To view this media, you will require Adobe Flash 9 or higher and must have Javascript enabled.

Duration 37:44

A history of the Public Record Office

Vanessa Carr takes us through a brief history of the Public Record Office, looking at public records from 1086 to 2003.

Transcription

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is a brief history of public records and the Public Records Office; a whistle stop tour through the years 1086 to 2003. 1066 and all that is perhaps not terribly original, but it’s a good starting point.

Originally the Public Records were the records of the monarch’s administrative servants. The monarch himself was peripatetic, so travelled around the country with more or less with no fixed abode, and the documents were carried around with him with things like gold jewels and personal belongings just as part of his personal baggage.

They were kept and transported in chests. The storing of documents in chests in fact was a standard form of storage for many centuries, and a number of these can be seen displayed around the National Archives. There were other containers for smaller documents, and boxes called ‘skippets’ were produced specifically to protect seals.

The Domesday Book: not only the most famous but the oldest public record. That was completed in 1086. It’s in two parts; there’s Great Domesday which covers much of England, and Little Domesday which covers Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex.

[Shows slide]

But the Domesday Book is not the oldest document in the National Archives; that’s actually an Anglo-Saxon land deed dated 974. It’s in fact a private record, and the National Archives has many, many private records. They are brought into courts of law as evidence, and, it may seem amazing to us, never taken away again, or, they are like this particular land deed; records that have come by way of a gift or deposit.

There are other non-governmental records though, of very public sorts of bodies that have come to the National Archives simply because the collections are too large to be housed anywhere else, and a very good example of that is the records of the private railway companies prior to the 1948 nationalisation.

[Shows slide]

This is both, if you like, a document and a finding aid; a chest with a coat of arms on.  It’s in fact a chest that was produced to house the Treaty of Calais, signed between England and France in 1360, and has the coats of arms of the signatories on it, so if you like, it’s a sort of storage and a catalogue entry all in one.

Well, to look at the beginnings of real record making and storage long before there was a Public Record Office; as government developed and gained in complexity, it became much more centralised and countrywide and record making administration was really divided into three main areas: there was the exchequer which dealt with finance, as you’d expect; Chancery, which dealt with general administration; and then there were the Courts of Common Law.

Documents that were directed to individuals and institutions, as well as those pertaining to courts of law, came gradually to be copied for the record before being sent  out, so there was something kept, so that it was known what administration had been carried out.

These were parchment then, and for convenience they were enrolled. Parchment comes in membranes, and about two feet long, six to eight inches wide. There’s a very good reason for that; that’s more or less sheepskin shape, which is what they were. They were either sewn together at the head and then rolled up, and that was known as ‘enrolment Exchequer-wise’ and was also used by the courts of law, or the membranes were sewn end to end and then rolled up, which was ‘enrolment Chancery-wise’.

The records that were sent into government also gradually came to be subject to a proper organisation and recording. There were records in other formats besides rolls, in particular files of small parchment/documents, usually literally spiked together, and a good example of that are writs, which have very little writing; they’re very small documents on a sort of strip of parchment.

There was, right from the start, a problem of where to keep these. In fact in a way this whole history is one of storage problems, if you like. The king could clearly soon not carry all this around with him and anyway he was becoming much more centralised and less peripatetic. Many royal palaces and public buildings were used for the storage of records, of which the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey were among the principal. Within the Tower of London record storage was wide spread, whilst at Westminster Abbey it was mainly the Chapter House that came to be used.

Now one store for records was a house in Chancery Lane which had originally been built to house Jews who converted to Christianity and you sometimes hear it called by its Latin name of the Domus Conversorum. In 1290 in a wave of anti-Semitism, all Jews were expelled from England, and the house, and more particularly its chapel, became redundant.

It was extremely convenient for the storage of records of Chancery – obviously, it was in Chancery Lane, so very much the centre of Chancery administration – and soon the official who was in charge of the records of Chancery, the Master of the Rolls, actually came to live on that site himself and it became known from then on as the Rolls Estate.

The chapel within it was known as the Rolls Chapel and in particular, it was the chapel that was used for the storage of records. It was reinstated for religious purposes as well, but always served a dual purpose. It’s noted…in a program of repair for the chapel much later than the date of which we’re really talking, in the 1770s; that included a provision for presses fitted out for record storage, and also the seats themselves were made with cupboards underneath to make it more practical to store records.

