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The Public Record Office[1] (abbreviated as PRO, pronounced as three letters and referred to as the PRO), Chancery Lane
Chancery Lane
in the City of London, was the guardian of the national archives of the United Kingdom from 1838 until 2003, when it was merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission to form The National Archives, based at Kew. It was under the control of the Master of the Rolls, a senior judge. The Public Record Office
Public Record Office
still exists as a legal entity, as the enabling legislation has not been modified.[2][3]

Contents

1 History

1.1 19th century 1.2 20th century 1.3 Merger with the Historical Manuscripts Commission

2 Functions of the Office 3 Public access 4 Deputy Keepers and Keepers 5 References 6 Further reading

History[edit]

Surviving part of the Rolls Chapel, now the "Weston Room" of the Maughan Library, King's College London, viewed in 2013

19th century[edit] The Public Record Office
Public Record Office
was established in 1838, to reform the keeping of government and court records which were being held, sometimes in poor conditions, in a variety of places. Some of these were court or departmental archives (established for several centuries) which were well-run and had good or adequate catalogues; others were little more than store-rooms. Many of the professional staff of these individual archives simply continued their existing work in the new institution. Many documents were transferred from the Tower of London
London
and the Chapter House
Chapter House
of Westminster Abbey, though Domesday Book
Domesday Book
was not moved from Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
until 1859, when proper storage had been prepared. The PRO was placed under the control of the Master of the Rolls, a senior judge whose job originally had included responsibility for keeping the records of the Court
Court
of Chancery. Its original premises were the mediaeval Rolls Chapel
Rolls Chapel
(the former Domus Conversorum, a chapel for Jews who had converted to Christianity), on Chancery Lane at the western extremity of the City of London, near the border with the City of Westminster. The first Master of the Rolls to take on this responsibility was Lord Langdale (d.1851) although his Deputy Keeper, the historian Sir Francis Palgrave
Francis Palgrave
(who wrote a voluminous work on ancient writs, many of which were housed in the PRO), had full-time responsibility for running the Office.

The Kew
Kew
building photographed in 2002, shortly before the name change to The National Archives

Until 1852 no right existed for the general public to consult the records freely, even for scholarly purposes, despite the intention of the 1838 Public Record Office
Public Record Office
Act to enable public access. Fees were payable by lawyers who in return were permitted to consult a limited number of documents. These charges were abolished for serious historical and literary researchers after a petition was signed in 1851 by 83 people including Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
and the historians Lord Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle. Between 1851 and 1858 a purpose built archive repository was built next to the Rolls Chapel, to the design of the architect Sir James Pennethorne, and following the Chapel's demolition due to structural unsoundness, was extended onto that original site between 1895 and 1902. Public search rooms were opened in 1866, but the pressure of wider demand led the authorities to restrict the availability of certain classes of document and to favour visitors who were experienced in dealing with historical material. 20th century[edit]

An original cell of the Public Record Office
Public Record Office
at the Maughan Library

