institutions, including the British Museum Manuscripts Department and the
Public Record Office, until local archives emerged after the 1890s. In the 19th
and early 20th centuries Public Record Office staff were recruited with general
historical and classical skills and education and underwent in-house training.
They often did not see themselves as archivists but rather as historians, editors
and researchers. There were few employment opportunities outside the Public
Record Office for archivists until the 20th century, when local government
archives began to develop. Specialist and business archives did not emerge
strongly until the 1960s. It can be argued that England has a network of well-
established archives but not an integrated national archives service.
A couple of stories illustrate this theme. The first is about that uniquely English
contribution, the establishment of the National Register of Archives in 1945.
The Register was one of the recommendations of the Master of the Rolls Archives
Committee which considered the measures needed for the reconstruction of
archives after the Second World War. It was to bring together the results of the
survey work which had been carried out by the Royal Commission for Historical
Manuscripts since 1869 and identify archives in the localities still in need of
description. Local committees would be formed to gather information about
municipal, ecclesiastical, parochial and business archives. An Advisory Board
was established and a Registrar appointed, initially for two years. Lt. Colonel
George Malet was the first Registrar.14 He steered the Board through the
intricacies of index cards, investigating a type of 'paramount card' which could be
mechanically sorted, and promoted the Register as 'a vast Guide to Manuscript
Sources covering the needs not only of professional historians but of enquirers
seeking information in every field'. Malet began to establish local committees.
By 1951 there were 40 county committees and he had addressed many of their
meetings, estimating that he had travelled over 30,000 miles for the Register.
The meetings caused great local interest (in Brighton over 600 people attended)
and 'in at least two instances this has been the decisive factor in inducing
the local authority to appoint an archivist'. Malet quickly realised that the
undertaking was extensive and warned that it 'might therefore take longer than
expected'. Of course, the Register is still going in 2010.
The second story is from an English county. Local initiatives sometimes benefited
from the national framework, but were more often the result of individual
enthusiasms. The 1880s saw burgeoning interest in local record publications, the
foundation of local antiquarian and record societies and a growth in the study
of local history and of genealogy. Archaeological societies collected manuscripts
and set up libraries and museums. The 'great revolution in academic history'
was driven by printed historical sources (such as the Public Record Office's Rolls
Series from 1858) and contributed to a more analytical approach to sources and
their management.15 Local authorities, in a period of change, became aware of
their own history and records.
Files, HMC 1/225, HMC 1/232, HMC 1/233, HMC 1/236 held at TNA, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
15 D. Knowles, Great Historical Enterprises London: Thomas Nelson Sons (1963).