Cambridgeshire’s new £5.3m archives set to open in Ely next month
Cambridgeshire’s archives are set to become available once more with the new £5.3million record office in Ely being prepared for a grand opening next month.
After a huge effort, construction of the archive centre and the process of moving 855 tons of historical documents from the Shire Hall basement in Cambridge, plus an outstore at Cottenham, has finally been completed.
The move to find new premises was sparked by the National Archives, which found that the accommodation in the basement of Shire Hall was no longer fit for purpose.
The former Strikes bowling alley at The Dock was converted – and contains more than seven miles of shelving within an environmentally controlled space. The flooring is raised by a metre, and plans for the site include an enhanced digitisation suite, so that many more documents can be made available online.
From records of the county council and its predecessors, to original maps relating to the drainage of the fens in the 16th and 17th centuries, the archives contain a treasure trove of historical data. Records of parish churches, businesses and other authorities are also kept.
The most popular records are the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.
All of this had to be transported in acid-free boxes.
Archives manager Alan Akeroyd told the Cambridge Independent: “Before the move everything was in the basement of the Shire Hall.
“It wasn’t environmentally controlled storage there, so the room either got too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. This is the first time all the documents are in the proper controlled environment.
“Archives remain popular and this is partly the result of TV programmes like Who Do You Think You Are?
“We also get people researching the history of their school or pub. This means the world to me. I have been working for the county council for 28 years so to see all the documents now in proper purpose-built accommodation is absolutely thrilling and long overdue.
“This will protect the heritage of Cambridgeshire. People think historical research is only for academics or universities.
“But it is a county council service just like looking after the roads or providing a bin service is. It is very important that the documents created over the centuries remain in the county. It means such a lot, it really does.”
Since all the civil registers of births, marriages and deaths will be stored at Ely, there will also be a meeting room for members of the public to have appointments with registration staff.
The search room will be available for use as a venue for registration ceremonies, but only at times when it is not already in use for archives.
Huntingdonshire Archives will remain at its current location in Huntingdon library, and the Cambridgeshire Collection of local studies material – including newspapers, maps, books and articles – will remain at its current location at Cambridge Central Library.
The earliest mention of archives being stored in the basement at Shire Hall dates from before the Second World War and since then the collections have outgrown the space. The environmental conditions were unsuited to the storage and preservation of archives, with water pipes in the basement occasionally leading to small floods, as recently as April 2015.
The temperature and humidity levels were also too high and mould formed as a result.
More than 44 locations or buildings were identified and explored as possible new homes by the council since 1990.
The Ely site was affordable and adaptable, with on-site parking and good access to public transport and the facilities of the city on hand. Ely train station is a short distance away.
The building was already constructed in two halves. One half contained facilities, windows and utilities that suited public and staff use, while the other half had a level concrete floor, no windows, a useable height and no water pipes or other ducting.
Council members unanimously approved the acquisition of the building in September 2014. Coulson Building Group began work in June 2018, and handed over the building to the county council a year later. The site will even be available for weddings. It is due to open in December on a date to be confirmed.