The growing size of the archives held by the PRO and by government departments led to the Public Records Act 1958, which sought to avoid the indiscriminate retention of huge numbers of documents by establishing standard selection procedures for the identification of those documents of sufficient historical importance to be kept by the PRO. Even so, growing interest in the records produced a need for the Office to expand, and in 1977 a second building was opened at Kew
Kew
in south-west London. The Kew
Kew
building was expanded in the 1990s and by 1997 all records had been transferred from Chancery Lane
Chancery Lane
either to Kew or to the Family Records Centre
Family Records Centre
in Islington, North London. The Chancery Lane
Chancery Lane
building was acquired by King's College London
King's College London
in 2001, and is now the Maughan Library, the University's largest library. Merger with the Historical Manuscripts Commission[edit] Main article: The National Archives (United Kingdom) In April 2003 the PRO merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission to form The National Archives, which moved from its previous office also located off Chancery Lane, to Kew
Kew
in 2004. The National Archives of Scotland
National Archives of Scotland
and the Public Record Office
Public Record Office
of Northern Ireland were and remain separate institutions. Functions of the Office[edit] The archive held the official collection of records of public business for England, Wales
Wales
and the central UK government, including the records of court proceedings going back to the Middle Ages, and the original manuscript of the Domesday Book. Public access[edit] Under the 1958 act, most documents held by the PRO were kept "closed" (or secret) for 50 years: under an amending act of 1967 this period was reduced to 30 years (the so-called "thirty year rule"). These provisions changed significantly when the UK's Freedom of Information Act (2000) came into full effect in 2005: the 30 year rule was abolished and closed records in The National Archives became subject to the same access controls as other records of public authorities. Some records do remain closed for longer periods, however: individual census returns, for example, are kept closed for 100 years. In 2002 the PRO set up a website to allow online access to the records of the 1901 census, and was overwhelmed by the numbers of people wanting to access the site. Deputy Keepers and Keepers[edit] From 1838 to 1958 the nominal head of the office, known as the Keeper of the Records, was the Master of the Rolls of the day. The chief executive officer who oversaw the office's day-to-day operations was known as the Deputy Keeper of the Records. Deputy Keepers from 1838 to 1958 were:[4]

1838–1861: Sir Francis Palgrave 1861–1878: (Sir) Thomas Duffus Hardy 1878–1886: (Sir) William Hardy 1886–1926: (Sir) Henry Maxwell Lyte 1926–1938: Alfred Edward Stamp 1938–1947: (Sir) Cyril Thomas Flower 1947–1954: (Sir) Hilary Jenkinson 1954–1958: (Sir) David Lewis Evans

The 1958 act transferred responsibility for the PRO from the Master of the Rolls to the Lord Chancellor; and the title of the chief executive was changed to Keeper of Public Records. The Keepers from 1958 to 2003 were:

1958–1960: Sir David Lewis Evans[5] 1960–1966: Stephen Wilson 1966–1970: Harold Cottam Johnson[6] 1970–1978: Jeffery Raymond Ede[7] 1978–1982: Alfred Mabbs[8] 1982–1988: Geoffrey Martin[9] 1988–1991: Michael Roper 1991–2003: Sarah Tyacke (became Chief Executive of The National Archives, and retired 2005)[10]

References[edit]

^ Not "Public Records Office" ^ "Freedom of Information Act 2000". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 15 June 2017.  ^ "Public Records Act 1958". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 15 June 2017.  ^ Cantwell 1991, pp. 569–70. ^ Ede, J.R. (1987). "David Lewis Evans [obituary]". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 8 (4): 304–6.  ^ Latham, R.E. (1974). "Harold Cottam Johnson, 1903–1973 [obituary]". Archives. 11: 215–7.  ^ Chalmers, Duncan (23 December 2006). "Jeffery Ede: Keeper of Public Records [obituary]". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 January 2013.  ^ "Alfred Mabbs [obituary]". Society of Antiquaries of London. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2013.  ^ Jones, Michael; Crook, David. "Professor Geoffrey Martin, CBE (1928-2007)". Lincoln Record Society. Retrieved 20 January 2013.  ^ "Sarah Tyacke: Biography". Archived from the original on 25 July 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

Cantwell, John D. (1991). The Public Record Office, 1838-1958. London: HMSO. ISBN 0114402248.  Cantwell, John D. (2000). The Public Record Office, 1959-1969. Richmond, Surrey: Public Record Office. ISBN 1873162758.  Lawes, Aidan (1996). Chancery Lane: "The strong box of the Empire" [1377-1977]. Kew: PRO Publications. ISBN 978-1-873162354.  Levine, Philippa (1986). The Amateur and the Professional: antiquarians, historians and archaeologists in Victorian England, 1838–1886. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-30635-3.  Pike, Luke Owen (1907). The Public Records and The Constitution. London: Oxford University Press. 

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 157042679 LCCN: n80126102 ISNI: 0000 0001 2192 9175 GND: 35584-7 SUDOC: 026644495 BNF: cb11885250n (data) ULAN: 500256386 NLA: 35145642

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