Centuries-old archives finally get new home in heart of city

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A LONG-AWAITED scheme to house York’s internationally-renowned archives in the heart of the city is set to be given the go-ahead.

The centuries-old archives date back to the medieval period and next week councillors will discuss a planning application to extend the Central Library to house the collection and make it easily accessible to the public.

The archives’ current location in an annexe next to the city’s art gallery was deemed inadequate in a report by the Public Record Office, now the National Archives, in 2000.

The city archive includes records of Richard III and the Minster Plays as well as notes from astronomers, details of societies and institutions and family papers all dating from the 1700s.

York Council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, Coun Sonja Crisp, said: “This will just make a whole world of difference for users to the archives, for residents, for students, for everybody.”

She added she believed that the collection of historic documents that would be accessible to the public was probably the second most important outside of London and claimed many people currently did not realise how extensive the archives were.

One of the main criticisms of the present archive is that it limits access to small numbers of people because of limited resources.

It is hoped that if permission is granted to extend the Central Library and grant listed building consent to carry out the works, many more people will be able to make use of the archive.

A report to members of York Council’s west and city centre area planning sub-committee, which meets on Thursday next week to discuss the proposals, said: “The principle behind the design seeks to draw attention to the function and use of the extension as the repository of the city’s archives.

“The proposed extension forms phase two of the transformation project to convert the city central library in to York Explore by re-locating the city archives to the site and presenting them in an attractive and easily usable form which will help secure the long-term future of the building.”

The authority has asked the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a £1.56m grant and is hoping to hear if it has been successful before the end of the year.

If the application is approved by the HLF it will be used to repair and renovate the upstairs landing and the archives and local history rooms in the Grade II listed building.

As well as offering more hands-on access to the collections for researchers, the project will also provide an extensive programme of exhibitions, displays, walks, group visits and learning sessions tailored to a wide audience.

The council will also work with community organisations across the area covered by York Council to help them create and look after their own archives.

It is hoped that the move will encourage more local groups to permanently preserve their story as part of the city archives, so that we become the story of all of York’s people for all time.

The project will allow the authority to locate all its world-class collections in one place, ready to be used for the next 800 years.

Within the next decade, it is hoped at least 22,000 people will use the collections each year in person – six times the current number.

The Central Library, in Museum Street, is a brick and stone Grade II listed building and occupies a prominent location in the Historic Core Conservation Area.

There has been a long campaign to keep the archives in the city centre so they can be easily accessed by the public.

After the archive was deemed inadequate in 2000 council officers first proposed moving them to a new depository at the York University’s Heslington campus funded by lottery money but it provoked concerns over public access.

joanne.ginley@ypn.co.uk