The National Archives, a repository of millions of government and official documents has decided to make its entire digitised archive available for free.
Most people visit the archive in Kew to do their research, but they are also scanning documents and making them available online. Normally you pay a modest fee to download digital copies, but during the lockdown they are making their entire digitised archive available free of charge – with some modest limits.
Only a small fraction of the archive is available as a digital scan, and from experience, usually the document you are most interested in is the one that hasn’t been scanned yet, so off the Kew you go, or pay a scanning fee for the document to be prepared for you.
During the lockdown they wont scan any documents on request, but there’s still many hundreds of thousands of document boxes to download and read.
It’s also a nice way for someone who’s never been to an archive to see how the system works, from the anonymous comfort of home. As any researcher will tell you, opening that box for the first time is an incredibly exciting moment. Will that file you just requested contain a treasure trove of information, or be a total waste of time?
I’ve had times when I opened a box and nearly squealed in excitement at what was in there, to the time I spent ages going though security etc to visit the Parliamentary Archive, only for there be nothing of worth in the file, and embarrassingly had to be asked to let out of the building some 15 minutes after I arrived.
But now you can do some of that research, at the National Archive, for yourself at home.
To access the National Archives, you need to register for a free account here, and then when you are logged in you can search for documents, which if available in downloadable format will be indicated.
There’s a limit of 50 downloads over the next 30 days – the full T&Cs are here.