Friday, 25 July – The National Archives

The National Archives
The National Archives

I took the train, one last time, headed to Kew Gardens though I wasn’t on my way to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens again, but maybe, someday. No, this visit was of an academic nature. I was on my way to the National Archives. Alighting the train my walk toke me past neat little single-family dwellings until finally I came to the front gates. I had arrived.

The South Face
The South Face
The North Face
The North Face

Instantly I am struck by two things; first by its size, which is massive in scale. And why shouldn’t it be. The National Archives are only the official archives of the UK government, storing 1,000 years of records (approximately 762 years longer than we’ve been a country!) from everything to print material to digital. And second, by the architecture, which looks remarkably like the work of architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. His prairie-house design stands out in the south face, which is symbolized by the flat, straight, gently-slopping roof line, use of natural materials like glass, stone, and steel, and geometric lines. The north face is constructed in the brutalist architecture fashionable at the time the National Archives building was completed in 1977. But according to an archival record located at the National Archives, entitled “The Opening of the Public Record Office in Kew 1977” the design of the building was created by a team from the Directorate of Civil Accommodation of the Property Services Agency and constructed by Taylor Woodrow Construction.

Once inside I was further impressed with all the open spaces, comfortable seating, and natural light, especially in the main reading room on the second level (first floor in the UK) and the café located on the first (ground floor). Like all the non-lending, research libraries we visited throughout the month, in order to access archival material a reader’s card or ticket was required and this can be acquired on the day of one’s visit. Though I was unable to review any archived documents pertaining to my subject, the Enquiries Librarian was helpful in assisting me to some secondary literature, and I was able to locate some information on my own by browsing the shelves and even in the exhibit area. All in all it was a great visit, informative and well-worth the extra pounds on my oyster card for traveling outside zones 1 and 2, and marred only by the thunderstorm and torrential downpour as I was leaving.

For more information about the National Archives or simply to peruse their catalog, visit them on the web at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

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