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Historians get raw deal in East End archives

PUBLISHED: 18:27 04 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:04 05 October 2010

RESEARCHERS looking into their family genealogy or into local history are getting a rough deal in the East End, according to a nationwide survey of archives. They get a one-star service from Tower Hamlets archives, while they get 2 stars in neighbouring Hackney and 3 stars in The City, according to the National Archives survey.

By Mike Brooke

RESEARCHERS looking into their family genealogy or into local history are getting a rough deal in the East End, according to a nationwide survey of archives.

They get a one-star service from Tower Hamlets archives, while they manage two stars if their research takes them into neighbouring Hackney or three stars in The City, according to the survey by the National Archives.

The survey published this week reveals "a postcode lottery of quality" across the country.

It follows fears that the East End's archive housed at Mile End's historic Bancroft Library could be broken up and disbursed.

Now the Tory Opposition on Tower Hamlets council are calling for measures to save what they believe is London's second best archive collection after Westminster.

Irreplaceable historical records in some areas run the risk of not surviving for future generations, the National Archive warns.

Tower Hamlets in the survey scored less than half, just 48 per cent, for its overall performance in the league table, compared to 64 per cent in Hackney and 84 per cent in The City.

It was even worse for 'access' at just 42 per cent, alongside Hackney's 58 per cent and The City's 76 per cent.

Preservation and conservation was judged little better, at 44 per cent, compared to 68 and 92 per cent in the neighbouring authorities.

"The survey is predictable but unfortunate," Tower Hamlets Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds told the Advertiser.

"Our archives are second only to Westminster in content and range, thanks to a century of work by dedicated archivists.

"But while Westminster has a staff of 14 to manage its archives, we have only two."

Cllr Golds led a campaign in 2006 to keep the archive collection together when the Bancroft library closed.

It remains for the moment on the first floor of the historic library building in Bancroft-road, once the Mile End municipal vestry hall in the 19th century.

"My fear is that the collection will be broken and dispersed," he added.

"This would be an act of vandalism unequalled in recent years. The archives have been constantly under threat since the library was closed when Canary Wharf Idea Store opened."

Cllr Golds is raising the issue of the archive at the next Tower Hamlets council meeting in April.

Meanwhile, the National Archive survey names London's Metropolitan Archive as the best run in Britain. National Archives' chief Natalie Ceeney said: "There is a lot of work to be done to ensure our heritage is adequately cared for. Local archives are key to preserving our nation's heritage."

But many face problems such as permanent preservation of digital records, improving buildings, sorting out backlogs to be catalogued and improving access, the survey found.

It acknowledges many town halls don't have the resources needed, resulting in lack of staff and storage space as well as cash to buy collections.

mike.brooke@archant.co.uk

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