National Archives - Kew Tips?

Discussion in 'Research Material' started by von Poop, Oct 2, 2008.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I haven't done this, but I have always assumed from DISCOVERY that a series is all of the files with the same initial code, before the slash.

    WO 215/432 and WO215/531 are in the WO 215 series.

    Certainly, the full references are catalogued as Sub-Series, so that would be consistent.

    Please somebody correct me if I've got the wrong end of the stick.

    I've just found one document that cites the following:

    If you wish to research several documents from the same catalogue series, for example from FO 371
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2022
    MongoUK likes this.
  2. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    That's indeed correct. The letters are the department code, e.g. FO - Foreign Office, WO - War Office, etc.

    The first number group with the letter group is the series: e.g. WO 171

    The next number group is the piece number: WO 171/123 - an individual distinct document, usually used for ordering purposes.

    There can be additional number groups referred to as an 'item': e.g. FO 371/12345/54321
    Items can be inconsistent as to whether it is the actual reference number used to order the item or not. Sometimes the piece number is used, other times the full item number is required. But basically an item is a sub-part of a larger document or file that has been catalogued in its own right. It could be something like an individual escape and evasion report amongst a volume or it could a very large document that has been split into two parts.

    4jonboy, CL1, timuk and 2 others like this.
  3. ChrisR

    ChrisR Senior Member

    There are also some file references ending in /1 or /2. These could be closed extracts - containing material redacted from the parent file. For example AIR 81/1791/1 contains information redacted from AIR 81/1791. Though the parent file would be orderable, an extract would require an FOI request to be made in order to have it assessed for opening.
    CL1 likes this.
  4. Gary Tankard

    Gary Tankard Well-Known Member


    Just spotted an error in my timings - the last order is now at 3pm. I got caught out by that last time as they didn't announce it like they used to.

  5. MongoUK

    MongoUK Junior Member

    Is their website not up to date, Gary?

    Currently shows ordering to 1530 on Mon, Weds and Fri and 1600 for Tues and Thurs?

    Am going on Thursday next week, so would be good to plan :)
  6. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

  7. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    TNA Annual Report 2011-12 contains this statement from the Advisory Council.

    "Public records
    The Advisory Council continued to meet its statutory role of advising the Lord Chancellor on whether public records over 30 years old, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, should be made publicly available. The Advisory Council considered various applications by government departments for the closure of historical records and in many cases, having been provided with more detail, accepted departments’ arguments for closure. The Advisory Council in some instances concluded that the public interest lay in disclosure and therefore the documents were made available at The National Archives.
    As part of our statutory role we have continued to engage with government departments on wider matters relating to Public Records. The Advisory Council has, over the last eight months, been actively involved with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and The National Archives regarding the transfer of the Colonial Administration Files to The National Archives. It was valuable to have the opportunity to hear the views of Professor Tony Badger, the Independent Assessor and, in November, to visit FCO’s record management site at Hanslope Park and discuss with officials the processes involved in the transfer. We welcome the commitment for the open files to be made available by November 2013.
    In 2011-12 The Advisory Council was also consulted on the renewal of the Lord Chancellor’s instrument to retain Public Records under Section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958. We also considered the proposals from departments regarding their processes on requesting the closure or retention of sets of records."

    See also following annual reports for further updates from the Advisory Council.

    It is usually claims that papers are covered with asbestos that lead to concern over public safety and withdrawal of documents that have actually been sent to Kew for public view. Many readers at Kew come from abroad to study files in FCO papers. Seems a bit daft to cut off the revenue they must bring, if only cash from sales of expensive coffee and cake. I haven't been there since November 2019 so no idea if coffee still on offer.

    Anyway, I am more interested in Kew getting the war crimes investigation files which should be in WO 311, but 90% have never made it.

    The latest available minutes of the Advisory Council are for a meeting last November, see here:

    The board mentioned FCO 141 in April, according to their minutes:

    "4.0 Executive Team Updates
    4.1 The Board received a report on Executive Team activities.
    Action by: VJ
    4.2 An update on record series FCO141 – files relating to the migrated archives – which have been temporarily removed from ordering was provided.
    4.3 At this point, RP joined the meeting.
    4.4 There was a discussion around recruitment and recent comments for civil servants to return to the office, which was causing some concern amongst some staff. The Board noted that flexibility and choice was important in the current recruitment market, particularly for securing digital skills, and that we awaited further direction from DCMS on this.
    4.5 The Board received and noted the Executive Team updates and received assurance on the launch of the Find Case Law service."

    The minutes are here:

    Later Edit.

    The Association of Commonwealth Archivists and Records Managers (ACARM) stated in November 2017:

    "ACARM believes that archives removed from British dependencies on the eve of their independence form an important part of the archival record of the independent states. Ways should be found to secure their repatriation to those states, or to make copies available free of charge." { Note: "The Association has now closed operations, as of February 2021."

