‘… So what does the ‘M’ stand for…?’

I was asked this question at a recent Archive Ambassadors training session at the Record Office, and had to confess I wasn’t quite sure.

The session was aimed at helping non-professional record-keepers think about ways to organise, reference and catalogue their own archive collections, and we started by looking at the various approaches adopted at the Record Office. I explained that, like car number plates, all our archive collections have unique finding numbers to identify them, and that those deposited before 2000 include the letter M.Simple enough, you might think, but what the M actually stands for has been lost in the mists of time. It is thought it may have been a reference to Hampshire Record Office’s first proper home, referred to as the ‘Muniment Room’ when it opened exactly 70 years ago, in 1947.

Mrs Cottrill

Mrs Cottrill (first County Archivist) supervising the production of a catalogue, 1970 (Southern Sentinel).

The service may be 70 years old this year, but we’ve been looking after archives here in Hampshire for a lot longer than that. The county archives have been cared for by Hampshire County Council since 1889, and before that, by the Quarter Sessions authorities, the County Council’s administrative predecessor, for centuries – mainly because the documents had a practical and legal significance which made their safekeeping important. Of course this remains just as true today.


The repair room in the basement of the Castle Avenue offices, 1970 (Southern Sentinel).

The first reference to a record storage facility appears in the Quarter Sessions order book of 1773, where a decision to build Winchester’s Grand Jury Room includes mention of a new apartment for the county archives with ‘proper shelves and conveniences for depositing the books and records of the county’. The 18th century saw a gradual expansion of these storage facilities, and by the 19th century records were being stored in the basement of the Great Hall.

By the 1940s, the accommodation was full to the gunnels. Privately-owned records were already being placed in the care of the County Council, putting further pressure on storage, so a new home was found in 1947 in former bank premises in Winchester. Expansion was so rapid that it was outgrown almost immediately, so the Record Office moved once again, this time to the County Council’s complex at the Castle.

Ashburton Court search room

The search room at Ashburton Court, 1970 (Southern Sentinel).

The years following saw relocation in several different places at the Castle, not all of them ideal. In 1969 a new computer section finally elbowed the Record Office out, so a new home was found at the church of St Thomas on Southgate Street, which had just been declared redundant. The church was purchased from the Church Commissioners for £5,000 and it was agreed that the building would be converted to a county record office on condition that its exterior appearance would remain unaltered.

St Thomas

St Thomas church

Following an ingenious conversion programme, which included turning the chancel into archive strong rooms and the north aisle into a conservation workshop, the new Record Office opened its doors in May 1972. Despite the obvious maintenance issues inherent to an old church building, St Thomas’s proved a popular home for staff and customers alike for 20 years – and was occasionally visited by bemused tourists thinking they had stumbled upon the Cathedral!

leaving St Thomas

Inside the Record Office within St Thomas and a staff photograph before moving to the new premises, 1993.

The rest, to coin an appropriate phrase, is history. The service took off so well that by the early 1990s we were planning for another move, this time to brand-new, custom-built premises on Sussex Street, our current home.

Record Office 1993

The construction of the current Record Office on Sussex Street, Winchester.

We now house not only the official county archives where it all began, but also records of Hampshire’s many District and Parish Councils, along with a vast (and still growing) range of business, corporate, personal, family and estate records, some written on ancient parchment, others in purely digital form…

Hampshire Record Office today.

Nobody knows what the next 70 years will bring, but no doubt they will be just as eventful!

Did you know…?

• The Record Office is not unlike the TARDIS: it houses 8 miles of archive storage, and once inside you can travel back in time as far as the Anglo-Saxons.
• To make efficient use of space, the archives are stored on mobile racks. Everything is shelved according to its shape and size, not by subject matter or date. We also keep a locations database so we can find everything…
• ‘Muniments’ are documents confirming a person’s title to property. The word comes from the medieval Latin munimentum, meaning title deed.


Adrienne Allen, archivist


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