Our first outing of the year was an evening visit to the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich, where our guides Heather Marshall and Bruce Martin took it in turns to tell us something of the work they do. It is their responsibility to maintain and look after original documents from many different sources, including published works like histories, poetry and newspapers, maps and charters, wills and letters, and to get them out on request for visitors to see. Items can even be brought down from the strong room to be placed on stands and cushions on large tables in the map room or the hall of the Record Office for people to examine.
Many of these documents are very old and fragile, and have to be kept in controlled conditions in the strong room, protected by large fire doors where the temperature and humidity levels are constant, so that the records don’t crumble away or go mouldy. We were allowed to enter the strong room where Heather showed us some ancient maps of the area, some of them in huge cylinder-shaped leather boxes. We saw copies of the local Ipswich paper all bound in volumes and going back two or three hundred years. One of the oldest documents was a town charter for Ipswich drawn up in the time of Henry I and copied out by monks on thick manuscript, with a huge seal at the bottom and illuminated letters at the top.
Some records have been photographed and transferred to micro-fiches which can be accessed on screens that can be scrolled through so that you can examine a particular Census or Parish document.
Capel Ladies were made very welcome by Heather and Bruce, who had brought out a number of records, maps and documents to do with Capel, from old maps of the village to the school Log Book, and we spent a most interesting time poring over them all. So much so, in fact, that before we knew it the time was up and we had to leave. I’m sure that some of us will return to the Record Office at some point to carry on where we left off – and to probe further into Suffolk’s fascinating history.
(The Record Office is open every day except Sundays, Wednesdays and Bank Holidays, from 9.30 – 4.30 p.m., and access is free of charge, although you will have to sign in when you visit and you need proof of identity with you.)