    See here:

    Last edited: Jul 2, 2022
  8. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

  9. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member


    Is there anyone still doing War Diary copying at Kew? I have someone who needs 24th LAA/AntiTank Regt RA for 1943, 1944 and 1945. They were in India and Burma so WO172.
  10. Gary Tankard

    Gary Tankard Well-Known Member

    I can copy WDs at Kew when I visit. However, it it likely to be October at the earliest now, thanks to the rail strikes. Also I'd have to ask for a 'deposit' up front before I go - unfortunately a couple of people on this site have asked for diaries to be copied and then subsequently disappeared once I'd done so.
  11. Gary Tankard

    Gary Tankard Well-Known Member

    Has anyone heard anything about when the TNA is going to revert to pre-COVID service? i.e. opening at 9am, document ordering until later and in-house printing service?

    I was down there on Saturday and it seemed they had walled up the printing desk (where you request copies of certain pages i.e. maps) which the cynic in me suggests the COVID restricted services are going to be the new normal.
  12. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Thanks Gary. I am going this week (Tuesday and Wednesday) so will get them then. Is anyone else around those days?
  13. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Can anyone advise what is going on with Kew at the moment. My last visit was in August, my first since Covid, and because my card had expired I had to book a temp slot before getting card renewed. No problem there.

    I'm trying to book a second visit slot but I can't seen to book a particular seat nor camera stand. The booking I placed over a week ago is still on the system but there's been no confirmation email to say that it's gone through. Have I missed something here?
  14. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    It's no longer possible to request a particular seat but if you require a camera stand seat, add a request for it in the additional information box at the end of the order form.

    The order can be edited using this link Return to your booking - book a visit - The National Archives

    You'll need the booking reference number and readers ticket number to access the order. The order form must be completed a week before the booking date. If no files are ordered then the booking is automatically cancelled.

    Aixman, brithm, Old Git and 3 others like this.
  15. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    "The National Archives Trust seeks to change the way audiences engage with the documentary heritage of the UK, opening up new avenues for the general public to discover archives."

    More like opening up dead ends.

    The National Archives Trust - Our work

    ( My computer says the site is not secure.)
  16. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Irony is dead.

    All the best

    papiermache likes this.
  17. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Thanks for that Lee, it seems a little bit non-sensical to remove the seating choice and expect us to know that we need to request a camera stand in the comments section. I suppose I can also request a specific seat via the same comments section box and just hope that they honour the request. I did use that box to ask if a file I was re-requesting had been 'fixed'. When I had it in August it had completely the wrong contents in it, as did a few others that were in the same box. Seemed like the archivist was on the Sherry the day they itemised those files! Not had a reply about that either. At this point I'm thinking it might be an idea to relocate TNA to White City Stadium.
    PsyWar.Org and papiermache like this.
  18. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    Funny you should say that:

    "2.0 Strategic Discussion: Strategic Approach to Physical Storage
    2.1 The Board received a paper and presentation providing an overview of The National Archives’ medium and long-term physical storage challenges, putting these in the context of wider strategic opportunities and The National Archives’ direction of travel."

    See minutes of the Non-Executive Directors meeting last May:

    Kew has already gone to the dogs... ( I'll get my coat.)

    I read somewhere in old minutes that they were thinking of moving Kew to Liverpool or near the Winsford salt mines, but I can't find the reference.

    "One of the more well-known DeepStore customers is The National Archives, for whom DeepStore manages public records."

    History Of The Salt Mine - DeepStore
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2022
    4jonboy likes this.
  19. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Why do they persist with this pretence that advanced digital skills are required to scan and upload documents?

    Personally, I have zero experience or background in this, but I am confident that I would need about a week to figure out the mechanics and come up with a system that produces better results. A good friend of mine who works in this area opines it's simply that they don't want to commit resources to the task—it isn't actually hard.

    They have a functioning website. They have (or could generate) a database of past file requests to show the popularity of each reference code. They have experience in scanning and uploading—we have seen the limited but acceptable fruits of it on Discovery.

    If they wanted an improvement, they could purchase off-the-shelf software to turn the typed scans into digital text on an experimental basis. That U.A.E. archive online is imperfect, but it has all the features that Kew should have—using documents sourced from our National Archives!

    All they need is a pile of cash to pay for the (only semi-skilled) labour involved. If they started with the most popular files (as they have with Cabinet Papers and Award Citations), they'd immediately reduce footfall on the physical site which would bring incremental savings across the board.

    Waiting for a full-orchestra digital strategy with guaranteed funding to 'do the lot' is like waiting for Doomsday—there's no indication it will arrive soon, and it may never arrive at all. I fear deep down that they're looking for a chance to flog scanning and access rights to FMP or another private concern and then stick some kind of public partnership badge on the final product to justify charging for the service.

    Do it yourself: it's all a matter of time and money and the best time to start was yesterday.

    Crack on!
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2022
    Skoyen89 and papiermache like this.
  20. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    They're just going back to the question hoping to get an answer that doesn't involve investing actual money.

    That this isn't an issue at all from a technical perspective has been amply demonstrated, e.g. with the BA-MA digitilisation, which turns out superb quality digital material, or the Russo-German archive project.

    No idea what NARA is like, can never find anything there, as the search engine is pants.

    All the best


Share This Page