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Roll up, roll up to the Parliamentary Archives

By Paul Slade
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Secret London
Murder Ballads

The Parliamentary Archives in Westminster's Victoria Tower hold more than three million records, stored on 5.5 miles of shelving. Acts of Parliament are stored in the scroll form you see here for any law passed before 1849, and in book form thereafter.
Every Act passed since 1497 can be found here, the oldest being a measure encouraging Norfolk wool workers to take on apprentices as part of Tudor England's 15th Century stimulus package.
The longest scroll held in the Archives is the 1821 Land Tax Act, which lists the names of roughly 65,000 commissioners appointed under that legislation, and unrolls to a length of 348 metres (about 381 yards). It's made from 757 vellum membranes, joined end-to-end in a single scroll.

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Of tally-sticks, Tony Benn and toxic nephews

A friend of mine from a previous life now has a job at the Houses of Parliament here in London, and this summer she arranged for a couple of us to visit the Parliamentary Archives there.
      For an information junkie like me, the trip was a fascinating one, so I'm presenting a couple of the photographs here, together with some of the little nuggets of trivia I picked up there.

* The oldest items in the Archives are eight wooden tally sticks dating from the late 13th Century.
      Notches or symbols were carved in sticks like these to record the quantities and sums agreed in various transactions.
      The sticks would then be split lengthways, with each party getting one piece, and matched together again when the deal was concluded to ensure no sharp practice.
      One of the Archives' eight sticks uses Hebrew characters, making it one of the oldest surviving records of Britain's Jewish community.

* Subjects studied in the Archives' search room last year include the novelist John Buchan, telephones in Guernsey, the criminalisation of incest and Arctic whaling.
      There were 925 personal visitors to the search room altogether, plus 5,539 telephone or written enquiries. The Archives' online catalogue had 90,313 visits.

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