Past talks

Tuesday 20 June 2023: Advancing on all fronts, reinforcements needed: a overview of the 20-year Prize papers Project – Dr Amanda Bevan

A recording of the talk is available here.

This talk followed the formal AGM. Dr Amanda Bevan, TNA Head of the Legal Records Team and specialist in the records of the courts of Chancery and the Star Chamber in the early modern period explained this ambitious project which aims to sort, catalogue and digitize the thousands of letters and papers taken from ships delivering mail alongside cargo, and captured between 1652 and 1815.

In this last year the Project has started to deliver online content and to engage public interest. What challenges have been met, what remain, and what fascinating things have been discovered so far?

Wednesday 9 November 2022: The Three Curses of Tutankhamun – DrJuliette Desplat

A recording of the talk is available here.

Tutankhamun lay in his tomb (almost) undisturbed until 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter, his wealthy patron Lord Carnarvon, and their Egyptian workers opened it and revealed him to the world. It was the discovery of the century, but it came with a price. Or rather three prices – the three curses of Tutankhamun: overwhelming popularity, damaging political blunders, and lingering ancient dark magic.

Dr Juliette Desplat is Head of Modern Collections at The National Archives. She holds a PhD from the University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle with a thesis focusing on Egyptian nationalism.

She specialises in Middle Eastern history in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially looking at the development of national identities, international boundaries, the comparison of the French and British colonial ideologies and practices in the region and the interaction between politics, intelligence and archaeology.

Tuesday 11 October 2022: The Crimean War 1854-1856: what TNA can tell us about life behind the lines – Dr Mike Hinton

A recording of this talk is available here.

The talk is based principally on chance findings amassed over more than twenty years from documents in The National Archives and other sources, which give a fascinating insight into some aspects of life away from the front line during the Crimean campaign, 18541856. These range from the repatriation of an orphan to the advent of a celebrity chef, with some disorderly behaviour in between!

Dr Mike Hinton’s professional interest in infectious diseases, together with having genealogy as a hobby, has resulted in an interest in both the medical aspects of the Crimean War and the family relationships of participants – which includes a great great-grandfather – as well as in the memorials to the memory of the fallen at home and overseas. A retired Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Royal College of Pathologists he is a member of the Crimean War Research Society, Victorian Military Society, Society of Genealogists, and the Veterinary History Society, and was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has published over eighty articles on various as aspects of the war in the journals of these societies and other interest groups including Magna. In 2019 Helion issued his book Victory over Disease. Resolving the Medical Crisis in the Crimean War, 1854–1856.

Wednesday 14 July 2022: History of British Holidays – Chris Heather

A recording of this talk is available here.

The talk covered the origin of holidays in Britain, the factors which influenced their development over time, and how they have been illustrated in the records of The National Archives.

Chris Heather has worked at The National Archives for over 37 years in various departments, including those which deal with public enquiries and the Human Resources Department. Latterly he has specialised in records of the Railways, becoming the Transport Records Specialist in the Collections Expertise and Engagement Department, and has written a book on London Railway Stations. He worked previously on Home Office criminal records of the 19th Century, including those of transportation to Australia.

This is a perfect example of how many different subjects can be researched at The National Archives.

Tuesday 14 June 2022: Neville Chamberlain: Controversies and Achievements – Lord Lexden

This talk was not recorded.

Chamberlain and Churchill were, as is well known, poles apart in the period that led up to the Second World War. As soon as war was declared, they became colleagues, and remained the two leading figures in the war cabinet until imminent death from cancer forced Chamberlain to resign at the beginning of October 1940, Churchill having replaced him as prime minister in May. How closely and successfully did the two former opponents work together in the national interest as Britain fought for its very survival in the summer of 1940? When Chamberlain died in early November 1940, Churchill paid eloquent tribute to him: but some said that the great war leader’s moving words were not sincere, and in his subsequent, hugely influential war memoirs Churchill repeated the attacks he had made on his dead colleague in the late 1930s. In his address, Alistair Lexden will discuss the reality of the relationship between the two men during Britain’s darkest hour, drawing on documents of the period.

