Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A visit to the National Archives

For a bit of a change from the recent bout of spring cleaning and sorting out at home, my wife and I paid a visit to the National Archives, Kew, today. It is only 19.2 miles door-to-door ... and took us ninety minutes to drive there this morning and – thanks to an accident on a main road that our route had to cross – nearly two hours to drive home. (Our overall average speed for the journey was 10.9 mph.) By normal driving speeds in London, that is not too bad … but to put it in context I can drive from our home to Dover (a distance of 69.6 miles) in seventy-six minutes at an average speed of 54.9 mph.

The purpose of our visit to the National Archives was to continue our search for William Richardson, my wife's several times grandfather. Richardson joined the Royal Artillery as a drummer in July 1785 and ended up as a sergeant major when he retired in March 1824 after thirty-nine years of service. We have been trying to reconstruct his career using the monthly Royal Artillery Pay Lists and Muster Rolls. My wife started at the end of his career and has been working backwards ... and I started with his enlistment and worked forward.

Although most of the records are in very good condition considering how old they are, sometimes we come across some that are in need of conservation ... and today was one such occasion. I opened one box that contained six month's worth of bound Pay Lists and Muster Rolls ... and was confronted by a pile of crumbling documents that were tied together with thin, waxed twine. I did not bother to even try to look at them any further and immediately returned the box to a member of staff. I also notified the onsite document conservators using the computerised document damage reporting system.

The state of these documents was in direct contrast to one of the others I consulted today. This was a bound copy of Pay Lists and Muster Rolls for the Royal Irish Artillery. (Yes, such an organisation did exist!) The documents were bound together in a vellum-covered book that had a gold embossed Royal Crest on the cover. It was very impressive and looked almost brand new ... and most of the pages were blank!

It was a very pleasant change to be doing some historical research using original documents ... and with a bit of luck my wife and I will be doing more in the near future.


  1. Sounds like a great day out Bob, you can't beat getting your hands on ephemera. You're lucky that is it close to you- I'm waiting on a quote for their copying service to see if it's cheaper to do that rather than pay for a trip down to London....



    PS- still with your average speed, it isn't a quick journey.

  2. Pete,

    There is nothing more rewarding that doing historical research using original documents ... and living in London does give one access to a large number of such resources.

    The National Archives copying service is not cheap ... but when I have used them they have always done a good job. How expensive they are in comparison to copying documents yourself (something that you are not always allowed to do, by the way), I cannot say.

    All the best,


    PS. The ironic thing is that driving to Kew from where I live is just as fast - if not faster - as getting there by public transport. This is something that does not make sense to me, but I have tried both methods and that is what I have found by experience.


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