rich heritage and the important role it has played in the development of this country," he said.
"I am delighted that Kent will at long last have a new centre where its history can be celebrated and its unique archive collections can be cared for and made accessible to more people."
(Above) One of the Jane Austen letters to her niece, Fanny. © Kent County Council.
Council chiefs are confident the new Centre, which is due to open its doors to the public in Spring 2011, will prove a major attraction for anyone interested in local history.
The new centre will house county censuses and borough archives alongside a community history area, archive search room, digital studio and a large space for displays and events.
Other gems in the new building include what is believed to be the oldest document in any local record office a grant of immunity from public taxation from Wihtred, King of Kent (circa 670 – April 725) and the 1759 journals of Sir Jeffrey Amherst, which include the battle plan to win the Anglo-French war over Canada.
A digitisation project has also been launched to make many of the items viewable worldwide via the web.