Last week a group of project volunteers and staff from Sutton Archives took a break from the work at hand to pay a visit to the National Archives at Kew. This amazing facility, formerly the Public Records Office, is the Government’s national archive for England, Wales and the United Kingdom, holding over 1,000 years of the nation’s records for everyone to discover and use. All the archives held at the institution are generated by central government. For our purposes the records of interest held there include war records, census information, information from foreign embassies regarding travel, business interests and deaths and many other historical research tools which are invaluable in researching our sitters. Also, and rather wonderfully, it includes the pre-1911 registrations for copyright made by artists and photographers at Stationers’ Hall, London seeking to protect their work before the introduction of the Copyright Act and assumed copyright. Among the thousands of records held in COPY1 – the name of this amazing collection – are around 30 items registered by Knights-Whittome. These may or may not be items for which we have the glass plates, certainly they have not yet appeared in the plates we have scanned so far, but it is possible that they may appear among the larger format material that we have yet to encounter. The images vary from early theatrical portraits to images of the Royal Family in England and abroad and are each described in long-hand by Knights-Whittome himself who has also signed the registration forms. Copies of all images are affixed to the paperwork.
A very interesting introductory talk by photographic specialist Steven Cable introduced the archives as a whole and more specifically the COPY1 collection to our group and explained the core function and role of the institution. Interestingly not all of us had realised that the National Archives was a repository purely for Government records and that in our own research and for more personal information a local archive or museum may well be a better starting point. Following our talk our party enjoyed a brief if rather hushed time viewing this material in the communal invigilation room before breaking for lunch and an afternoon of research in the reading rooms.
The day was a great success not least for introducing the volunteers (many of whom come on different days) to one another. Everyone who volunteers for the project generally has an interest in family or social history and will hopefully find the knowledge that we picked up on the day useful to them in their own investigations, as well as hopefully benefitting the project. We hope to arrange more days out over the coming year. If you have a couple of hours spare each week and fancy volunteering for the project, based in Sutton, Surrey, then please get in touch with project officer Abby Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are actively looking for additional regular help on certain days – especially with scanning and cataloguing the plates. No experience is required.