County record office
In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 the term county record office usually refers to a local authority repository, also called a County Archives. Such repositories employ specialist staff to administer and conserve the historic and the semi-current records of the parent body. They usually also preserve written materials from a great variety of independent local organisations, churches and schools, prominent families and their estates, businesses, solicitors' offices and ordinary private individuals. Archives may have been acquired either through donation or (more generally) by deposit on long-term loan. Local authorities in certain larger cities sometimes administer their own separate city record office, operating along similar lines. Archive repositories are frequently - but by no means exclusively - used by local and family historians for the purposes of original research, since many records can very often have a continuing administrative or legal significance.


A record office will typically include public searchrooms (including reference books, archive catalogues and other finding aids), environmentally-controlled strongrooms, administrative offices, and quite often small exhibition areas together with a conservation room for the specialist repair of documents. Searchrooms are generally open at their advertised times without charge, although many offices operate a reader's ticket system. Some of them, but not all, operate a fee-paying postal service for those who are unable to make personal research visits. All county record offices attempt to work in accordance with the appropriate official British Standard.

Historical development of the UK Archive Network

The earliest county record office in the modern sense was the Bedfordshire Record Office, established by George Herbert Fowler
George Herbert Fowler
George Herbert Fowler was an English zoologist, historian and archivist.Fowler was educated at, Eton College and Keble College, Oxford. From 1887 to 1889 he was assistant to E. Ray Lankester at University College, London...

 in 1913. To some extent it was operating within established traditions set by the London-based Public Record Office
Public Record Office
The Public Record Office of the United Kingdom is one of the three organisations that make up the National Archives...

 or National Archives, which first opened in 1838, or by other repositories overseas. Although the statutory operation of such county record offices under the Local Government (Records) Act 1962 was permissive rather than mandatory, the network has gradually expanded. It now includes repositories - which operate largely independently of each other - throughout the whole of England and Wales (the most recent being Powys Archives, opened in the 1980s). Often the foundations of many of the earlier collections were the extensive surviving archives originating from a county's Quarter Sessions
Quarter Sessions
The Courts of Quarter Sessions or Quarter Sessions were local courts traditionally held at four set times each year in the United Kingdom and other countries in the former British Empire...

. There are also many broadly similar repositories in Scotland, Ireland, and overseas. To varying extents they will also help with the care of the county's semi-current or “Modern Records” using Records Management
Records Management
Records management, or RM, is the practice of maintaining the records of an organization from the time they are created up to their eventual disposal...

 principles, as well as with the selection and preservation of today's records (both paper and digital) for future generations.

During the 19th and 20th centuries some older libraries had also begun to maintain Archive collections from their local area, although their facilities and the scope of their collections could vary considerably - as might their official legal status. There are often overlaps between local studies and record office collections, particularly with respect to printed ephemera, maps, photographs, old newspapers and local reference books. A number of record offices now operate in a formal association with one or more of their county’s principal local studies libraries, although the two professions of archivist
An archivist is a professional who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains control over, and provides access to information determined to have long-term value. The information maintained by an archivist can be any form of media...

 and librarian
A librarian is an information professional trained in library and information science, which is the organization and management of information services or materials for those with information needs...

 generally remain quite distinct.

Legal status for holding Public Records and other categories

Public access to central government archives (technically known as Public Records) and by extension to local government records was previously regulated in accordance with instruments such as the Public Records Act 1958
Public Records Act 1958
The Public Records Act 1958 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom forming the main legislation governing public records in the United Kingdom....

 and the Public Records Act 1967
Public Records Act 1967
The Public Records Act 1967 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed during Harold Wilson's Labour government.The Act amended the Public Records Act 1958 by reducing the period whereby public records were closed to the public from fifty years to thirty years, the "thirty year rule"...

. The 1958 Act enabled county repositories to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

 to hold individually specified classes of Public Records - including local court records . Access to material within record offices in England & Wales is now largely regulated by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000
Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that creates a public "right of access" to information held by public authorities. It is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level...

, although these do not necessarily cover privately-deposited items, and closure periods may apply in certain cases .

Since 1929 many county record offices in England have also been designated by the local bishop as a diocesan record office
Diocesan record office
Originally within the United Kingdom the title of Diocesan Record Office would frequently have referred to a church-owned diocesan registry or chancery...

, latterly operating under the terms of the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978. Such record offices are often also formally recognised by the Master of the Rolls
Master of the Rolls
The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the second most senior judge in England and Wales, after the Lord Chief Justice. The Master of the Rolls is the presiding officer of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal...

 as approved repositories for manorial and tithe records (in accordance with the Law of Property Act 1922 and the Tithe Act 1936 (as amended by the Local Government Records Act 1962).

Guides to the contents of record offices

Many county record offices have issued printed guides to their collections, although the addition of new materials can make these go rapidly out of date. Furthermore many offices also have considerable backlogs of uncatalogued materials. From the 1990s onwards an increasing number of offices have launched online catalogues of varying completeness, linked to their respective websites.

An earlier summary of archive repositories, including brief details of the development of each office together with outlines of their principal holdings, is provided by Janet Foster & Julia Sheppard’s “British Archives” (4th edition, 1999) . Select lists for certain specialised categories covering many UK repositories have also been issued by a variety of other publishers, notably the Federation of Family History Societies
Federation of Family History Societies
The Federation of Family History Societies is a United Kingdom-based charitable organisation.Its stated principal aims are "to co-ordinate and assist the work of societies or other bodies interested in family history, genealogy and heraldry; to foster the spirit of mutual co-operation, by...


External links

  • / ARCHON The ARCHON Directory includes contact details for record repositories in the United Kingdom. It also covers institutions elsewhere in the world which have substantial collections of manuscripts noted under the indexes to the National Register of Archives.
  • A2A/Access to Archives A catalogue (incomplete) for selected categories of documents drawn from many record repositories throughout England & Wales. A2A is now linked to the databases of the National Archives, but it is no longer being regularly updated with additional collections .
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