Following a period of refurbishment at King’s Lynn Town Hall, the King’s Lynn Borough Archives is now re-open to the public. This week’s blog post, written by Archivist Stacey Kennedy, introduces us to some of the records held in the archives.
King’s Lynn Borough Archives is one of the finest borough collections in the country, dating back to the 1200s, the archive reflects the rich history of King’s Lynn. Examples of records you can find in the archives are royal charters, hall books, freeman and apprenticeship registers, enrolled private deeds, court records, accounts, and registers of deposited (building control) plans.
One of the oldest records in the archives is the King John Charter of 1204 which granted Lynn the right to be a free borough forever. The charter was a milestone in the history of Lynn, providing the legal and economic framework for an already thriving town to continue to develop successfully as an urban community and a commercial centre. Lynn celebrated the 800th anniversary of this charter in 2004 thus it is very important to the town still today. A facsimile of the charter is used in the new Stories of Lynn exhibition, but the original is stored in the archives.
Another prized document in the collection is the Red Register which is the oldest complete paper archival book in the country. Paper was a new technology in early fourteenth-century Europe, when nearly all writing surfaces were made of animal skin. The technology of paper-making had been recently introduced from Arabian and Persian paper makers in the Middle East. The paper was almost certainly imported from continental Europe, and its use by the borough shows medieval Lynn’s character as an ‘early adopter’ of new ideas and technology which it gained through its continental trading connections. The Register recorded the life of the borough: the admission of new burgesses, the elections of the mayor, and the raising of taxes to meet the costs of business and public works ranging from public toilets to the defence of the town. It gives us an insight into fourteenth century Lynn, a facsimile was also used in the new exhibition. Thus as you can see King’s Lynn Borough Archives contains a rich variety of historically important documents which remain in the Town Hall Complex where many of them were created.
The history of the archives
Norfolk Record Office first became involved formally with the archives in 1974, when the King’s Lynn Borough council agreed to become part of the county’s joint records service. The people of King’s Lynn and the borough council felt very strongly that the archives should remain in Lynn and the NRO has worked with the borough council since to jointly administer their care. Prior to the Stories of Lynn project, of which construction began in 2015, the archives were not kept in the optimum environment for them to last long into the future. To determine the right conditions for documents to be kept in, archive professionals look at PD 5454, a professional standard which outlines the environment and facilities archives need to ensure longevity; previous conditions at King’s Lynn did not conform to this. It was therefore recognised that if the records were to remain in King’s Lynn and have a safe future, a new facility needed to be built which led onto the wider Stories of Lynn project.
Stories of Lynn
The Stories of Lynn project created a new exhibition in the undercroft of Trinity Guildhall and enhanced the town hall complex and Saturday Market Place. It was made possible thanks to a grant of £1,850,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £800,000 from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and investments from other funders. The project brings the town’s civic, social, economic and political past to life through the Stories of Lynn exhibition. Based on the object and archival collections stored in the building, an interactive, multi-media exhibition was developed. The exhibition gives community access to the collections housed within the town hall, and acts as a platform for learning about the buildings’ significance to local life.
As part of the project a new strongroom was built which conforms entirely to PD 5454 and the searchroom has been refurbished to enable a much more comfortable visitor experience. The strongroom was built to withstand Lynn’s 1000 year flood risk, has an automatic fire suppression gas system and is conditioned to create the optimum environment for paper and parchment; keeping temperature and relative humidity stable and within the safe ranges outlined in PD 5454, just as Norfolk Record Office has (but on a much smaller scale!) The searchroom comfortably seats up to 10 people viewing original documents and is enhanced by the exposure of 18th-19th century cooking apparatus from when the room was a kitchen for the Town Hall and Gaol House. The searchroom has 4 PCs, which show documents digitized as part of the Stories of Lynn Project, and have access to Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist.
Archivist and Document Production Hours for the King’s Lynn Borough Archives are:
Tuesdays-Fridays 12.30pm-4.30pm (last admission at 4pm)
The first Saturday of each month (excluding public holidays) 10am-2pm
Original documents can only be viewed in the searchroom during these times.
The searchroom and PCs can be accessed during the wider Stories of Lynn opening hours which are:
Seven days a week 10am-4.30pm (last admission at 4pm)
Developments in the service
The Stories of Lynn project has enabled the appointment of a full time member of staff, a first for King’s Lynn Borough Archives. This has been hugely beneficial as previously NRO would send an archivist over one day a week, now the opening hours have been extended but it also means more time can be spent on collection management and outreach to ensure much more access to the collections.
Stories of Lynn has also created a digitization project. Over 20,000 images are planned to be digitized from some of the key Lynn collections such as the charters, hall books, and quarter sessions. These documents will eventually be online for all to see. This will also lead onto a crowdsourcing transcription project, people will be able to view the documents and transcribe them, a fantastic way for people to engage with these fascinating collections and to create really useful and searchable data for the archive.
The primary goal for the project has been to increase access to these significant collections which prior to now were under utilised. With the improved storage conditions, searchroom environment and staff time for collection management and outreach, King’s Lynn’s fascinating borough archives can be showcased in a way they have never been before.