[Shows slide]

These are just some samples of old rolls; they’re very early patent rolls. Patent rolls are part of Chancery and you can see there that sort of enrolment at the bottom: Johannes – that’s part of Johannes Rex, so they’re actually from the reign of King John, so they’re among the very, very earliest of the patent rolls.

[Shows slide]

This is St John’s chapel in the Tower of London and you can see how it’s completely utilised for the storage of records, and they’re well stored – well, they’re rather piled on top of each other, but that’s not really a very bad form of storage there.

[Shows slide]

This is a cross section of the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. Now all the time it was a monastic establishment, obviously the Chapter House was in use, but after the dissolution of the monasteries fell out of use, and it was really very much used as the principle record storage in that area, after the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, and you can see from [the slide], various bits of it are quite neatly stacked out there for record storage.

[Shows slide]

That’s a close up of one of the rooms full of cupboards for record storage, Again you can see they’re very well kept. There’s a nice finding aid there on the desk, the cupboards are all numbered which is useful for finding things and the records are very neatly stored.

[Shows slide]

This is again going back to the Chapter House, as a whole looking rather sad. If you look at the bottom the date is 1859, which we will come to see is just after the setting up of the Public Record Offices, so this is when it has been emptied; the floor is looking a bit battered, the shelves are looking a bit battered. After this it was restored by George Gilbert Scott, so presumably somewhat of its former glory.

[Shows slide]

This is a very early drawing of the Rolls Chapel, which I always think is rather a sweet little illustration. It was actually done by the chronicler Matthew Paris in the 13th century, and Paris is one of the earliest recorded searchers of the records.

Right, moving on – I said it was a whistle-stop tour, from the medieval period to the 19th century in one go!

Well, in the way I’ve just described, the record storage really continued for many centuries. In time, the three main medieval departments gave way to an administration which was dominated by the State Paper Office, which had divisions into Domestic and Foreign.

At the end of the 18th century, from that, you can see the beginnings of the modern system of departmental government when the State Paper Office was divided into a Home Office and Foreign Office. That was in 1782 which was a year of huge administrative reform.

The records of course kept growing, in ever increasing numbers, and types. More storage places, large and small, were added to the ones of which we’ve already spoken.

Just to digress a bit, a very interesting development of the late 13th century was the practice of using what was known as Pictograms which were finding aids to records. They use a pictorial classification to denote a subject which was relevant, so for example the records of Gascony, which was then an area of France under English rule, was represented by grape-treading for wine making.  What I’ve never been able to find out is, okay, so you know they’re records of Gascony but how do you pick one record from another? And I’ve never seen anything that explains that either.

The larger repositories, on the whole, were much better organised and managed than the smaller ones, and there were custodians in the early period who were dedicated men who took their responsibilities very seriously, with proper organisation and storage and listing, and indexing of records and proper facilities for catering for those who wished to research the records. The researchers were largely historians, antiquarians and those doing searched for legal purposes. Many, though, fell lamentably short of any kind of a decent standard.

Despite the record storage in the larger repositories being reasonably good, generally, I have a quotation from William Prynne, who became Keeper of the Records in the Tower at the restoration of Charles II in 1660 and he reported that the records were in a: ‘deplorable pickle. Overspread with dust, cobwebs, and eaten up with rust, cankers, moths, worms, and their over-much neglected cells.’

And again he went on to complain: ‘I have almost been choked with the dust of neglected records in the White Tower, their rust eating out the tops of my gloves with their touch, and their dust rendering me twice a day as black as a chimney sweeper. I have at last tumbled them all over, and distributed them into sundry indigested heaps, which I intend, God willing, to reduce into order by degrees.’

Later, the first State Paper Office became so dilapidated it had to be demolished; that was in 1759. At that time, it had the custody of the Privy Council Records. They had to get a sledgehammer to bash down the doors of the room they were kept in because nobody had any idea where the key was.

A constant gripe throughout the long number of centuries was the fees that were charged for a whole range of services, and it’s interesting to know that fees weren’t entirely given up until 1962. They were still charged up to then for legal searches (various aspects of) and some custodians got a really good living out of this: in 1830 the antiquarian Sir Nicholas Harris-Nicholas complained that to consult a record at the Tower of London you had to pay ten shillings (or 50 pence) to have the list searched, and six and eight pence, or 33 pence, to have the document produced, which comprised, and he quoted: ‘one of the clerks rising from his chair, walking a few yards and opening a roll.’ This was obviously a huge amount of money to charge for virtually no service at all.

