Information on location, how to get there, what the place has to offer, and other useful basic stuff. NOT a guide to what's in the archives, rather this is intended to get you there without feeling the panic of going into something completely unfamiliar! I'm including name, mailing address, phone number, web site, e-mail address, how to get to the location, and what you need to know/have to get started. I'm a medievalist so that's what I was interested in and that's what some remarks are directed at, but in point of fact most of these places have more for folks studying more modern topics.
One basic thing to keep in mind - besides a notebook, bring a mechanical pencil. Then you don't need to sharpen it, and none of these places allow pens (lest the documents be permanently damaged). Laptops are usually allowed, but not every place has available outlets, if power is a factor for you.
Disclaimer - the information in this document was originally written in 1997. I've updated what I can re: phone numbers, opening hours, etc., but do check in advance directly with the archives! Note also that all phone numbers are given as if you were calling from Britain: from the US, the country code for the UK is 44.
The Corporation of London Records Office
Corporation of London Records Office Guildhall Library Public Record Office, Kew London Metropolitan Archives (formerly the Greater London Record Office) Family Records Centre British Library Institute for Historical Research
Open: MTuWThF 9:30-4:45
Corporation of London Records Office
P.O. Box 270
London EC2P 2EJ
tel: 020 7332 1251
The people here are extremely friendly and helpful if asked. No need for a letter or anything like that, just show up, sign in, let them know what you're doing and what you need help with. (For some things, though, they may want you to show ID. I never did have to, but I was looking at fairly unexciting material.)
How to get there: Take any of several lines (Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, or Northern) to Moorgate. There's stairs to the Highwalk just as you come out of the station; follow the signs to the Guildhall. The last bit is called the Bassishaw Highwalk. You come down those stairs and the entrance to the Administrative Departments and the CLRO is to the left in the building directly ahead, clearly marked on the door. It doesn't look too friendly, though. Go in and immediately there's security. You have to sign in on a slip of paper that then gets put into a plastic badge you must wear. The place you're going to is Records, when you fill out that spot on the paper. Your purse, briefcase, etc. go through an x-ray machine. The elevator is around the corner to the right after that. Go to the second floor and then follow the signs to the CLRO Searchroom, N 221. Once there you sign in again. Talk to the archivists; they're very helpful and knowledgeable. Various reference works and indexes to the records are available. Fill out the slips (in little boxes on the table) and give to the archivist. It only takes a few minutes and they'll give you the appropriate bookstand, weights, etc. to prop up the item. There's a women's restroom just across from the Search room.
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Guildhall Library Manuscripts Room
Open: MTuWThFSa, 9:30-4:45
London EC2P 2EJ
020 7332 1862
OR 020 7332 1863
This is in the same building as the CLRO, but you can't get from one to the other without going outside and around the building. There is a printed books room also, which is more like an ordinary reference library (phone # 020 7332 1868/1870; this part closes at 5 pm).
How to get there: exactly the same as the CLRO, except that instead of going into the building through the door on the left-hand side, go around the building to the right. You'll pass a peculiar public lavatory (pay, self-sanitizing). The Guildhall Library is through the first set of glass doors on the left, clearly marked. You'll have to open up your briefcase, purse, etc. to be inspected. The manuscripts section is to the left once you're all the way in, up a few steps. The visitor book is easily missed; it's on the right just before you get to the enquiries desk, across from the card catalogue, but you are supposed to sign in. They have various leaflets on what's available and how to start looking; the staff are also helpful when asked where to start, as long as you have some idea of what you're looking for. Fill out the slips and turn in at the desk to get items; takes less than 15 minutes to get them. Return items to the desk when finished. I didn't get asked for any identification or anything like that, but if you were wanting something particularly fragile they might want some proof of identity and/or scholarly status. There must be a restroom about but I haven't yet found it! (I also didn't ask - but I wasn't there for very long.)
