Researching Early Modern History

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London Metropolitan Archives, RBE 27 – TD Jacobs

A back injury prevented me from going to Kew to finish photographing the French diplomatic correspondence, so I decided to do a prospecting trip to the London Metropolitan Archives instead. I was in search of sources relating to the Lord Mayor’s banquet and procession, and anything pertaining to ambassadors who attended these events, and were sometimes entertained at the expense of the city.

Sources for the London’s seventeenth-century central government are somewhat scarce prior to the Restoration. In fact, on the basis of my Master’s research, I would say that the city records for Antwerp are far more complete. Nevertheless, there are some for London, spread across three primary series, the Court of Common Council ‘Journals;’ the ‘Repertoires’ of the Aldermen; and the ‘Papers.’ The ‘Journals’ and ‘Repertoires’ are generally in annual volumes – although the Common Council’s decisions for 1649-1660 are in just one, indicating that less business was handled over the course of the Interregnum. The ‘Papers’ for the seventeenth century are spread across three files. Both the ‘Journals’ and ‘Repertoires’ for the period have been indexed by subject. The documents themselves, and the indices, are only available on microfilm.

The archive has both traditional microfilm readers, as well as two digital reader/print stations. I had never used a digital scanner before, but I found the software relatively easy to use – and a vast improvement over the old readers. The print function, however, was another matter entirely. The software was buggy and did not permit for enlargement of certain sections, nor would it print with contrast/brightness corrections. I did find a work around in that I could print entire pages if carefully framed, photograph them with my iPhone camera, and then manipulate the images on my computer. Time consuming, yes, but less so than attempting to make complete transcripts. With regard to the indices, I have not yet used them to find things in the ‘Journals’ or the ‘Repertoires’ but the entries are informative in of themselves. It seems that the kind of ceremonial/protocol information that I require is in the ‘Repertoires,’ while more general business decisions concerning the institution was covered in the ‘Journals.’

Bear in mind that if you visit these archives, the access system is comparable to that of the British Museum and the National Archives at Kew. You will be required to produce two pieces of ID. One with your photograph (a passport or national identity card) and one with your address (a utility bill of some kind – paper, not digital!) You should also be prepared to spend a great deal of money if you intend to print items: 20 pence per sheet. This is steep, especially in light of the problems with the software, and the fact that there is a digital copier built into the program. However, it has been disabled, which is unfortunate seeing as how it would greatly reduce the time and effort required to place the records online.

Links:

London Metropolitan Archives

LMA – online catalogue


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