However, there is one very significant researcher that expressed himself very happy with his record searching experience. Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 15 March 1669 begins: ‘Up and by water with W. Hewer to the Temple and thence to the Chapel of Rolls where I made enquiries for several rolls and was soon informed in the manner of it., and so spent the whole morning with W. Hewer, he taking little notes in shorthand, while I hired a clerk there to read to me about 12 or more several rolls which I did call for, and it was great pleasure to me to see the method wherein the rolls are kept, that when the Master of the Office, one Mr Case, doth call for them, he did most readily turn to them.’

There are actually quite a lot of references to Pepys doing document research because he wrote a history of the navy.

[Shows slide]

This is the pictogram for Gascony of the grape treading for wine process. I have to say I always think it looks vaguely indecent; it looks as if someone’s in their bath and someone else is playing the bagpipes to them, but it’s rather nice.

[Shows slide]

And that’s one of my particular favourites. That’s a jousting knight; that was the pictogram for Aragon…Aragonia…that one’s very splendid.

Well, next is a good example of good record keeping. It’s an inventory of what’s in the basement at the Chapter House in the great chests, as it says, and it’s got a nice description; the dates, what sort of state they’re in, what sort of arrangement that they have, and whether or not they’re indexed. So as I say, whilst a lot fell short of that standard, there were some very good methods of record keeping as well.

This is what I l quite like; it’s a design for a room in the State Paper Office, and a possible designation of where on various shelves, various sorts of records might be kept.

[Shows slide]

Two very important officials of the State Paper Office:…Joseph Williamson, his papers…Leoline Jenkins, his papers. They were both principal Secretaries of State. What I really like though is this tiny fireplace, which seems all out of proportion. Of course, very, very often fireplaces were in close proximity to where records were kept.

Setting up the Public Record Office: well, by 1800, it was widely recognised that there was a bit of a crisis in record keeping heritage. Parliament set up a select committee to look into the state of public records and this itself was the successor of several 18th century committees which had looked into the matter, one of which described records found to be: ‘a mass of putrid filth, stench, dirt and decomposition.’

There were over 200 different sites identified right across the country (of course it would be wrong to think they were all in London) many keeping records in appalling conditions where they were simply rotting away. Probably the worst that was found was a cellar which had been formerly used for storing fish. This accounts for the presence in The National Archives of some records in an appalling state of decay, as well as things like bird skeletons, and mummified rats.

There was of course the ever present danger of destruction by fire, and it sometimes seems to me nothing short of a miracle that about 33 miles of medieval and early modern records, counting that up to about 1800, have actually survived, including virtually complete series.

Well, as a result of all of this, it was recommended in 1838, so you’ll notice that it didn’t happen exactly quickly because this is from 1800, a dedicated Public Record Office should be set up, under the Master of the Rolls, who we’ve already heard about. This was sealed by Act of Parliament, and in 1858, again, it didn’t happen all that quickly, a purpose built repository and reading room were begun and the site that was chosen was the Rolls estate in Chancery Lane, many of the existing buildings of which were then demolished.

The architect was Sir James Pennethorne who designed many 19th century public buildings including a number of the departments in Whitehall. It was a building of Victorian Gothic design, composed of stone and brick, with individual strong rooms which had iron and slate shelving. This meant there was as little combustible material as possible.

Now the strong rooms were also equipped with open ironwork spiral staircases between the two floors, which most of them had, and those were very picturesque and space saving of course, but an absolute nightmare for the production of well, really any documents, but in particular large documents – trying to get them up and down a narrow spiral staircase….The building [has been called] ‘the treasure house of the Public Records, or Archives.’

Well, by the 1860s, which wasn’t very long at all after, an extension was necessary. An anonymous letter to the Times on 11 March 1862 complained of: ‘that dismal prison house like the solitary wing of a lunatic asylum, to which the prudence of the government and the artistic grace of Mr Pennethorne have consigned the materials of our English history, from the Norman Conquest to this year of grace. Piled up the walls from basement coping, thrust into every sort of nook and corner, stored away and battened down in inconceivable galleries and hatchways, bursting out of crevices, making ghostly appearances at dim windows, like an overcharged warehouse, the present repository stands brimful, ready to spill over with the least addition.’

So, an extension was built. That was between 1863 and 1868. Included in it were two reading rooms, one of which is the Round Room which is probably the most famous bit of the old Chancery Lane building. It was probably modelled on that of the British Museum, and it remains to this day a very fine example of Victorian glass and iron architecture. Again Pennethorne was the architect for this.

