12 March 2018

A visit to the Parliamentary Archives

Last week I was lucky enough to be able go on one of the last tours* of The Parliamentary Archives within the Palace of Westminster.
Accessing the building involves a security bag check which is just like at an airport including a bit of frisking if you are lucky. Sadly I missed out on that pleasure having worn a bra that didn't set the machine off.
The tour group went in small batches up to the research floor because the lift can only take a max of six people. We then navigated some small utilitarian passages which really don't look like they ought to be part of a tour to reach another equally tiny lift. But it was ages arriving so our sub-group agreed to walk up the spiral staircase.

I am pretty sure most of the others also hadn't heard that it was an 8-floor climb! Oof! Though stopping to take photos helped!
We finally reached a room near the top of Victoria Tower. When the tower was constructed it was the tallest secular building in the world and the 'show and tell' room affords some marvellous views through the leaded glass windows and the tracery to the north and west of London.

On the table there was a marvellous selection of well-presented historic documents and large heavy tomes. These included notes from Lloyd George, directories of noble families and petitions showing wonderful signatures or symbols indicating how some people could not at that time write.

And then back out to the spiral stairs to look down through the well. This is the view we sometimes see on TV when the Queen arrives here:
The well is not always open like this – a horizontal sliding 'door' is usually in place at the bottom edge. The third image shows part of a framed pic on the wall at that level – a section a 12th century stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral by Simon De Montfort – I love the colours.
And then to the the famous archive room with all the document rolls – I practically hyper-ventillated with excitement as I entered the room. Wow!
Each roll is date tagged by sovereign age (that's what all those little pink, yellow and green squares are in the pics below) and some of them are HUGE. I mean long. Very long. One is half a mile long! I wonder how much it weighs?

A few special documents and books were chosen to show us, and these included some famous historical names:

Henry VIII to the left and his daughter Elizabeth I to the right. The middle image shows how beautiful some of the books in the archive are – just look at the lovely handwriting – the page on the top is an addendum – they just didn't scribble or annotate onto the  original – they wrote it all out again as an attachment
What a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.

*The archive is a valuable resource for anyone delving into the past. The physical archive (the books and scrolls etc) will be moving soon whilst the facility is overhauled, however the database and research facilities will still be available – I think I've got that right – click here to find out more.

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Thanks, Jane