I’ve just got back from a day at the National Archives in London, where I’ve been doing some research on Portsmouth Airport.
The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive, containing almost 1,000 years of history, with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites. The National Archives’ collection is one of the largest in the world, with 11 million records, from Domesday Book to modern government papers.
I’ve visited the National Archives many times over the years, ever since I first went in search of Admiralty correspondence when researching the compass-making exploits of George Stebbing. Since then I have looked at Second World War unit diaries, the ships logs of HMS Beagle, Hydrographic Office records, Cold War British Army records, and now pre-war and post-war Air Ministry and Treasury documents regarding Portsmouth Airport.
It really is a fascinating place. You can search the Archives complete catalogue online. You order a document or file on a computer terminal, then half an hour or so later it arrives in a double-doored locker with your seat number on it. You then take it to your desk, and leaf through age-old documents that open doors to bygone ages. Some of the documents I’ve looked at have had the handwriting of Winston Churchill himself, or mentioned a certain Mr C. Darwin.
The National Archives are also a great place to do some family history research, and they have all kinds of records available to look at. Some of the most common records, especially ones that many people want to look at, are on microfiche or microfilm, to save the original records from getting worn out. Add in a fascinating museum, that includes the Magna Carta and the Domesday Book, a cracking – if a bit overpriced – cafe, and a well stocked Bookshop, and its one of those must-visit places for any Historian.
When you’re sat at the desk reading, you can’t help but look round, and wonder what all the other people are researching – which of them are bestselling authors working on ther latest book? Or, are they simply family history enthusiasts in it for the enjoyment of it? Thats the beauty of researching histor, everyone is getting their hands dirty with real history, and not just getting spoonfed by celebrity historians.