Why do people keep records? After all, the results of the decision to gather and store thousands â€“ or in our case millions â€“ of documents takes considerable amounts of time, money and space.
The National Archivesâ€™ current role is set out in our Statement of Public Task. Fundamentally, we hold documents for the purposes of:
- accessioning records
- preserving collections
- making collections accessible
This fulfils our legal obligations defined by the Public Record Office Act 1838, Public Records Act 1958 and associated legislation.Â Our records show, however, that the question of the purpose of record keeping was considered long before it was enshrined in law.
Conquest and supremacy
One example of this is SP 9/37/6, a broadside (a piece of parchment printed only on one side) produced in the late 17th century. It lists 13 â€˜Reasons for Preservation of the Records in the Towerâ€™.
Before the foundation of the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane in 1838, the Tower of London was one of a number of locations used to house government documents, specifically those of the Chancery and Exchequer. From the late 14th century onwards the Wakefield Tower was being used to store documents and was known as the Record Tower.
The broadside reveals a very different set of priorities to what we are familiar with today. While there is some sense of the importance of documents as a historical record, the crown was, above all, interested in the preservation of diplomatic treaties and the supremacy of England over its neighbours.
The very first reason given for document preservation is â€˜The Records of the Tower containe the Leagues of Forraigne Princes, and the Treaties with themâ€™, while clause seven moves to â€˜The Title of the Realme of France, and how obtainedâ€™ â€“ even though the reality of this claim had long since been forgotten.
Item six covers Englandâ€™s interest in the Isles of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, while – perhaps most controversially to modern eyes – clauses three and four refer to the â€˜The Homage and Dependency of Scotland upon Englandâ€™ and â€˜The establishment of Ireland in Lawes and Dominionsâ€™. Continue reading »