This year the Parliamentary Archives will be marking two anniversaries: it is 70 years since our office was set up and 20 years since we began to establish formal procedures for the management of modern records.
Although Parliamentary records have been kept at Westminster since 1497, it wasn't until 1946 that an office within the House of Lords was set up to manage the vast accumulation of documents within the Victoria Tower. Those documents comprised the records of the House of Lords, which prior to the completion of the Victoria Tower in 1860 had been kept in the nearby Jewel Tower and had survived the fire of October 1834. Few records of the House of Commons had survived the 1834 fire; whilst some post fire records were transferred to the Tower in 1927 it was not until 1957 that the older surviving records joined them.
The impetus for the establishment of an office to look after the records in the Victoria Tower was a House of Lords' report in the late 1930's which recommended the recruitment of staff for that purpose. The Second World War delayed the implementation of the recommendations, so it was not until February 1946 that the House of Lords Record Office, as we were known until 2006, came into being. Whilst the establishment of the Record Office owed much to the Clerk of the Parliaments, Sir Henry Badeley, the actual work of the office fell to the holder of the post of Clerk of the Records. The first Clerk, Francis Needham, was appointed in February 1946 but resigned later that year for health reasons and was succeeded by Maurice Bond, who held the post until 1981.
Maurice Bond at his desk, 1954
Bond proceeded to apply professional archiving skills to Parliament's records: the interior of the Victoria Tower was rebuilt and air-conditioning installed and the new repository was brought into operation in July 1963. In addition public access to the records was provided through a Search Room, a programme of document repair was begun and publications were produced.
Harry Cobb, Assistant Clerk of the Records, working in the Victoria Tower c 1957
Subsequent heads of the office have continued Bond's work as well as developing new areas of activity. Twenty years ago, in 1996, we launched a survey of corporate records management in both Houses which has led to the development of policies for the creation, retention and disposal of paper and digital records. These policies are overseen by the Information and Records Management Service (IRMS) within the Archives.
Whilst our fundamental mission remains the same 70 years on - the preservation of Parliament's records and the provision of access to them - the means by which we do that has changed dramatically and the challenges - such as providing online access, and the preservation of digital records - are ever-present but nonetheless exciting.
Image credits: ©Parliamentary Archives