Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hull History Centre opens its doors

After years of planning and months of moving, the state-of-the-art Hull History Centre opens on Monday, providing historians and researchers with a brand new archive.

The centre will bring together the vast collections held by the Hull City Archives, the Local Studies Library and the University of Hull archives. That's 28,000 boxes of material, plus books and volumes, document bundles, pamphlets, photographs, paintings and maps - enough to cross the Humber Bridge four times if put end to end.

It's all part of a ground-breaking partnership between Hull City Council and the University of Hull, made possible by a generous grant of £7.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund - the largest that Hull has ever received, or indeed any archive project in the United Kingdom. The total cost of the building was £9.83m.

Preparing for the move has been a huge undertaking for staff with the past six months devoted to stock taking, labelling, packing and cataloguing.

Leading relocation specialist Harrow Green has been contracted to transfer the many unique and historical documents and equipment in what will be a carbon-neutral move. The company has worked on major move programmes for the likes of the BBC, Tate Britain and the National Railway Museum, to name but a few.

The collections will be housed in an atmospherically controlled storage area with 13km of high-spec shelving. Humidity, unsuitable temperatures, light, air-bourne pollutants and acidity all contribute to the deterioration of archival materials, so the temperature is set at a constant of 17°C and 50 to 55 per cent humidity.

Judy Burg, University of Hull archivist, said: "After such a huge amount of planning and preparation, we are delighted to be moving the precious archive collections held by the University into the Hull History Centre. It has taken a lot of hard work and commitment from staff and volunteers, including some of our students, but to see the building finished and our material being moved in is very exciting.

"Now we are all looking forward to the most thrilling moment of all - opening our doors and allowing the public to access the archives from 25 January onwards."

Among the University of Hull students who helped pack and catalogue the precious archives was Zoe Brown, who studied BA (Hons) History and is now studying for an MA in Medieval History. She said the new History Centre will be a great attraction to anyone thinking of studying at Hull.

“Even those students whose subjects may not seem associated with History would greatly benefit as the University archives have a wide range of collections that could enhance many areas of research. The centre itself will be an attraction to potential students as it shows the city is worth investing in and constantly improving. My only regret is that it was not around when I began my degree as it would have greatly aided my studies and encouraged the use of local documents in my work.”

Martin Taylor, city archivist for Hull City Council added: "It was nearly 10 years ago that we first sat down with the university to discuss the possibility of a purpose-built new History Centre, so we are delighted to reach this latest milestone.

"I cannot praise the staff enough for their tireless work and endless enthusiasm over the past year and we are all very excited to see the archives being moved into their new home and watch the building come to life. This building has been designed to help preserve the precious and irreplaceable documents inside it for generations to come. We can't wait to welcome the public in January and thank people for their patience while our archive services have been closed."

Ian Studd, Harrow Green's director of UK business relocations said: "Our experience of previous heritage projects helped us win this important contract and get involved with this inspiring project. The archive material is unique, fragile and vulnerable to handling and changes in environment, so careful handling and careful planning of the entire operation has been crucial. We understand the level of care needed and all Harrow Green vehicles have air-ride suspension to provide maximum protection for goods in transit."

The centre will house important documents including the city's Royal Charter, which dates from 1299, as well as collections of local, regional and national importance relating to the city of Hull and the surrounding areas, Hull's maritime history, political figures and pressure groups, and prominent figures in literature and drama.