This had filled up by 1895 (as I said, this is just one long history of record storage problems) and yet another extension was built. This time the architect was Sir John Taylor. This then included the area in which was Master of the Rolls house and also the chapel and they were demolished at this point. Nobody seems to have cared about the demolition of the Master of the Rolls house which wasn’t considered of great architectural interest, apparently, but there was a certain amount of public outcry at the demolition of the chapel.

It was decided to keep one arch of it, and that can still be seen set into a wall of the present building, and very sort of confused and sad it looks, I have to say. But, what they decided to do was build a museum on the chapel site, and in that to preserve all the tombs, monuments and the stained glass, which were actually all quite notable.

Now the most notable tomb there is of Dr John Young who was the Master of the Rolls who died in 1516, because it was sculpted by Pietro Torrigiano who was responsible for the effigy of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey. I’ve noted here, one of his other claims to fame was that he once broke Michelangelo’s nose in a tavern brawl, apparently.

At the end of the 19th century, the antiquarian Walter Rye expressed his satisfaction with the Record Office: ‘It would be difficult to find a place where study and search can be carried on more easily and pleasantly. Certainly at no place are the officials, from the highest to the lowest, more courteous or more willing of help. The beginner, stumbling along, only half conscious as to what he’s looking for, is as well treated and listened to as patiently as the habitué, with the single exception of lunatics who want information about unclaimed millions in Chancery, who are sternly kept at bay by a standing notice in the lobby. All searchers, however different their objects, are made welcome.’
I find it disconcerting that there are all these references to lunatics and lunatic asylums, but I’m probably not entirely surprised.

Shooting on up to 1958, the establishment of a purpose built Archive building allowed both sorting and accessioning, and listing projects to be carried on, and publications programmes to flourish. As has been suggested already, good practices and good work were far from previously unknown. For example between 1800 and 1831, there were six Records Commissions appointed and would apply themselves assiduously to the publication of Records texts, but it was just all much easier now, and much more co-ordinated.

Sometimes the emphasis was on one strand and sometimes on the other. There always tended to be resources given to publications programmes, and there were sometimes criticisms of this because people said ‘well this is absolutely wonderful, but what about the records that are sitting there and waiting for identification and sorting and arranging and listing which aren’t accessible at all?’

Always, the office was a place of high quality scholarly work and was recognised as an academic style institution. The emphasis was almost consistently on medieval and early modern records, right up until after the Second World War, despite the fact there was a continuing interest in modern records and increasing interest right through the 20th century.

Access was a big bone of contention, because there was no consistent policy and no official closure period right until 1958. Usually records were closed for 100 or 50 years, or a permit might be needed to view modern records, however those were defined. This was very frustrating for those growing numbers which I’ve already mentioned who were more interested in the modern than the older records.

Well, under a new regime, the government departments and law courts soon began to see the benefit of regularly transferring records to the new Record Office. However, on the one hand there was no compulsion to do this, and on the other, absolutely no selection whatsoever. This latter meant that an awful lot of material that wasn’t really worthy of permanent preservation at all, or huge amounts of duplication of material were sent.

So in 1877, there was another Public Records Act, the only one passed which authorised the destruction of unwanted records, but they had to be dated later than 1715, though this was amended to 1660 in 1898 and it remains 1660 now; we can’t destroy anything prior to 1660 should it come to light and be accessioned.

Shooting on rather, it’s noteworthy that during the Second World War the building survived almost unscathed, which was amazing for the location it was in, but half a million records were evacuated to premises which ranged from the illustrious surroundings of Belvoir Castle to a disused prison at Shepton Mallet. There was a precedent for doing this; some records were moved in the First World War, in particular to the Post Office underground railway, which, I don’t know if you are aware, but there is a whole second  underground system, going with the public one, which is, or used to be, used by the Post Office.

Well of course, again, the records kept growing, both within the record office and in departments, and by the 1950s, government administration was so complex and extensive that departments were absolutely crammed with records, which were kept because they were needed or they might be needed for business, or they needed a decision as to whether they should be sent to the Public Record Office or not.

The Treasury got very iffy because these very, very expensive premises in Central London cost an awful lot of money.

The result of that was, a new parliamentary committee was set up under the career civil servant Sir James Grigg, and you still hear references to the Grigg Committee now. That report in 1958, and the recommendations from it led to the Public Records Act of 1958.

