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Historical documents at the Cambridgeshire Archives are being packaged up ready for the big move

The Cambridgeshire Archives Service holds a wealth of unique historical records and other resources relating to Cambridgeshire, the former counties of Huntingdonshire and the Isle of Ely and their communities.

The Cambridgeshire Archives have been housed in the basement of Shire Hall in Cambridge since 1930. However, following an inspection which concluded that the building was no longer fit for preserving this increasingly fragile collection, they are to be moved to their new home in Ely - previously the bowling alley Strikes on Angel Drove - later this year.

"We've made a start," said Alan Akeroyd, archives manager at Cambridgeshire County Council, of the whole packing up process. "It's going very well, we're on schedule. We've got about six kilometres of records so it's going to take us a good few months to do."

The combined documents weigh a total of 855 tonnes. Alan noted: "We calculated that if you were moving it all with a Mini Cooper, it would take 1,060 journeys, but we're not going to be moving them with a Mini Cooper - we're going to have proper lorries."

On some of the archive's most precious contents, Alan said: "The most important ones here are probably the original maps relating to the draining of the Fens back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

"We've actually got lots of the original drainage maps where they're proposing where the drains should go and how the land will be parcelled up afterwards, and these are proving quite popular at the moment because there's lots of interest currently in trying to recreate what the historical fen used to look like. We do get environmental researchers coming in - because the maps do give an indication of what the pre-drainage fens looked like."

Alan continued: "But our most popular records, of course, are the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials because these enable people to work out their family trees. These records start in 1537 and we've got all the surviving local government records for the county as well.

"It depends on which kind of town or village or manor it is, but they can sometimes go back to the 13th or 14th centuries."

Sue Kemsley, data inputter, packing up some of the documents. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sue Kemsley, data inputter, packing up some of the documents. Picture: Keith Heppell

Alan admits that there is a slight issue with the documents as far as mould is concerned. "The problem mainly is that Shire Hall was never built with long-term archive accommodation in mind," he explained. "So the historical documents are kept in the basement, but of course basement rooms are not environmentally controlled, so they get far too hot in the summer and far too cold in the winter, and we have seen over the years some outbreaks of mould in some of the rooms...

"But this is all why we're building the new archive centre at Ely, because that will have proper environmentally-controlled archive storage. It should be a nice, stable, cool and dry environment."

The team don't want to take anything already infected with mould to the new storage facility, which is why everything is being cleaned and repackaged. Another useful feature of the new premises, not present at Shire Hall, is a fire-suppression system.

"And the whole floor of the store has been raised up by a metre in order to get it above the flood level," said Alan. "We're doing a very belt-and-braces approach so that everything can be looked after for future generations."

Alan says there around 16 or 17 full-time and part-time staff working on the project. "I'm getting stuck in as well, as much as I can," he said. "We've broken it down into little, doable work packages and then we'll get it all done by the summer in time for the move."

The new building is scheduled to be finished by the end of June, and then Alan estimates that it will then be another two or three months to get everything ready. "I suspect we're not going to be opening to the public until the autumn," he said.

The archives will be transported in thousands of archive-standard, acid-free boxes. "We're using barcoding, which is actually quite unusual for an archive service," observed Alan. "Lots of other archive services when they move, they still kind of control it with paper on clipboards and everything. "But because this is an opportunity to go through everything and put everything into new boxes, we're barcoding at the same time - and that means we can tie the barcode in with our catalogue database and we won't lose anything at the far end.

"It is quite an unusual thing for an archive service to use barcodes and we're quite proud of that."

Both Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archives are now closed to the public. Huntingdonshire Archives is scheduled to reopen fully on Monday, June 3, 2019 in its existing location at Huntingdon Library. Cambridgeshire Archives are expected to reopen at its new premises in Ely in the early autumn.

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