Ely Part 2: The Cambridgeshire Archives

After our tour of the Cambridge University Library’s remote storage facility and a lovely tearoom lunch, the trainees headed across town to the Cambridgeshire Archives, which hold ‘historic records and other resources relating to Cambridgeshire, the former counties of Huntingdonshire and the Isle of Ely and their communities’.

Housed in an unassuming former bowling alley by the train station, the Archive was light, airy, and very functional. One of the archivists, Sue Sampson, kindly gave us a tour. Because the Archives had only recently been moved into the building from a previous site in Cambridge, the storage area was very thoughtfully laid out with the current collection in mind, and we were struck by how well-suited the space was to its function. The Archives hold materials ranging from the 1205 Huntingdon Borough Charter to nineteenth century enclosure maps to contemporary records to births in the county (in total the materials comprise the weight of 171 elephants, we were informed!). There were spacious, well-equipped separate rooms for conservation and digitization: the Archives use digitization as a revenue stream and tries to prioritize digitizing material for which there is a demand, particularly from websites like Ancestry.com.

We then stopped in to chat with the cataloguing and processing team, who showed us a glimpse of some of the new items being received. The Archives take in a wide range of material relating the history of Cambridgeshire, preserving personal documents as well as institutional ones: at the moment we arrived, the journal of a man who had been evacuated to Cambridgeshire during the Second World War as a child was being catalogued.

After our tour behind the scenes of the Archive, we returned to the reading room, where the research team told us a bit about their jobs. The Cambridgeshire Archives employ three members of staff whose central role is undertaking commissioned work for the Historical Research Service; often the enquiries they address relate to family history and building/home history. When not working on commissions, the research staff has time to undertake their own projects in the Archives that they feel will aid future researchers. This seemed a very impressive service to offer, and a fantastic way to make use of the expertise and knowledge of archive staff.

Many thanks to the staff at the Cambridgeshire Archives for a wonderful visit; what a perfect day out in Ely we had!