The National Archives
- Original design
- McMaster/Clavering/Miller/O'Reilly, 1977
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
• 1958 Public Records Act – Increased range of records, transferred to PRO, and 50 year rule
• 1960 Serious discussion of space requirement
• 1967 Reduction of 50-year record closure rule to 30-year rule, significantly increasing the volume of material being accessioned
• 1968 – 69 Discussed in Government
• 1969 Decision made to build new facility at Kew, following consideration of other sites – e.g. Milton Keynes, but retain the Chancery Lane office as the repository of medieval, early modern, legal, and census records
• Planning application – None: Home Office circular 100 (Crown Exemption)
• 1969 Appointment of architects - Lead Architect: John Clavering for Property Services Agency
• Main contractor Taylor Woodrow construction
• Structural Engineers ( Leopold & Partners)
• 1970 Consultation period with users and agencies
• 1970 Costs estimated to be £4.5m
• 1972 Debated and re-affirmed in House of Lords
• 1973 Construction starts
• 1977 Public records moved to Kew from: Chancery Lane; Portugal Street; Porchester Square; and Ashridge
• 1977 Final cost £9m
• 1977 November 23: Official opening by the Right Honourable the Lord Elwyn-Jones, the Lord Chancellor
• 1978 February 23: Visit by HM the Queen
• 1992 Contract awarded to build Kew 2 (the extension to the original building). The architects were TBV Consult, the project managers were PMI, and the main contractor was Kyle Stewart.
• Planning application – resulted in local petition against the architectural style
• 1993 Sept 30. First stone laid by the Right Honourable the Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor
• 1995 Opening of the Kew 2 building
• 1995 Kew 2 Final Cost £42m
• 1996 all public records at Chancery Lane moved to Kew
• 1997 Closure of the Chancery Lane site
• 1997 Family Records Centre (FRC) opened in Islington
• 2003 Became The National Archives in 2003
• 2008 FRC closed – relocated to Kew
This site was originally occupied by market gardens. The construction of the railway embankment separated the area from Priory Park, the location of the original farmhouse.
The site was initially chosen as the location for the record office of the Unemployment Insurance Branch of the Board of Trade after the First World War (when it was flooded at least once in the 1920s). During the Second World War, the building was used for Italian Prisoners of War and to accommodate American GIs prior to D-day. An experimental open office was constructed on the site in the late 1960s (demolished in the early 1990s).
When the Department of Health and Social Security record office was established in Newcastle some of the existing buildings were used for a variety of purposes: Inland Revenue Sorting Centre; Post Office Savings Bank; emergency Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) clothing store; off-site storage of House of Lords records; Natural History Museum spare exhibits.
By the 1960s additional accommodation for records and readers was required by the Public Record Office. The Land Registry wanted the Public Record Office Census Rooms out of the Lincoln’s Inn building, and the lease for Ashridge repository was due to run out in 1984 and would not be renewed. Preparations began in 1969 following a detailed survey of holding and usage rates. Construction started in May 1973. The river embankment was raised to protect the site from any further flooding.
The building was taken over by the Public Record Office in May 1977. 45 to 48 shelf miles of record were moved from three sites to Kew between May and November 1977 in 3-foot parcels. Each parcel was individually addressed to its new home in advance. Each document had a coloured label affixed to its packing in advance of the move to indicate the storage floor.
The shape and the areas of the building were determined by their functions. The design capacity accommodated 72 miles of shelving and it was anticipated that this capacity would last until 2000. The height of the building had to be reduced as the local residents objected to it. The top floor therefore was lost, to be replaced by a smaller basement storage area. Standard shelving is present in the majority of repository areas (adjustable at 1” centres); 20,000 steel uprights and 120,000 shelves were initially provided, with a further 20,000 supplied shortly after occupation. Storage floors each cover 1¾ acres in area. Overhang and double glazing provide shielding against solar gain and aircraft and railway noise. There are also upper cladding panels in three sizes; 7, 9 and 11 metric tonnes.
The storage areas are air conditioned and a double roof provides extra protection for the 4th floor against solar gain. There was originally a stainless steel covering on the outer roof, thought to be the largest of its kind in Europe. The offices and public areas are all air conditioned during working hours.
The popular records are located close to the centre of the building, hence near the document conveyor system. The anticipated workload was distributed over storage floors according to a plan intended to ensure that production times could be consistent.
At the time of construction the capacity of the reading rooms was approximately 550 seats, 510 on the first floor with the remaining 40 on the second floor. There is also a central research enquiry point and a computer system is provided for ordering documents. This was a very early example of successful use of computers by the general public. CCTV cameras are installed above each reading room table facilitating remote invigilation.
Until 2004, readers were notified of the arrival of documents by use of radio pagers which were linked to previously allocated seat numbers. Originally documents were transported using a vertical paternoster system. This was replaced by the Telelift document conveyor system, a computer-controlled car-and-track system using one hundred gimballed containers running between both buildings and all floors.
The Langdale reading room (now known as the document reading room) is to the left as you enter the first floor from the stairs and the Romilly room is to the right. The Romilly room was not used during the early years and was later opened as a microfilm reading room, and is now the research and enquiries room. Separate counters were provided for the collection of documents and the ordering of copies.
Construction of the second building (known internally as Q2) began in March 1993. The architects were TBV Consult, the project managers were PMI, and the main contractor was Kyle Stewart.
In the building’s construction, Kyle Stewart used 23,000m³ of concrete, 550 tonnes of structural steel, 1,400 precast concrete unite and 120,000 Welsh roofing slates. The total area of the building is 31,750m², and it stands thirty metres high.
The bulk of the new building comprises twelve independent repositories on four floors. Each repository has its own air-conditioning unit and environmental controls, and has been fitted with a very early warning smoke detection system. In total, the new repositories can house up to 74km of records. Access control to the building, and separately to the repositories, ensures that the documents are kept in safe conditions.
The Conservation suite is one of the finest in the country, bringing together the collective expertise of the Office’s highly-skilled conservators.
The new building was completed on 8 December 1995. The move of staff began soon after the construction of the new building was completed. The final moves occurred at the end of 1996, after the original document reading rooms at Chancery Lane were closed on 6 December.
The move of the records from Chancery Lane began at the same time as the move of staff. The first moves were of documents transferring between the two buildings at Kew, and several series from Hayes to Kew. After that, work concentrated on the move of many series from Chancery Lane, eighty per cent of which were moved between February and September. The move of popular series from Chancery Lane began in October and continued until the end of 1996. The last production of an original document at Chancery Lane was on 6 December. From now on all documents, including those produced from our offsite storage in Cheshire, may be seen at Kew.
In total, 55 kilometres of records were moved by the end of the programme, as well as 60,000 rolled maps, between and within all sites of the Public Record Office.
The Family Records Centre (FRC), opened in Myddelton Street, Islington in March 1997, housing microform copies of Census records, Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills before 1858, death duty registers and non-conformist registers. The General Register Office also used the building to house the indexes to births, marriages and deaths, previously available at St. Catherine’s House, Kingsway. The National Archives part of FRC relocated to Kew in March 2008.