Yesterday to the Public Records Office at Kew in order to begin a new research campaign on subjects in both WW1 and WW2 respectively, this in advance of recce trips upon both to the continent and then informal group tours that I will be making later this year.
I’d guess it has been about eighteen months since I last visited Kew and I’d been warned that much has changed – I’d heard rumours of a re-arranged first (research) floor and all sorts of new amenities and facilities.
Even the approach off the road leading to Kew Bridge had changed. A whole estate of new flats and houses had been built slap-bang in front of the roundabout from which one turns left into the PRO car park. I wondered momentarily whether I might contact the builders’ website just to establish how much these new properties were being advertised at – but then decided not to, seeing as how (whatever it was) I knew wouldn’t be able to afford it and anyway, most probably, Russian oligarchs were buying them up nineteen to the dozen in order to keep them empty and then take long-term advantage of rising property values in the UK.
The interior, which had been as bit drab and run down, however clean and tidy it was kept – in fact, rather as any self-respecting amateur researcher might expect a national archive to be – had suddenly been transformed into a 21st Century wonder.
Clean lines, lots of open spaces and glass-surrounded rooms. Very impressive. There is now a lecture room right on the first floor, and several conference or teaching rooms also. The café area on the ground floor is much more open and large, oozing a healthy atmosphere of calmness and peace.
The website is much more detailed and complicated, which means that an oldie like me will take a bit of time properly getting to grips with it, but no matter about that: I’m sure the outcome will be far better than what went before.
Yesterday’s visit – not that I achieved much of what I had set out to do – was a pleasant eye-opener.
Take a bow those with the vision and balls to conceive of it in the first place; the architects, designers and contractors who created the dream and then realised it; and the staff who, as ever, are wonderfully bookish and helpful.
Lastly, a matter of trivia to report as I wrestled with the new registration system on one of the hundreds of computers available to visitors in the building – I’d been unable to find my three-year reader’s pass (and later found that it had expired anyway) – before standing in line for my mug-shot and the issue of a brand new version.
As I did so, I spotted out of the corner of my eye, a tall and elegant-looking be-suited former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown strolling with an aura of effortlessly charisma towards the reception desk and thence into one of the conference rooms.