There is also a new service in which the librarians do your work for you, called the Search@Guildhall; see the information at
The e-mail address for the Search at Guildhall service: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Public Record Office, Kew
Open: MWFSa 9:30-5:00, Tu 10:00-7:00, Th 9:30-7:00 (although closed for a week or 2 in December for an annual stocktaking, and at various public holidays)
Public Record Office
Kew, Surrey TW9 4DU
020 8876 3444
e-mail: email@example.com (but check out the web site first, as it's quite thorough!)
This is the biggie, of course. But even this is less intimidating than you might expect; the new building is bright and airy and the grounds are very attractive. Not friendly in the way that the smaller archives are, of course, but the staff are very helpful; they must be used to all kinds of complete novices with wacky requests. Think of all the people tracing their ancestors, for example.
How to get there: Take the District line to Kew Gardens. If you're coming from London you'll get off the train on the correct side. Leave the station and go down West Park Road; the way is clearly marked with signs, but basically you take a left at Burlington Ave. (the first road) and go straight on; Burlington changes into Ruskin Ave. which is pedestrians only and leads right to the PRO. Stop at Security just to the left inside the front entrance to have your bags inspected. The first time, you need to stop also at the desk in the lobby to get a reader's application form. They'll need to see a passport but you don't need a letter from the school. Fill out the form, show the passport, and you'll get a reader's card which is necessary to enter and which is good for 3 years. All sorts of helpful leaflets are available in the lobby on the first floor, after you go upstairs. You have to check your coat and any bag bigger than a purse; it's self-service, and you need a pound coin (which you get back) to operate the locker. You can only take in a pencil, a notebook or 10 loose sheets, and a laptop/notebook computer; a folder of your own notes and any needed reference books (no newspapers though) are also okay, but remember you can't have a bag to carry all this in. There are restrooms available, mostly on the ground floor which means you have to use your reader's card to get out to get to them (it's barcoded and you slide it through at the gate to get in or out). There's even a restaurant, not too highly priced, so you can eat there and go back to work with no trouble. The staff are very helpful when you ask; microfilms are self-service, once you figure out which ones you need. For documents, first you have to go to the Documents room to get a seat assignment and a pager, then go to an ordering terminal and type in the reference (the screen instructs you on just what to do), then wait to be beeped. You can order 3 documents at a time, but usually can only look at one at a time; however, once the first 3 have arrived you can order the next 3 immediately, so if you have a lot of short things to look at you can do it fairly efficiently.
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London Metropolitan Archives (formerly the Greater London Record Office)
Open: MWF 9:30-4:45, TuTh 9:30-7:30.
London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
London EC1R 0HB
020 7332 3820
This one is not of too much help to the medievalist. Their collection is primarily early modern and modern records of the greater London area; not the City per se but more the surroundings. There are a few very late medieval records from the Archdeaconry Court of Surrey, but not much else.
How to get there: Take the Circle, Hammersmith, or Metropolitan line to Farringdon. Walk north up the Farringdon Road to Bowling Green Lane (it's perhaps a 10-minute walk; you'll pass the buildings of the Guardian on the left along the way). There are signs from there to the archive, but you turn right on Bowling Green Lane, then left on Northampton Road, which curves sharply right after a little ways. The London Metropolitan Archives are #40, on the right-hand side, nearly at the end of the block. Security will search your bags as you enter. Go up to the first floor, where you need to sign in at the desk with your name and subject of research. There is a common room with vending machines and lockers. Like those at the PRO these lockers take a pound coin which is refunded. There are secure coat racks as well; I didn't use them so I'm not sure how they operate. Personal computers are permitted. There are lots of microfilm readers but they're not particularly good, and because lots of people research family history here they tend to be crowded. I found what I needed without assistance but there are several assistance desks. If you need to look at original documents (not too likely as the earliest stuff all seems to be microfilmed), they are ordered by filling out slips which are collected twice an hour on the quarter hours until 4:15 or 5:45 depending on whether it's a late opening day. Restrooms are next to the common room.
