Saturday, 24 November 2007

The National Archives ... what's not to like?

1. It's free!
Could you ever imagine a private enterprise that would give you all these fabulous resources absolutely free? For the minor hassle of getting a reader's card the whole of the nation's history is there before you...

2. A fab building
For a modern building, TNA is just the biz. Climate controlled, Nuclear Bomb proof (so the guide said) great surrounding gardens (including a pond with a heron) and free wi-fi so you can look things up as you go along.

3. The collection.
From the Domesday book to the medal records of soldiers in WW1, there's millions of documents that you can look at. Sometimes with a sodding great seal attached.

4. The search engine.
The TNA website has a great website - go to the site (, put in your search topic (it could be a name or a place) and then see how many matches you get. Without this I would have never found the litigious Fitzhenry family of Rock...

5. The staff
Normal people. They're great. Especially the bloke who helped me roll up one of those bloody great rolls of Chancery parchments who confessed to me that he'd like to see the whole lot go up in smoke.

6. The off-site storage
The stuff that isn't looked at very often is kept in an old salt mine in Cheshire. This is naturally a good place to keep paper and parchment in. My chancery rolls are kept there. I can image that they had been down there for a long long time. To see what a fab place this is, look at

7. Parking and transport links
Remarkably easy to park right next to TNA. A 5 minute walk from Kew Gardens tube station.

8. Kew itself
TNA is in the wonderful West London Suburb of Kew. Home to the botanical gardens, near Chiswick , the home of the wonderful Fuller's Brewery (brewers of my favourite pint London Pride) and close to all points in the West of London.

9. Kew Landladies
If you're doing the archives, you need a place to stay. There's all sorts of accommodation for all types. Take your pick off this list
My favourites are Mrs Cellan-Jones and Mrs Hearn. The places are diverse (Mrs C-J's is fantastically anarchic - my room had a stuffed fox in it - and Mrs. H is clean modern lines with power shower in an Edwardian villa).

10. Local pubs
The Greyhound for choice of beer and the Botanist for guest beer and food.

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