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Parliamentary Archive

Today was our group London trip. On arrival after a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit (thank you Laura), Mari arrived to take us to the Acts room in Victoria Tower. The tower was designed specifically to hold records and is still used for that purpose today. It is currently at about 80% capacity so the acquisition policy is an important management tool in terms of not only quality and diversity but also quantity.

The medieval Palace of Westminster burned to the ground in 1834 and all of the House of Commons documents went up in smoke or were severely water damaged. The records of the House of Lords, stored off site were safe and have been housed in the tower since the new parliament building was completed around 1870 having taken around 30 years to complete. The Acts Room is a visual treat and this time, although outside our time frame by some considerable years we had the opportunity to look at documents relating to Henry VII and Henry VIII. Having learned much about Henry VIII at school, seeing his signature on a document felt very significant. His ideas and actions were so radical and far reaching they still effect us today.

The team at the Parliamentary archive had things prepared, the original Land Tax Act had been unrolled to the Norwich section. The other documents in the search room related to civic matters, petitions for the building of roads, bridges, the introduction of gas lighting. The names of our commissioners can be found in the Acts granted for these petitions, with four of them having had a hand in the building of the Foundry bridge in Norwich, which can be found at the bottom of Prince of Wales Road which many Norwich residents walk, drive or cycle over on their way to the train station.

There were also plans for a rather ambitious Navigation Cut to join the River Wensum and the River Yare, making a navigation channel available for shipping between Norwich and Lowestoft. Granted Royal Assent it was never built perhaps due to the fast advance of railway engineering and building. The train journey to Lowestoft from Norwich is simply lovely across marshes. In the search room we discussed how such projects would come about. Our commissioners were very likely to be spending time in London, hearing or engaging in conversations about other ambitious civic projects such as road building. With a desire to improve Norwich, whilst also considering the likely returns from their own financial investment their legacy can be seen around plenty of sites in Norwich today.