Alistair Lexden is a Conservative peer and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, who writes and lectures about modern British political history. He was in academic life at the start of his career at the Queen’s University, Belfast. Subsequently, he held senior positions in the Conservative Research Department, founded by Neville Chamberlain, before spending some years running the Independent Schools Council. He is the official historian of the Conservative Party, and of the Carlton Club. Full details of his work, parliamentary and historical, including his publications, can be found on his website,

Wednesday 18 May 2022: The Treasures of the Medieval Duchy of Lancaster – Professor Louise Wilkinson

A recording of this talk is available here.

Today, the duchy of Lancaster is a private estate owned by Her Majesty the Queen, who is the present duke of Lancaster. In the Middle Ages, the duchy of Lancaster was a major assemblage of lands, ranging across more than 20 English counties, and centred on the earldoms of Lancaster and Lincoln. The duchy itself originated from a grant made by King Henry III in 1265 to his younger son, Edmund, of the lands of the dead rebel, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester; it was Edmund who also later became earl of Lancaster. In 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke (King Henry IV), duke of Lancaster, seized the English throne from Richard II and just a few years later he commissioned a deluxe, illuminated register of his duchy’s title deeds, now known as the Great Cowcher Books (TNA, DL 41/1-2). In this talk, Louise Wilkinson introduces the Great Cowcher Books, which are second only to Domesday Book in their importance, and the fascinating insights their contents are yielding into the medieval lords and ladies of the duchy of Lancaster, thanks to a new project funded by the Friends of The National Archives.

Louise Wilkinson is Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Lincoln, where she leads the Medieval Studies Research Group. Her research focuses on thirteenth-century English history and the lives of royal and aristocratic women. Her most recent book is The Household Roll of Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester and Pembroke, 1265, The Pipe Roll Society (Woodbridge, 2020). She is chairwoman and joint general editor of the Pipe Roll Society, and was formerly a co-investigator of the AHRC-funded Henry III Fine Rolls and Magna Carta Projects. She is currently working with researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Lancaster, The National Archives, Heritage Lincolnshire, and Lincolnshire County Council on devising a major new collaborative research project on the making of the duchy of Lancaster.

Wednesday 27 April 2022: The History of the Farnborough Wind Tunnels – Bob Gentry

A recording of this talk is available here.

The Farnborough airfield is famous the world over for its air show and as the birthplace of British aviation, having been at the heart of its research and development. It saw the founding of the Army Balloon School and the first powered flight in Britain in 1908 by Samuel Cody, the creation of the Royal Aircraft Factory and subsequent Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), and the move onto supersonic flight culminating initially in the development of Concorde.

After privatisation in the mid 1990s, the airfield moved into the commercial world under private ownership. The greater part of the former RAE site became a business park and housing complex, but the three wind tunnel buildings remain. They are among the few that still exist from the time when Britain played a leading role in the field of aerospace. The buildings stand today as a lasting memorial to the hundreds of people who worked quietly under a veil of secrecy at Farnborough through most of the 20th century.

Bob Gentry will talk about the history of the wind tunnels and describe the work undertaken in them. He will cover the part they played in WWII, the jet age, and the development of Concorde, and include other generally little-known aspects of aerodynamic research.

Bob has been a member of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Association and regular volunteer since early 2016 where he is primarily responsible for looking after private guided tours of the historic wind tunnels located on the Farnborough Business Park, formerly part of Royal Aircraft Establishment site. Bob is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and enjoyed a career spanning over 45 years in Broadcast and Media Technology. He has held Senior Management roles at GSTQ Consulting LTD, BBC World News, NBC Universal, CNBC Europe, ITV Digital, Ascent Media and Middle East Broadcasting; he has also worked with many Global Management Consulting Practices, Venture Capital Groups and Telecommunications Companies.


