It has been a busy and stimulating year for the Archive, which has seen the whole team engaged in a wide range of projects and Middle Temple initiatives, in addition to the ongoing ‘back room’ work of managing, developing, preserving, and understanding the archive and our other historic collections.
The team has been heavily involved in the Inn’s celebrations this year to mark the 450th anniversary of the completion of our Hall. A display was installed in Hall earlier this year showing images of the building throughout its history, and an exhibition is to be mounted in the library for the duration of Michaelmas Term, which will tell the rich and varied story of the Hall through archival records.
In May, we held our first ‘Archive Open Evening’, an event which for the first time gave members the opportunity to see the treasures of the archive up close, learn more about the historic collections, see conservation work in action and explore the archive repository. The evening was a success, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the whole Archive team, and a repeat event is planned.
This year also saw the launch of an Oral History Project: an initiative with the particular aim of gathering stories from marginalised groups which are under-represented in the historical record, to ensure that these can be heard, recorded and passed on as part of a more inclusive history. The first phase, which was launched in LGBTQ+ History Month, has focused on recording interviews with members of the Inn identifying as LGBTQ+. More interviews are being conducted over the summer by Assistant Archivist Francesca Tate.
In addition to these projects, we have provided displays and printed material at a host of Domus events throughout the past year, including the St David’s Day dinner, the Burns’ Night ceilidh, the Academics’ dinner, the Call Celebration event for those Called remotely during the pandemic, and the anniversary event for those Called to the Bar in years ending in 3. Our ‘Archive of the Month’ series, led by Assistant Archivist Victoria Hildreth, has continued to appear on the Inn’s website, with articles on subjects ranging from 17th Century dining, coffee culture, scholarships, the Middle Temple gatehouse and the Temple Fire of 1679. We also worked with the Inn’s Diversity & Inclusion Co-Ordinator on a digital timeline for Black History Month, which looked at the achievements and contributions of Black Middle Templars over 180 years.
We are kept busy by other departments of the Inn, as well as members and Benchers, in answering a very broad range of enquiries, on subjects including buildings and property on Middle Temple Lane, Christmas puddings, links with the City of London, eating and drinking habits at the Inn throughout history, Bar Training regulations, the Temple Church Organ, judicial costume, the Royal Temple Yacht Club, plus routine requests for membership data and legal agreements.
As an article in last year’s edition reported, the Molyneux Terrestrial Globe went on loan to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in May 2022 for a special exhibition on the Tudors. In September, it was safely returned – in impeccable condition – and re-installed in its display case on the gallery floor of the library. The exhibition itself was a huge success and very well-reviewed in the press.
2022 marked the centenary of the first women being Called to the Bar, and as part of our celebrations to mark this occasion the Inn commissioned a new piece of silver, funded from the proceeds of a sale of rarely used silver cutlery. This piece, a Tazza produced by the silversmiths Smith & Harris, was unveiled at a reception in October and installed in the silver display case alongside related items, such as the silver inkstand donated by Helena Normanton and the book of signatures on Call to the Bar opened to that historic Call Night in November 1922. The Tazza was also displayed at the Gala Dinner which was given to mark the occasion.
The end of 2022 also saw the unveiling of a new portrait of one of our Benchers. Master Patricia Edwards, who sadly passed away in 2020, had been extraordinarily generous to the Inn in her will, as well as having given countless hours of her time to the Inn over her years as a Bencher. To honour her contribution, a portrait was commissioned and painted by the artist Mark Roscoe. The portrait now hangs in the Bench corridor beside the Treasurer’s Room and opposite the silver display case.
Our work to ensure that the Inn’s rich heritage and collections are preserved and protected against damage and deterioration – so that they can be enjoyed today and passed on in good condition to future generations – has continued, under the capable leadership of our Conservator, Siobhán Prendergast. The 18th Century cartouche topped with cherub’s head and Lamb & Flag which hangs above the ‘Water Gate’ in the Hall lobby was restored earlier this year, with missing parts replaced and painted to match the whole. The ongoing programme to restore and repair some of the most damaged and vulnerable armorial panels in Hall has continued, with work being undertaken on some of those in the north transept.
A project commenced earlier in the year to renovate the main silver vault to ensure better conditions for this important collection, which has seen Siobhán work with Roland Platts-Mills of the works team to replace damaged felt linings with inert, non-organic and pest-resistant material which absorbs tarnishing chemicals from the atmosphere, providing further protection for the precious items in the vault – as well as looking much smarter. Siobhán has also been working with the Estates team to improve the storage and preservation of the modern collection of architectural plans, and organising conservation work on some of the most fragile and damaged historical plans.
The working practices of the modern-day Middle Temple are now overwhelmingly digital in nature, and our approach to recordkeeping has adapted accordingly. The material which would once have been transferred to the archive as box files, ring-binders or loose papers – or, further back, bound in leather or vellum – is now created, used and retained as PDFs, word-processed documents, spreadsheets or even in databases. Much of this data is vulnerable to digital deterioration known as ‘bit rot’, and file format obsolescence is a daunting problem – who remembers Word Perfect?
In order to address these challenges, we have adopted a digital repository system called ‘Preservica’, which, as well as providing secure and stable storage, includes a range of features to combat these various threats through active digital preservation, to ensure that our digital archives are kept in as good a condition as their physical counterparts. This is vital to help ensure that Middle Temple members and staff in future generations will have access to a robust, representative and reliable record of the present day.
Fran has taken the lead on all things relating to digital records and has been busy ensuring that key material is being captured routinely and dealing with the processing and management of the increasing volume of electronic material we are beginning to receive from other departments. She has also spearheaded an effort to ensure that data stored on vulnerable and deteriorating physical media such as CDs and floppy drives can be retrieved and secured within Preservica before it is too late.
In addition to these projects, the day-to-day bread and butter ‘back-room’ work of the Archive continues. The year has seen a concerted effort to tackle the historic backlog of unprocessed archival material, to catalogue these records and ensure that the information and knowledge which lies within them is accessible – enabling us, and our successors in the Archive to provide a better service to our users for years to come.
In happy news beyond the Archive – one of our Assistant Archivists, Victoria Hildreth, is expecting her second child in November. We wish her and her husband Peter all the best.
Barnaby Bryan studied Philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge, and later qualified as an Archivist at University College London. He has undertaken archival work at various institutions, including Unilever’s corporate archive in Port Sunlight. He joined the Middle Temple as a Project Archivist in 2015, progressing to Assistant Archivist in 2016 before being appointed as the Inn’s Archivist in 2019.