Why moving into a new home really is like moving mountains for West Yorkshire Archive

WITH 10 million documents that could scale almost twice the height of Mount Everest - staff at West Yorkshire Archive Service have quite a task on their hands.

Archivist Helen Walker moving one of the many deeds volumes. Picture James Hardisty

Along with a team of specialist movers, they have begun the enormous job of moving over 100,000 boxes of archival material from its current home at the Registry of Deeds in Newstead Road, Wakefield, just over a mile across the city centre to a new, purpose-built £3.9m building on Kirkgate.

It will be no mean feat - the highly skilled team have been preparing for the move since before funding for the new building was even secured, and the physical transfer of the precious historic documents is expected to take around six months.

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Yesterday, that began, when index volumes for the Registry of Deeds were moved over. It is one of the archive’s most significant collections, with some 12,763 volumes containing 7m extracts of property transactions from 1704 to 1970, and the index volumes provide the “way in” for members of the legal profession and the public who rely on them to research the ownership of property.

Sara Land, Archive Assistant, tying up some of the smaller books. Picture James Hardisty.

The new West Yorkshire History Centre, which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will officially open in the new year, providing specialist secure storage for over 2,107 cubic metres of records, with a large public search room, a state-of-the-art conservation studio and exhibition space.

It’s a world away from the current home of the archive, which is a rabbit warren of small rooms stacked with documents.

Audience engagement and learning coordinator at the archive, Anna Carter, said: “The old building had lots and lots of small strong rooms, where we keep the documents, but our new, purpose-built home has two large depositories that are environmentally controlled, which mean the documents that we look after will last for many, many years to come.

“It has taken a huge amount of planning to get to this point, and every container and shelf has been barcoded so we automatically know where everything is once it’s moved.”

The new West Yorkshire History Centre, Kirkgate, Wakefield. Picture James Hardisty

“Getting the house in order” has also enabled the staff to unearth documents they didn’t know they had, such as original poems, Mrs Carter said. Unsurprisingly, considering it is the third largest local authority archive in Britain, and represents an unparalleled record of the history of the West Riding of Yorkshire and its communities from 1194 to the present day.

Much of the collections are of national significance, such as the massive National Coal Board collection of over 2,000 boxes relating to collieries and coal miners in Wakefield and the south Leeds areas.

The records of the Stanley Royd Mental Health Hospital - which opened in 1818 as part of the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum - were recently awarded international status as part of the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

While the records will be closed to the public until the new centre opens next year, the archive service’s staff will continue to work with local schools, colleges and community groups to help them explore the historical records which have particular interest for them.

Anna Carter helping to move items.

The £3.9m Wakefield History Centre is part of plans to regenerate the Kirkgate area of the city.

A 5.6m project to redevelop and restore Kirkgate Station was completed last year, and a £6m road improvement scheme is due to start later this year to remove the subways and improve pedestrian links between the city centre, Kirkgate and the Waterfront regeneration site.

The Leader of Wakefield Council, Coun Peter Box said: “The completion of the new West Yorkshire History Centre building is another step forward in our regeneration plans for the Kirkgate area. I am looking forward to the new centre opening. It will help to revitalise this key part of our city and encourage further investment into the area.”

Sara Land, Archive Assistant, tying up some of the smaller books. Picture James Hardisty.
The new West Yorkshire History Centre, Kirkgate, Wakefield. Picture James Hardisty
Anna Carter helping to move items.