Having filled our boots at the Parliamentary Archives last week, yesterday a group of London Historians joined a behind-the-scenes tour of The National Archives (TNA) in Kew. The Friends of the National Archives runs these tours for their members a few times every year.
A substantial walking tour taking well over two hours through the labarynthine corridors and literally acres of storage space ended up in the Conservation Studio, the big treat at the end. We found out about microscopic insects who like nothing more than dining out on parchment. We saw how priceless historical documents, maps and indeed patterned cloth samples from our industrial past are stabilised and repaired.
Thanks to the generosity of the Clothworkers Foundation, TNA have been able to support a Research Fellowship to explore ways of making this series available as to a wide variety of researchers. TNA has many thousands of samples of printed and stitched cloth designs going back to the establishment of the Board of Trade Design Register in 1839. They are in the process of marrying up all the samples with the registers while assessing the feasibility of digitising some if not all of the collection. A potentially massive undertaking but with clear benefits for researchers, particularly those off-site.
Find our more about TNA Collection Care.
The National Archives in Kew as it is today was formed in 2003 comprising the Public Record Office, Historical Manuscripts Commission (formerly the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts), the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO). It is run under the auspices of the Department of Justice. It stores over 11 million documents and objects on some 170 Km of shelving. A significant quantity of materials that are either little-used or have been digitised are kept in DeepStore at a decommissioned salt mine in Cheshire (perfect environment for storage, apparently). Even these documents can be retrieved in three days. Not bad.
To physically order and inspect documents at TNA, you must have a Reader’s Ticket. This involves watching a short interactive online video on document handling and taking a commonsense, multiple-choice test. Make sure you have ID and two items of proof of address.
The Friends of the National Archives publish a magazine three times a year and host events and some tours like ours. Membership is £15 per annum, concessions apply.
There are excellent free talks at TNA on Thursday afternoons.
TNA is open everyday except Sundays and Mondays.