An update from the Keeper’s Gallery

Be it through the rotating document and facsimile displays, our interactive Turning The Pages features, Education lessons, free guided tours, and family day workshops, the Keeper’s Gallery continues to play a significant part in our public engagement activities.

A recent document rotation has seen the installation of a display about Sarawak, as part of our Empire and Commonwealth section. The display briefly showcases the history of this area when ruled by the Brooke family between 1841 and 1946. A British Protectorate from 1888, administration of the various districts rapidly expanded as rubber, fish and rice export to Britain, the empire and Singapore became vital trading outputs. Independence was granted in 1963 and Sarawak now forms one of the 13 states in the Federation of Malaysia.

The Astana, Kuching, Malaysia 1959

The Astana, Kuching, (Sarawak) Malaysia 1959. Previously the home to the Brooke family (catalogue reference: CO 1069/550)

The Sarawak display also showcases the rich photographic material that can be found within our collections, particularly of the Colonial Office in series CO 1069. Please do see our online collection of such photos.

We also have a display showcasing the 1939 Register, which was released online late last year. The display helps to tell the story of the Register, particularly its use for identity cards, rationing and conscription as well as its subsequent use as part of the NHS Central Register. 65,000 enumerators helped to compile the relevant data, which was recorded on 29 September 1939. Given the loss of the 1931 Census and decision not to take the 1941 version due to the war, the 1939 Register provides the main census type source for historians between 1921 and 1951.

Image of staff working on register for manpower at the Central National Registration Office 1940

Staff working the on 1939 Register for manpower at the Central National Registration Office 1940 (catalogue reference: RG 54/2)

For more information on the 1939 Register and how to search for records of people listed within it, please see our research guide.

Image of Shakespeare's portrait

William Shakespeare’s portrait (catalogue reference: PRO 30/25/205)

2016 will bring many different historical anniversaries and this will provide many opportunities for the Keeper’s Gallery. The 400 year anniversary since William Shakespeare’s death is one we will be engaging with via displays, including documentation showing Shakespeare defaulting on his tax payments as well as images from performances of his plays which were registered at the Stationer’s Company.

As mentioned above, the Keeper’s Gallery is used by our Education service to support their on-site sessions with school groups. Similarly, during school holidays, we try to arrange a family friendly workshops as part of our public events programme, What’s On. The family events are held in the Keeper’s Gallery and the next one scheduled is for 16 February on the subject of Mary I. This exciting workshop will tell her story through a series of miniature portraits, with an opportunity to create your own in a craft session which follows.

The event is free and suitable for ages 5 to 10, starting at 10:30 and finishing up around 12:00. For more information and to register, please see the event page.

If you would like a little more in-depth guide to the Keeper’s Gallery and you are near enough for a convenient visit, why not join us for one of the forthcoming free guided tours. Led by volunteers, these tours of 30 minutes occur roughly every two weeks, starting at 14:00. The guide will talk you through the main features of the Gallery and draw out their favourite displays. There is no need to pre-book for a tour so please just arrive for the dates and times listed below:

  • Wednesday 20 January
  • Thursday 4 February
  • Wednesday 17 February
  • Thursday 3 March
  • Wednesday 16 March

For more information about the Keeper’s Gallery, please see our webpage.



  1. David Matthew says:

    Of course it was only the 1931 Census for England and Wales that was lost, Scotland’s Census will be released in 2032.

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