Wednesday 23 March 2022: The Jacobites and International Intrigue, 1708-1759 – Ralph Thompson

A recording of the talk will be available here.

Drawing on National Archives sources this talk will focus on the support for the Jacobite cause outside the British Isles, achieved by means of intelligence gathering and the interaction between the Jacobite diaspora and the major continental powers. It will outline the many real and ‘imagined’ invasion plans that were hatched against Hanoverian Britain in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Ralph Thompson is a Records Adviser and volunteer supervisor and has worked at the National Archives since 1999.   As a member of the Early Modern Team, Ralph has studied at Kingston University and completed an MA dissertation at Birkbeck, University of London, which focussed on English foreign policy in the Baltic during the 1650s. His research specialisms include the Civil War and Interregnum, the Jacobites, and North American colonial history.

Ralph has kindly provided the following booklist for further reading:

The Jacobites, Britain, and Europe, 1688-1788 / Daniel Szechi. Publisher: Manchester : Manchester University Press,1994

Loyalty and identity : Jacobites at home and abroad / edited by Paul Monod, Murray Pittock, Daniel Szechi. Publisher: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

Culloden / John Prebble. Publisher: London : Secker & Warburg, 1961

A new history of the ’45 Rebellion / Jacqueline Riding. Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2017

The last battle on English soil, Preston 1715 / Jonathan Oates. Publisher: Farnham, Surrey : Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015

Natural and necessary enemies : Anglo-French relations in the eighteenth century / Jeremy Black. Publisher: London : Duckwoth, 1986

Tuesday 22 February 2022: Crown & Sceptre: a new history of the British monarchy, William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II

A recording of the talk was available for two weeks following the talk, but it has now expired.

In February 2022, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her 70th year on the British throne—her Platinum Jubilee—by far the longest reign of any British monarch. Inspired by this momentous event, Tracy Borman’s latest book, Crown & Sceptre, explores the tumultuous history of the British monarchy. With 1,000 years of royal history from 1066 to the present day, Domesday Book to Magna Carta, the Field of Cloth of Gold to Prince Harry’s wedding, the book tells the real story of this iconic institution.  In this illustrated talk, Tracy will introduce some of her favourite monarchs and share a few of the secrets behind the crown’s remarkable survival.

Tracy Borman is a best-selling author, historian and broadcaster, specialising in the Tudor period.  Her books include Elizabeth’s Women, which was Book of the Week on Radio 4 and Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant. Her highly acclaimed debut fiction trilogy, inspired by the events surrounding the Gunpowder Plot, comprises The King’s Witch, The Devil’s Slave and The Fallen Angel.  Tracy’s latest book is Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy, William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II.

Tracy has presented a number of history programmes for Channel 5, including The Fall of Anne Boleyn and Inside the Tower of London.  She is a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine and gives talks on her books across the country and abroad.  Tracy is also joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust.

Wednesday 13 October 2021:  Aberfan October 1966: gross negligence and blame-shifting

A recording of the talk will be available here.

In 1997, having ascertained from contacts at TNA that all papers relating to the 1966 Aberfan disaster would be released in the New Year, Iain McLean secured the Observer‘s press card for the preview of the opening. Over two intensive days, he filled in missing parts of the Aberfan narrative to establish a cover-up. Two subsequent research grants enabled him and his co-author Martin Johnes to publish a definitive book: Aberfan: government and disaster (revised edition Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press 2019).

Just before the 55th anniversary of the disaster, Iain will show in his talk how and why it happened, and who subsequently protected the National Coal Board and Lord Robens, its chair, from liability. In a bizarre twist Robens went on to chair the committee on Health and Safety at Work, which has governed all subsequent legislation. In another, the Prime Minister was advised against agreeing an Aberfan memorial service at Westminster Abbey on the grounds that the Welsh Church was disestablished. In a third, the Charity Commission tried to block payments to the bereaved unless they could show that they had been ‘close’ to their deceased children. There were many scandals at Aberfan, but none of them involved HM the Queen.

