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Westminster Archives Centre, Open House London, 18th September

From: Eva
Category: Other stuff
Date: 19 September 2004


The friendliest people work at Westminster Archives Centre on a Saturday. This red brick building was purpose built, and it's design reflects good solutions to the problems of supplying a flood proof, fireproof, stable environment for delicate artefacts in need of restoration and archiving. Unfortunately the building itself does not reflect inspirational aesthetics, but today this mattered not an inky smudge as the quality of its contents blew me away. First up the employee acting as occasional tour guide showed us a map of London covered with big red circles - a map of where all the WWII bombs had been dropped. Next we were shown the specially designed paper conservation area and our guide casually handled centuries old manuscripts - deeds and apprenticeship agreements. To follow were so many fantastic maps, books, photographs and carefully hand painted notes that I would be gushing for a long time if I tried to describe everything I saw that amazed me. I will just point out that the archives include many posters for performing acts from the 19th century in pristine condition, including several advertising a rhinoceros that did something very impressive that I've forgotten now. I examined a map from 1746 and finally realised why Paradise Walk in Lambeth has this name, even though it's a grim dark street - because at that time it was a country road surrounded by orchards and meadows.

Possibly because the guide to London Open House described the Westminster Archives Centre as a "modern red brick building" it didn't attract as many visitors as the organisers were prepared for, which is a big shame. I was told The Gerkin had a three hour queue of people waiting to get in, which is silly. After our tour at the Archive a very friendly lady at the door insisted we have tea and biscuits. Even though we were keen to get going we were so touched by the effort and general niceness that we stayed chatting to her for quite a while. The Westminster Archives Centre is open to the public, and I'm already trying to find excuses to do some research there. I suspect tea and bics may not always be on the ready but nonetheless I strongly recommend visiting this archive.


Their address: Westminster Archives Centre 10 St Ann's Street, SW1

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