It’s a pleasure today to wish a happy centenary to Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service which – as Bedfordshire Record Office – was the first ever county record office to be founded in Britain, in 1913. As any archive student knows, this foundation was the start of a network of county-based archive services which came to form the backbone of local archive provision in the UK.
…Except any archive student also knows, it’s a bit more complicated than that!
By 1913, there were already many local institutions deeply involved in preserving local records. Some were within local authorities themselves – the clerks of the peace and those who cared for city and borough muniments. Local public libraries collected important historical documents. And in some areas, antiquarian, archaeological and records societies were providing a third sector solution, collecting and preserving their local history through voluntary effort. 1 The solution that Bedfordshire adopted, of a county records committee which evolved into a record office run by the County Council, was by no means the only solution. (Hertfordshire actually got there first with the records committee model, though they don’t claim to have had the same unbroken institutional history.)
- 1. This is a very brief summary of the analysis made by Elizabeth Shepherd in her Archives and Archivists in 20th Century England (Ashgate: 2009), pp 95-102. ^