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Family Records Centre
Open: MWF 9:00-5:00, Tu 10:00-7:00, Th 9:00-7:00, Sa 9:30-5:00
Family Records Centre
1 Myddelton Street
London EC1R 1UW
020 392 5300 (this one I'm really not sure of)
This is an offshoot of the Public Record Office and The Office for National Statistics. I didn't find it very useful; mostly for a medievalist I don't think it would be, as the only documents for the relevant period are from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, on microfilm, which are also available at Kew, and Kew has lots of other stuff also. However, if you happen to be in the area it might be worth a visit, or if you want to check those records and don't have your reader's card for the PRO with you.
How to get there: Follow the directions to the London Metropolitan Archives, except go to the end of Northampton Road and turn left onto (I think) Skinner Street, then right onto Myddelton Street. The FRC is at 1 Myddelton Street; the entrance is (oddly) about halfway along the block, on the left. Security checks your bags. The various records are, I believe, on different floors, but the wills are on the first floor. You go through a library-type security gate and are issued a seat tag which you hang around your neck.
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Open: MTWTh 9:00-6:00, FSa 9:30-4:30
Reader Services Enquiries
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
tel: 020 7412 7676 (general enquiries)
I didn't go here, so I can't really give any information about it, other than the fact that most of their catalogs are on-line and so can be searched before going there. I do know that they have both manuscripts and a very extensive English-language research library. Grad students and faculty can get five-year passes, but need to provide one of the following: a letter from their institution, on headed paper from someone in a position of authority, signed and dated, which should confirm the name of the applicant, status and level of the course studied, and an outline of the reasons for needing to use the Library; OR a faculty/staff card, or contract; OR a postgraduate student card, an acceptance letter or a registration form which clearly states the level of the course. You can apply in advance (and this is probably a good idea). See their website (go to Services, then Reading Rooms, then the link to Reader Admissions Office).
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Institute for Historical Research
Open: MTuWThF, 9:00-8:45; Sa 9:00-4:45
Institute for Historical Research
University of London
Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
020 7862 8740
This is a good place to check out secondary literature rather than archival sources. You'll need a letter from the department or the DGS or some such verifying that you're a student scholar, etc. There's a form to fill out, then they give you a temporary pass; the proper card takes a week or so to come through. I believe as a student you can get a half-year membership for about £25; some institutions seem to have a deal with the IHR that lets a certain number of faculty or graduate students from that institution have a free membership. Their membership year begins on August 1, and isn't flexible, so if you go in mid-July it's not worth it. All sorts of printed sources, some secondary materials, London University theses, etc.
How to get there: take the Piccadilly line to Russell Square. Go along Bernard Street to Russell Square itself and continue along the north side of the square (across the street from it, actually) until you bump into the back side of the University of London. Make your way through the campus (it's only one block wide) to Malet Street. What you're looking for is Senate House, and depending on which way you aim through the campus you may hit it along the way. If you bear left along an island at the corner of Russell Square, and go through a service-type driveway on the left side of which is Stewart House, then Senate House will be straight ahead of you, before you get to Malet Street. The Institute for Historical Research reception is on the ground floor on the north side of the center of the building. Tell the fellow there that you are a visiting American student and need to apply for membership, and he'll direct you to the appropriate office. After that it's quite easy. They have computer facilities with Telnet access, I gather, but I didn't use it. After the first time just show your slip or put your card through the barcode reader at reception and go straight in. Women's restroom is on the third floor near the staircase. There's also a common room where one can eat or drink, on the ground floor.
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Compiled by Kristen M. Burkholder
Created on March 28, 2001; information current as of that date unless otherwise noted.
Links updated May 9, 2004.
Send comments, suggestions and submissions to Jessica Vernieri
Copyright (c) 2001 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@h-net.msu.edu.
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