FEDERATION OF FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETIES

FFHS - supporting family historians for over 40 years

Northamptonshire archives - safe for now

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Red-hot lobbying by family historians and others has halted a plan by Northamptonshire County Council to cut free afternoon access to its record office and impose sky-high charges for much of the week. But there may be more trouble ahead.

Northamptonshire Record Office holds a marvellous collection of archives, which shed light on our heritage locally and further afield. It has enabled vast numbers of researchers to explore their roots and share the resulting stories with their families. Its value was recognised by the County Council as recently as November 2016 in page 4 of "Northamptonshire Heritage Strategy", which states: "The county’s history and heritage should be valued and protected, actively promoted and made accessible to all, now and into the future, so that it becomes a cornerstone of the county’s present and future economic and community development".

The County Council recently announced plans to reduce opening hours for the Record Office so that instead of being open free of charge on three weekdays a week for 8 hours a day, the hours will be cut to just 4 hours a day. Anyone wanting to book to visit at another time of day would each have been charged £31.50 per hour and only allowed to see documents ordered in advance.

Naturally, there was an uproar.

  • In a matter of a day, almost 4,000 people signed a petition on Change.org  
  • Numerous emails reached county councillors, senior officers, MPs and the relevant national bodies, setting out the case for keeping reasonable free access to the archives.
  • BBC Radio Northampton helped to keep local people informed about the issues involved.

As a result, the County Council backed down. The hours of free access will be similar to the previous ones and it has scrapped the charge of £31.50 per hour for people who want to search after 1 pm. Details of what is now to happen are set out on the Record Office website.

Ominously, the County Council has also stated that " there will be a review of the service ahead of the next financial year as part of the budget setting process". So it important that those who use the Record Office continue to do so and, where possible, encourage friends and neighbours to act likewise.

This saga has implications beyond Northamptonshire. The same sort of cuts and charges could be imposed elsewhere - and threaten everyone interested in family and local history. We must all be alert and geared up to campaign when necessary.

Keep in touch

Save Northamptonshire County Record Office - an enthusiastic group on Facebook - is an excellent place to find further information and check on future developments.

Francis Howcutt
FFHS Archives Liaison

8 August 2017

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