I don’t know about anyone else, but I was pretty daunted when I heard about the transport arrangements around Victoria and Westminster last weekend. With many roads blocked off around the Archives Centre, and promises of many thousands of people flooding the streets to welcome the Pope to London, the prospect of travelling into work on Saturday morning was not a happy one!
We were therefore over the moon to find that enthusiastic Open House participants were not so easily put off! Over 60 people braved the security zone to have a behind-the-scenes peek around the Archives, and to see some of our rarest and most beautiful items close up.
The day went with a real swing, and was a real treat for staff too as we showcased some of our favourite items from the collections. Original Yves Saint Laurent Studio designs from the records of Liberty Ltd attracted a lot of “ooh’s” and “ah’s”, as did the burial record for a certain Elinor Gwin, (better known as Charles II’s mistress Nell Gywn) in the registers of St Martin in the Fields. We were also able to show visitors some 19th century images of the old houses in Drury Lane where Nell had her lodgings.
Another star of the show was our oldest item: an official document issued on behalf of Henry III, granting Westminster Abbey permission to hold a market. This manuscript dates back to 1256!
The tours also offered visitors an opportunity to quiz our expert conservator, Georgia, about her work, and to see some examples of conservation and preservation techniques in our purpose-built conservation studio. Georgia offered visitors lots of helpful tips on how to keep their own prized items spick and span – keep away from light, box to protect from dust, and whatever happens do not repair tears with sellotape!
Don’t worry if you missed the tours this time round: in October and November we’ll be holding a series of four Open Days on specific areas of Westminster, kicking off with Paddington on 9 October. Keep your eyes peeled for posters, or check out our Archives events page for more information and how to book!