[Shows slide]
The Records Acts: 1958 and 1967. Four major changes under the Public Records Act 1958; Keeper of the Public Records was appointed under the Lord Chancellor. Previously there’d been a Deputy Keeper under the Master of the Rolls. For the first time there was a proper selection and destruction process established and with two record reviews. As an administrative review carried out by the departmental records staff (they were really set up for the first time as well) in the department in question when the records were around about five years old, and then a review to consider the historical criteria also, when the records were about 25 years old, jointly by departmental staff, and Public Record Office Inspecting Officers as they were called whose successors are now the current IMP [Information Management Practices] department just round here.

This placed Public Record Office staff with a responsibility for the first time for the pre-selection records management, as well as the more traditional archival roles, and today it’s worth noting that somewhere between two percent and five percent of all records created are preserved for permanent preservation.

The selection and transfer of selected materials was given the force of law for the first time, so they didn’t have any choice, they had to do it. Always some records of purely local interest are preserved locally in places of deposit, things like Coroners records, or the lower courts of law, hospital records, things like that. Actually at the current time, about 20% of records are kept like this.

Records closed to inspection for 50 years: some might be closed for longer on grounds of security, sensitivity of information or what have you, just like now, and if the information is already in the public domain, they would be open, and really that’s the only major change there’s been since. That was reduced to 30 years in 1967. The other thing that happened under the 1958 Act was the Advisory Council on public records was set up again, which we still have, to consider access proposals that are at variants with the normal closure period and other major issues and proposals around the office management.

Right, taking you up from 1958 to 1976, records continued to increase at the rate of about a mile a year, the total now being about 100 miles.
Other sites were used from time to time; especially Ashridge Park near Berkhampsted which was acquired after the Second World War for the storage of little used records, and in the 1950s at an ex-Ordinance factory at Hayes…in Middlesex was acquired for the use of departments to store their semi-current and non-current records.
When the first Kew building was built we gave up the Ashridge site and the management of Hayes was handed over to the Ministry of Defence who was the principal user, in 1996, although the Public Records Office stored some records there – little used ones. All the public records were finally removed from Hayes in 2004. It’s subsequently been de-commissioned, and it’s been redeveloped I think as an industrial park or something.

But out-housing the records to deal with storage problems was not entirely new; both Cambridge and Canterbury Prisons were used between the two World Wars. There seems to be a bit of a propensity for using prisons.

Well, yet again, in the late 1960s, a serious accommodation problem, both for records and this time for readers as well, which was something new; to have far more readers than we could cope with. There are several reasons for that: research was popular as it had never been before, partly because the full effects of a generation of compulsory and free secondary education obviously meant a lot more people going into further and higher education; the fashion for genealogy had started; but the whole thing was greatly exacerbated by what’s known as the accelerated opening of war-time records.

By this arrangement, all government departments agreed to open all the records of the Second World War in 1972 instead of dribbling them in yearly blobs, because historians were desperate to find out…the administrative history of the Second World War. In fact the Public Record Office had already out-housed Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence records, as well as the Census returns to the nearby Land Registry building in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the Conservation department, which is now Collection Care, was also there, in fact they didn’t leave until 1994.

But all the standard archival activities and services continued, perhaps not always in expected ways. I have a quotation, hopefully tongue in cheek, which is a report on a Chancery files sorting project begun in 1969, and that stated that: ‘In the Great Chancery Files Sort, of the early 1970s, one editorial assistant with big feet was used to get recalcitrant files into standard sized boxes, when he wasn’t practising archery by using rubber bands to fire parchment needles onto the Law Society roof.’

[Shows slide]

This is a picture of the queues waiting for the place to open, at some time, I don’t know when, in the 1960s. Now if you remember back to that picture of the Round Room – I mean, it was beautiful but not enormous, and, you know, compared with the amount of seating we’ve got now it’s obvious that you’re not going to fit that many people in, and the other reading room was more or less the same sort of size. So, there really was a reader accommodation problem.

All of which, of course, led to the establishment of the Office at Kew. Well, the first building was Kew One, opened in 1976. It was then the most modern archive in the world. [It had] a totally different storage [system] from Chancery Lane; open plan repositories, which of course used the space available much more effectively than individual strong rooms.

It had the most modern equipment that was available anywhere for both conservation and reprographic activities, and a computerised document ordering system and mechanical handling of records which were completely revolutionary. The records went up and down on a sort of bucket on a chain system called ‘Pater Noster’ for some reason; up through the middle of the building and popped out on the floors as appropriate.

