It recommended a single central repository for public records and laid the
foundations for the 1838 Act.
Private records were drawn to the government's attention by keen amateurs.
The biographer and antiquarian George Harris suggested at the first Congress
for the Promotion of Social Science in Birmingham in 1857 that private owners
be offered help to catalogue their papers.12 He proposed a survey of private
records, undertaken by special inspectors from the British Museum Manuscripts
Department. Although his proposal was rejected then, Harris persisted and in
1869, a Royal Commission for Historical Manuscripts was appointed.
William Phillimore, a solicitor and editor of the British Record Society who
founded the publishing business Phillimore and Co. in 1897, kept up the
pressure on government, this time for records of local government. In 1889 he
proposed that 'the best means for ensuring the safe custody and preservation of
provincial records' was a Central Record Board to replace the Royal Commission
for Historical Manuscripts and oversee the work of new county record offices,
'established as depositories for local records'.13 The Board, chaired by the Master
of the Rolls, would inspect all depositories, issue 'rules for the construction,
arrangement and maintenance of public record offices', approve the appointment
of local Deputy Keepers of Records and regulate the establishment of new local
archives. Such a dream of a regulated, centralised, national system was never
The strength of UK legislation for different sectors varies from mandatory
legislation for central government records to weaker enabling legislation for
local archives. Limited protection is afforded to local government archives
(by the Local Government (Records) Act 1962 and the Local Government Act
1972), although information policy legislation (data protection and freedom
of information) began to improve legislative provision for records and archives
in the late 20th century. In England legislation has tended to confirm existing
developments rather than drive future expansion. Engagement with policy
makers improved as archivists identified key political issues and sought to show
how archives could contribute to them. In the last two decades of the 20th
century, a strong link developed with ideas of community and individual identity
construction, memory and social inclusion and the role of records in civil rights,
justice, transparency and accountability. New policy developments in the early
21st century offered hope of a stronger future strategy.
A complex and distinct occupation
The second theme is the identification of a complex and distinct occupation.
In England, an identifiable occupation developed after the Public Record Office
building in Chancery Lane was begun in 1851, although it was confined to a few
ELIZABETH SHEPHERD ARCHIVISTS IN 21ST CENTURY EUROPE: EMERGING PROFESSIONALS?
12 Roger Ellis 'The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts: a short history and explanation'
Manuscripts and Men London: HMSO (1969): 6-7.
13 Draft of a Bill entitled an Act for the Preservation of Public and Private Records' 1889; Press cutting 'The
Athenaeum' 13 March 1889; press cutting 'The Reliquary' July 1889 Phillimore miscellanea - preservation of
records, Institute of Historical Research, London.