The Land Act Tax of 1821

This commission builds on existing links between the Norfolk Record Office and the Parliamentary Archive. The Land Tax Act of 1821 is the longest Act held in the Parliamentary Archives and is 348 meters long with an estimated 65,000 names of commissioners, each hand written. The commissioners were the people, usually pillars of society, held responsible for ensuring the collection of the tax and were based across England, Wales and Scotland. In 2009 a group in Norwich called The History Detectives, explored the stories of 5 Norwich commissioners through the Connecting Communities programme. The case study can be viewed here: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/tra…

My job is to now revisit that project, look at the relevant documents, work with the group & the Archive staff to create a digital artist response.

In August I visited the Parliamentary Archives, housed in Victoria Tower, Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). I was taken into the Acts Room where historical Acts of Parliament are stored as they originally would have been in scrolls. This room is a visual feast and I was told it is often photographed and filmed. This kind of backstage tour is one of the privileges of being an artist, from one year to the next I cannot predict what I might be invited to look at and respond to.

As we walked through the House of Lords and House of Commons I realised how I need to read around the Land Act Tax, the history of the Palace of Westminster and what was happening in 1821 – more of that in the next post.



Today I had a behind the scenes tour at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO). Being behind the scenes is something I image most artists relish and I am no exception. Susan, Principal Archivist at NRO was a great tour guide and once in the strong room we talked about the purpose built nature of the building. The previous record office was in the basement of the Norwich Central Library which went up in flames in the 1990’s.

The strong room in which we stood was one of three, all containing documents pertaining to all aspects of Norfolk life and history. I was interested in how the information was organised and if the archive numbering system related in any way to the Dewey library system. There is no connection but there is a standard system but the actual numbering system is up to the individual archive. There are conventions which state what must be included: Title of the Document, Date, Level, Reference, Extent and Archive Creator. Understanding, interpreting and responding to different processes and procedures is what I find so interesting about working in new situations and with people from different knowledge and professional backgrounds.

Susan pulled out a number of document boxes for us to have a look at. One of which included a document which had been looked at by Francis Blomefield who wrote the County History of Norfolk. The documents that Blomefield looked at in the 18th century can be easily identified in the archive as he marked each one with a small circle with a cross inside. This idea of being able to track who has looked at documents has been re-invented (as marking marks are no longer permitted!) – each document taken from the archive strong room is recorded together with the name of the person requesting it. In the future someone may be interested in the names and number of people who have viewed a document in addition to the content.