Thursday, 27 July 2017

Northamptonshire holds firm on archive fees

Northamptonshire County Council has issued the following statement in response to criticism of its appalling plans to drastically reduce free access to its county archive, and to charge £31.50 an hour for the remainder of the week (see


Northamptonshire County Council is responsible for making sure that limited and reducing local government resources are used as effectively as possible. In the current financial climate, it has no option but to look at how best to remodel service delivery with reduced budgets.

The Archives Service changes to opening hours that will be implemented from 21 August show a commitment to maintaining free public access to archives. The service will continue to be free for on-site visitors from 9am to 1pm Tuesday to Thursday and one Saturday morning each month. 

Customers have said that they most need and want online access to resources; numbers visiting the service in person have fallen dramatically in the past two years. This has been taken into account in this revision to opening hours and the intention is that outside the core opening hours, the service’s limited staff resources will be redirected to the work of digitisation and developing on-line access to archives.

In order to mitigate the impact on research of the changes, the service has in fact extended the times during which people can choose to visit.

These additional hours are chargeable but are offered in order to support researchers and not otherwise.

This is a bold step in difficult times and we seek your support as we work to ensure that researchers can enjoy and learn from our rich collections now and into the future.

COMMENT: This is quite classically a response looking at the accounts and not the point of the service. It is an appalling assault on the right to free access to the county's heritage, already paid for by local taxation. Will they be charging for access to their libraries next? What alternatives were considered? Where was the consultation?

If this plan continues, it may well incentivise other archives to do the same, and utterly devastate the provision for both genealogical and academic research. A petition opposing the plans and calling for a rethink has been set up by Dr. Mary Ann Lund from the University of Leicester. If you do one thing today, please seriously consider signing the petition - it is available at

Here is just one of many comments on the petition:

Archives should be for all. As a specialist curator for the National Trust and as Chairman of the Furniture History Society, both charities, charging scholars and ratepayers for access to historic documents seems a retrograde step, which, if implemented, would set a regrettable precedent. It would go against the wishes of donors and depositors of archives (the National Trust is a major depositor of archives across the country) betraying the natural assumption that access to historic documents would be available to all without charge. Charging over £30 an hour would deter many scholars and younger researchers. It will tarnish the reputation of Northampton.

This really has got the makings of a devastating development for our sector, whether for amateurs or professionals requiring access to archive records. Please sign.

(With thanks to Wendy Archer via email)


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  1. Thanks for posting this, Chris, and the link to my petition. Very well said!
    Dr Mary Ann Lund (University of Leicester)

  2. You are welcome Mary Ann, here's hoping the petition is successful!


  3. Its interesting that Monday's announcement on Facebook stated that the first Saturday of each month between April and October would be 9am-4pm, yet today's announcement states only the morning. Is this an error on their part or have they cut the hours further this week? Someone has enquired about this on their Facebook page but there has so far not been a response.

  4. The Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) has now weighed in also, and isn't at all happy - see

  5. Signed. I want to know what I'd get for that amount per hour. Exclusive use of the researcher I'd hope. What? I would still need to do it all myself??

  6. Signed the petition. I need to go at some point for a full day for archive material that is unlikely to go online. The trip is doable in a day for me, but not viable for just a 4 hour free session, they should have had a least one full day of 'free' opening.

  7. The Northamptonshire Record Office was pleased to co-operate with and have the support of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) in late 2006 :-

    MLA Support Helps Save 600 Year Old Archive

    Through a generous grant by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has helped secure the Cartwright Archive for the people of Northamptonshire and the nation.

    The archive of the Cartwright family of Aynho Park in South Northamptonshire is an exceptionally fine collection of family and estate papers, comprising thousands of documents from the 13th to 20th century. The 600 year old archive is extensively used by local and family historians and reveals much about the Cartwrights and their domestic lives; the history of their lands and the communities whose lives they shaped. Members of the family were public figures, parliamentarians, diplomats and soldiers.

    This outstanding privately owned archive as been in the expert care of the Northamptonshire Record Office, freely available to all since the 1960s. The owners of the collection, offered Northamptonshire County Council first opportunity to raise £300,000 to permanently secure the collection for the nation. Following a vigorous campaign the necessary funds have now been raised, comprising £250,000 (including £50,000 to catalogue and make accessible collection) from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £60,000 from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, £10,000 from the Friends of the National Libraries and £30,000 from the Cartwright of Aynho Charitable Trust.