Archive of an Archivist

The Warwickshire County Record Office search room. Shire Hall, Warwick, 1959.
Image courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office

From 1950 to 1955 the County Archivist, Anthony Wood, kept an office diary. He had been appointed in 1946 when the Office was re-opened after the war and he set about creating an archives service in the County.

One of the first things he did was to visit the old established County families, many of whose collections later came to the Office. The diary gives glimpses into a vanished world of post-war austerity, visits to unheated Country Houses and a searchroom that rarely saw more than half a dozen visitors a week.

5 August 1951

Went over to Coughton. [We were shown] – inter alia – the family records. Most are in a small room (or large cupboard) off the staircase in the south wing, which appears dry and airy. Of these the majority are in good boxes, though there are bundles of deeds on some open shelves, which are apparently sorted under places. [We were] told… that the Coughton title deeds were stored by her lawyers in a cellar under Chancery Lane and perished in the blitz. In addition there were numbers of letters in a chest of drawers in a room called “the Tribune”.

14 August 1951

A rather surprising event deserves record. When going into the Records Library at the end of the day, I found one of the readers apparently trying to climb a bookcase. I looked extremely surprised and he said, “Don’t be surprised, I am only doing my exercises as I have adhesions in my left arm”.

12 November 1951

I complained to… the Architect’s department about the condition of the bottom passage – ashes, paper, scraps of food. He is arranging with his contractor… that the ashes be collected every Tuesday and Friday.

20 February 1952

Went over to Tamworth by car and met Miss Gollancz of Staffordshire. We visited first the offices of Messrs. Argyle and Son: there were some bundles of deeds temporarily in the cellar which might be of interest. Also a tin boxful of deeds in bad condition, relating to the Staffordshire family of Levett. Thence… to Messrs Nevill, Jennings and Clifford. Mr. Jennings took some trouble delving out some of what he had. He talked about a cellarful and Miss Gollancz will arrange to go back in about 3 weeks’ time and I will meet her there. There was some Warwickshire material in both offices.

When I asked a clerk whether he had any old Warwickshire deeds he said, ‘I believe there is some lampshade stuff”. I rescued a bundle: the remark was sinister.

23 June 1952

Arranged… that Hughes, Reynolds of this section and the boy from the general office should begin cleaning the Augean stables in 5, Northgate Street. There is a mass of files, superfluous reports and other paper flung on the floor of one of the rooms when the attics were being repainted inside. We agreed that the three should work together without prejudice to the question of who was really responsible for looking after these files and that they would be kept on the job at the rate of an hour a day for a month, if necessary.

From the diaries of Anthony Wood held at Warwickshire County Record Office, reference CR2465.

This article was originally published in the Friends of the Warwickshire County Record Office Newsletter, August 1989, and is reproduced with their permission.

More from Warwick