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Step inside Lowestoft Record Office and travel through time

PUBLISHED: 10:39 08 April 2011

Lowestoft Record Office manager Ruth Silburn inside the strongroom. Ruth wants more people to access the rich archives.

Lowestoft Record Office manager Ruth Silburn inside the strongroom. Ruth wants more people to access the rich archives.

Archant © 2011

FAR from being dry and dusty, Lowestoft Record Office is a rich Aladdin's Cave which brings local history to life, as Lauren Rogers discovered this week.

Ancient parish records of Wissett, dating back to 1559. The oldest item on site dates back to the 1100s.

When major events like a Census or a Royal Wedding come along, people tend to look back at times gone by and with records stretching right back to the 12th Century the record office inside Lowestoft Central Library in Clapham Road South is a wondrous treasure trove for history lovers.

While the building holds parish registers with information on all of Suffolk’s baptisms, marriages and burials from 1550 onwards and copies of the Journal dating back to 1873, it is the staff running the Suffolk County Council service who help visitors travel through time on a daily basis.

Manager Ruth Silburn, who recently took a group of volunteers from Lowestoft’s various museums on a tour of the record office, wants to see more people enjoying access to the archives.

“Our record office has probably got more than the others in Suffolk because we’ve had such a wonderful band of volunteers who have helped catalogue items over the years,” said Ruth, who regularly contributes archive photographs to the Journal’s Turning Back the Clock feature.

“My favourite item which was recently catalogued was a beautifully written recipe book from 1775 - Susan Farr’s recipe book, which included Christmas recipes.

“One of our volunteers ‘discovered’ it whilst helping to catalogue the collection, made some meringues using one of the recipes and brought in for us to enjoy at Christmas.”

Upon entering the Record Office searchroom, visitors can take advantage of free computer access - including free access to the genealogy website Ancestry and the Times Digital Archive, or look through archive copies of the Journal on microfiche and microfilm.

There’s an array of maps - old and new; shelves piled high with books on local history; information and guidance on how to trace your family tree; press cuttings; and transcripts of boat crew indexes and shipping arrangements - the sheer volume of which reflect just how important the fishing industry once was to this town.

“Our most popular items are maps: all scales and dates,” said Ruth, “then I guess parish registers on microfiche and the Lowestoft Journal is also well used on microfilm.

“Fishing boat photographs and index cards that we hold on behalf of the Port of Lowestoft Research Society are also very popular.”

Below the searchroom and behind a locked door is the Lowestoft Record Office strongroom. Inside this archive room, filed away in acid-free boxes, are hundreds more records that the public can access – as long as they request a Record Office Reader’s ticket.

One of the most recent archives deposited was a collection of posters, photographs, and publicity for Albion Fairs, better known as the Barsham Fairs of the 1970s. There are also reams of Poor Law records, detailing the workhouses at Oulton and Shipmeadow, tithe maps from the 1840s and school log books listing pupil numbers as well as punishments.

But the oldest archive in the strongroom is over 800 years old - a title deed from 1150.

Lowestoft Record Office is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5.30pm, on Tuesdays until 7pm, on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm, and Sundays from 10am to 4pm.

For more information about the services and archives call 01502 405357 or visit: www.suffolk.gov.uk/sro.

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