However, Chancery Lane remained, and the way it was organised was that medieval and early modern records stayed there, while the modern records moved to Kew. However, all legal records were kept at Chancery Lane because that’s where people obviously like to come to do legal searches. This arrangement caused some confusion because they decided not to split the records of departments between the two sites, and some modern departments have very early origins.

So for instance, Customs and Excise; that’s a modern government department, records at Kew, but they actually start in 1554, and I’m afraid that not only did searchers sometimes get confused, but they were sometimes given the wrong information by staff and sent to the wrong place.

In 1990, we had a scrutiny under the Prime Minister’s Efficiency Unit, and became an Executive Agency as a result of that in 1992, and that meant that there was more financial self government for the Office, and…more self control, self government than there had been before generally, much more separated from the Lord Chancellor’s department, to some extent.

With an organisation administration perhaps more like the private sector, (this is where corporate and business plans started at this point) there was a lot of reorganisation of personnel into directorates for the first time, so you can see where our modern structure comes from, and that is the point at which the keeper of public records also became the Chief Executive.

Well, by the 1990s, Kew on its own was also too small to cope with the things it needed to cope with, and repository storage in particular was nearly full, so the other extension was built. Opened in 1995, Kew Two. Most of the staff not directly serving the public moved into Kew Two, all the public facilities remaining as they still do in the first Kew building. In Kew Two there was mobile racking in the repositories, which means you can use the space available even more effectively than just open plan.

At the same time it was decided to close Chancery Lane and transfer all the records to Kew, and that was completed in late 1996. It was a monumental exercise; as I said before, there were about 33 miles of records at Chancery Lane. It was moved with the minimal disruption to the service on both sites, within timescale and budget, and beyond extending, slightly, the normal stocktaking, the office didn’t close at all. So that was really quite an undertaking.

At the same time the Census records and other records of a genealogical nature which were available on microfilm remained at Chancery Lane until early 1997 when they moved to premises in Middleton Street in Islington, and were then joined by Birth, Marriage and Death registers, which had been previously in St Catherine’s House in the Aldwich, that Easter, and that joint operation was known as the Family Records Centre and lasted until 2008 when all the operations of The National Archives came together under the Kew site here.

The Chancery Lane building, having sat empty and sad for some time was eventually acquired by King’s College London and refurbished as a library which opened in 1998 and is known as the Maughan Library.

So, April 1994; the Public Record Office Library, which had been exclusively for staff before, was opened up to readers, and the opening hours were extended and from July 1997 opened on Saturdays for the first time.There was a new Education Visitors Centre where the museum now is, so it was nice to establish a museum again; that was opened in 2000, and the education facilities were increased by involvement with the National Grid for Learning. A big exercise to put the paper lists and the guide online, now known as the Catalogue; it was called Pro-Cat before that, and a series of online exhibitions was created so it was very much the move, as we are doing now, to online.

In addition, the office was a key player in the National Electronic Archival Cataloguing project, known as Access to Archives, or A2A, and they began an extensive programme of digitisation of records; that was known first of all as PRO online, now obviously everybody knows it as Documents Online, and started to address the challenge of the Born Digital Record, as well.

Well, on 2 April 2003 it was decided that the Public Record Office should amalgamate with the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and at that point, The National Archives is formed. The Annual Reports, which started off as the Annual Reports of Deputy Keepers and Keepers, have vast amounts of information on the subject. There is an official history [The Public Record Office] in two volumes, by John Cantwell, who is known as Jack Cantwell, who is still with us as a volunteer, and a very nice book to mark the closure of Chancery Lane by Aidan Lawes, who was a previous member of staff, called Strongbox of the Empire, and if you are more interested in this subject, I’d recommend that you look at that because it’s full of lots of lovely illustrations and anecdotes…So, thank you.

2 comments

  1. David Crook says:

    Well done Vanessa, a wonderful whistle-stop tour, which I am ashamed to say I have only just come across! You were a wonderful colleague and must be sadly missed by the people at Kew who knew you. David Crook

  2. Jim Lynock says:

    I worked on the first Kew building in 1975/76 as a trainee engineer. It was built by Taylor Woodrow. I recall that the floors cantilevered out, the floor above hung over the one below. The design was that the overhanging floor edges would be supported with large steel props which were used to raise the edges of the floors and they could not be removed until the structure was complete so that the building became balanced. The theory was that following removal of the props the floors would settle to the correct level around the perimeter but they did not and as a result all of the floor edges were too high. We had to nibble the floors down all around the perimeter and it took months.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We will not be able to respond to personal family history research questions on this platform.
See our moderation policy for more details.