A week at the National Archives London

Wow what a week it’s been! As part of my internship with the Scottish Council on Archives – Skills for the Future project, I had to take a wee trip to London, but to get there I had to go by car, ferry, bus, plane and a train to get to the National Archives in Kew. The aim of the week was to find out more about archives and to meet up with my fellow trainees and also trainees from the Transforming Archives project in England.

Trainees outside the National Archives

Trainees outside the National Archives

For me it was a totally fascinating week, seeing how larger archives work, the types of archives they have, visiting other archives that cover different subjects and meeting new people. Normally this blog is short but as I did so much it has been very difficult to narrow it down so forgive me for my longer post. Plus I have 100+ photos from my trip so here are just some of the highlights from the week.

The National Theatre Archive

Our first outing was to the National Theatre Archive beside the Old Vic theatre. As someone with an interest in textiles seeing Jocelyn Herbert’s costume designs for Othello from 1964 was so exciting and other interesting objects such as the Everyman mask by Nicky Gillibrand.

Jocelyn Herbert's costume designs for Othello, 1964.

Jocelyn Herbert’s costume designs for Othello, 1964.

The Everyman production mask by Nicky Gillibrand held by Erin, our guide.

The Everyman production mask by Nicky Gillibrand held by Erin, our guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the week there was a discussion on ephemeral objects, something that is created only to exist for a short time and the National Theatre had great examples of ephemeral including their collection of production posters.

Hedda Gabler Poster with Maggie Smith on it

Hedda Gabler Poster with Maggie Smith on it

 

The tour continued on to the audio visual archives store. With VHS now becoming a thing of the past, finding a suitable digital format that wouldn’t go extinct is just another thing archivists need to think about. Coming from a media background and having to source footage, some of which landed on my desk as VHS this is something I’m actually aware of. Finding a working VHS player now is starting become harder, but what’s even harder is transferring VHS to another format. Digital archives are now becoming more common and with more digital-born records (things like floppy disks, hard drives, DVDs etc) coming to archives, it is something archives are now having to deal with.

The National Theatre's VHS collection

The National Theatre’s VHS collection

Police weapons, truncheon, rattle and watch house report log.

Police weapons, truncheon, rattle and watch house report log at the City of London Police Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guildhall Library and the City of London Police Museum

Another day saw us at the Guildhall Library and the City of London Police Museum housed within the library. Some of the exhibits within the Police Museum were slightly on the terrifying side with a display of various weapons confiscated from criminals. But as with all good museums, there is the odd piece of archive to back up the objects such as the watch-house day report book from 1833. It was used to record who was on duty and what happened each day in the Tower division. Having ledgers such as the one in the photo, give you more of a sense of the work that the Policemen had to do and one of the most interesting exhibits is the model used in the trial of a gang at the Old Bailey to show how the accused did their crime.

Picture of the model used in the trial at the Old Bailey

Picture of the model used in the trial at the Old Bailey

Within the Library itself, we were shown one of the oldest books at the Library – The French Chronicles. This was probably one of my favourite photos of the week as it shows how beautiful the illustrations inside the chronicles were. The Library currently has an exhibition regarding the Great Fire of London which happened in 1666 – 350 years ago and the items on displays had the most intricate of drawings inside.

The illustrations within the French Chronicles at the Guildhall Library

The illustrations within the French Chronicles at the Guildhall Library

The National Archives

Our last day saw us getting our hands dirty and taking a look at ‘undiscovered treasure’ at the National Archive itself. The session with Ada Mascio, Paul Drysburgh and Marianne Wilson had our jaws drop a few times with the documents that they showed us. Ada showed us 14th Century legal documents, tiny strips of paper of court correspondence which had symbols on it to determine the area covered. 5000 of these are still to be unravelled!

Session with Marianne Wilson on early Modern church records.

Session with Marianne Wilson on early Modern church records.

14th Century legal documents - complete with filth!

14th Century legal documents – complete with filth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day finished with a tour of the National Archives stores where the real treasures are kept. Everything from ledgers, registers, business archives, maps and other legal documents. Compared to our Tasglann here, the contrast is vast with lifts and conveyor belts to send the books from one end of the building to the reading rooms, the use of trikes to transport boxes and deliver them to other areas and the amount of security needed for such special collections but required so you can access them needs to be seen to be believed. I truly recommend a visit if you get the chance, it was a fabulous week.

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