J D Davies

Repository Bingo, Part 1

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the start of my research into the seventeenth century navy – or at least, the formal, funded, full-time student start, as I’d been tentatively examining the subject during the previous couple of years, when I was still teaching in Cornwall. Apart from the fact that realising it’s been thirty years is making me feel really, really old, one of the great pleasures of spending all that time on research has been that it’s enabled me to work in some of Britain’s (and the world’s) greatest repositories and libraries. So I thought one of the things I’d do to celebrate my ‘thirtieth’ is to share my experiences of those institutions – their good points, their quirks, and their sheer infuriating inanities. I’ve also visited very many of the local archives and record offices in Britain, from Perth to Truro and from Haverfordwest to Norwich, so next week I’ll try to produce a highly personal ‘top five’ (or possibly ten). I won’t produce my bottom five on the grounds that I may well want to work in those places again and don’t want to be banned…

So here we go: in alphabetical order, just so that nobody thinks this is in some sort of pecking order, here’s my ‘rough guide’ to ten places where I’ve spent many, many hours during the last thirty years. Just one or two good or bad points about each, but in the case of some of them, I could go on and on about the bad points. And on. And on. (For example, readers will note that I’ve passed no comment on the staff of individual institutions, again on the basis that I really do want to visit them again. But with hand on heart, I can say that nine of these repositories have staff who are unfailingly courteous, helpful and efficient. The tenth seems to have recruited all the finalists from the Britain’s Grumpiest Librarian and Archivist Competition. I leave it to regular users of these institutions to speculate on which that might be; as the old saying goes, ‘no names, no pack drill’.)