Professor Paul D.A. Harvey wrote:
Oddly, I remember very little of my three years in the Chair of the Friends of the – then – Public Record Office, but this simply reflects the hard work and enthusiasm of everyone else; they left so little to be done from the Chair. I remember being distinctly overawed at the invitation in 1990 to succeed Professor Sir Geoffrey Elton, the first holder of the office.
I remember the very proper insistence of the Keeper, Sarah Tyacke, that Prophile and all other public productions of the Friends should conform to the same standards as the PRO itself in presentation as well as in content. I remember much discussion over projects on which volunteers might be deployed, projects that had to be both interesting to the volunteers and useful to the Office and its readers – and among which, work on PROB 12 was much to the fore.
But I particularly remember how much was done by my fellow-officers to get the infant society walking and talking, above all by Andrea Duncan (soon to become Tanner) who as Secretary organised meetings, seminars and so much else besides. It was certainly at the behest of the other officers and of Council that I wrote to the Keeper in November 1991, daringly innovative in asking, among other things, if the Friends might not have access to a computer. It now seems a very long time ago.
Professor Anthony Stockwell, Chair, 2002-2008 wrote:
The pattern of Friends’ activities, set by our predecessors, was developed by dedicated colleagues on Council. Lesley Boatwright continued to inspire volunteers engaged in cataloguing, notably: COPY 1 (online index to photographs), W0121, Navy Board papers, the IR 26 Estate Duty Office Registers, and Chancery Proceedings. The Friends also contributed to funding projects such as the eighteenth-century textile sample books and cataloguing records of the Llanfyllin and Southwell Poor Law Unions.
Cedric Jeffrey led us on visits to other archives, notably: St George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library; House of Lords; Lambeth Palace; All Soul’s College; Tower Hamlets Archives and Ragged School Museum; Royal Navy Museum, Portsmouth; the archives and herbarium of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and the V&A archives.
The AGM was followed by lectures on: ‘British documents on the “End of Empire” Project’ (A. Stockwell, 2003); ‘Medieval biography and the documentary record’ (Professor Nigel Saul, 2004); ‘Nelson and his compatriots’ (Miss Pat Crimmin, 2005); ‘The law, social mobility and the family in thirteenth century England’ (Dr Paul Brand, 2006); ‘One king to bind them all: The House of Windsor and the post-war Commonwealth ‘ (Professor Philip Murphy, 2007), and ‘”Those who continually haunt our courts “: The emergence of a legal profession in medieval London ‘ (Dr Penny Tucker, 2008).
The members’ magazine PROphile, edited in turn by Dafyyd Evans, Clive Cheesman and Anne Samson, expanded and moved with the times, adopting the title Magna and adjusting to new technology. Council carried out a thorough membership survey (approximately 550 during this period) and participated in consultation relating to the ’30-year rule’.
Sarah Tyacke CB, Keeper of Public Records, 1992-2005 wrote:
As you will know the Friends began under the Keepership of Geoffrey Martin in 1988. I first met the Friends in 1992 when I became Keeper of Public Records. Mine was an eventful Keepership and the Friends were a great support to me throughout. From the beginning members of staff of the PRO supported the Friends’ creation and have ever since; I mention those I knew well from my time; Sue Lumas, Jane Cox, Eddy Higgs, John Post, Elizabeth Hallam-Smith and Hilary Jones. Andrea Duncan, then of the College of Arms, was the first secretary and is now a fellow vice-president.
One of the most innovative things the Friends decided to undertake to help our readers was the organisation of volunteers to index such mammoth series as WO 97 (the army discharge papers). Nowadays this is a normal way for archives to deal with their large holdings but in the 1990s few if any Archives did this. This was done under the eagle eye of Lesley Wynne-Davis (later Boatwright) an indefatigable organiser.
At least once a year we would have a celebratory buffet lunch for the Friends to congratulate the volunteers on their work and of course as Keeper I attended the AGMs from 1992-2005. Indeed my last one coincided with a speech or two for my retirement by, amongst others, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a Patron of the Friends and a former very supportive Lord Chancellor, who had laid the foundation stone of the new 1990s building at Kew. Also Tony Stockwell, as the then chair of the Friends, and Professors Caroline Barron and Barrie Dobson, former Chairs, kindly carne to wish me well. I remember it was a lovely occasion and a great send-off from the Friends.