Iain McLean is Senior Research Fellow in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford, and a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has written widely on contemporary UK history and politics but regards Aberfan as the most important book he has worked on.

Wednesday 15 September 2021: A Tale of Three Houses: Wilmcote, Warwickshire and the Shakespeare Family

A recording of the talk is available here.

The vernacular houses in Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon, are mainly timber-framed houses dating from the 14th century onwards, though the village also includes stone-built terraces of 19th century quarrymen’s cottages. This talk will examine the character and individual histories of the houses, setting them in their social context. In particular the research has thrown an unexpected light on the connections of William Shakespeare and his family with three houses in the village and corrected a centuries-old mis-attribution.

The evidence used ranges from the 1910 Domesday hereditament maps and Field Books at TNA and title deeds, to architectural recording and tree-ring dating.

Nat Alcock is an Emeritus Reader in the Department of Chemistry, University of Warwick. In parallel with his scientific career, he has made a lifelong study of vernacular architecture and social history, and is a past president of the Vernacular Architecture Group. He has published extensively in these fields, particularly on the correlation of documentary and architectural evidence for buildings. He is the author of the handbooks, Documenting the History of Houses and Tracing History through Title Deeds: A guide for family and local historians (2017), the major regional study, The Medieval Peasant House in Midland England (2013) and most recently jointly edited and contributed to Cruck Building: A Survey (2019).

Wednesday 1 September 2021: Written Treasure Found on Captured Ships 1650-1815

Please click here to see a recording of the talk.

Wars at sea in the “long 18th century” are famous for pitched battles between enemy fleets.  In fact, a major aim was to destroy the enemy’s trade, and to appropriate their ships and cargoes by proving enemy status in court. All maritime countries did this, but the British courts appear to be unique in keeping all the papers confiscated from European and American ships and used successfully as evidence of enemy status.

These papers often included mail-in-transit from port to port, along the coasts and across oceans. Many of these letters are still unopened and even in their original mailbag. The Prize Papers Project (of TNA and the University of Oldenburg) plans a virtual delivery of these letters across the globe. It will also provide detailed evidence of the lived reality of life at sea and of the huge expansion of colonies and colonial trades.

Amanda Bevan will show us the potential of the Prize Papers Project to expand our historical understanding of trade, capture and communication across the globe, from Peru to China, Newfoundland to the Cape.

Dr Amanda Bevan has worked at TNA as a researcher and then a member of staff since 1979. As Head of Legal Records, she has been responsible for adding the descriptions of well over a million English, Welsh and colonial court cases to Discovery – thanks to the dedicated work of many volunteers. Amanda first learnt of our national archives as a teenager, from Patrick O’Brian’s novel Master and Commander, in which he thanked the ‘patient and erudite officials of the Public Record Office’. She now finds herself deep in the world of Aubrey, Maturin, and thousands of other (more commercially-minded) real seafarers, in the Prize Papers Project, 1652-1815.

Wednesday 30 June 2021: Henry V and the Conquest of Normandy 1417-1422

Our Social Media Co-ordinator Matt Welch interviewed Anne Curry in advance of her talk to the Friends. Please click here to see a transcript of the interview. Please click here to see a recording of the talk.

In 1417, two years after his army’s victory at Agincourt, Henry V returned to France with an equally large force. Within two years he had conquered virtually the whole of Normandy. This conquest is a truly remarkable campaign for which we have an exceptional, vast, and largely unexploited source in The National Archives. Almost as soon as Henry V landed a new chancery enrolment, the Norman rolls (C 64), was started to record the King’s acts in Normandy. This source gives detailed information not only on military aspects but also on relations with inhabitants of the duchy, reflecting Henry’s commitment to winning hearts and minds as well as territory. Anne Curry’s talk will show how these Norman rolls enhance our understanding of Henry as conqueror.

Anne Curry is Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton, where she was also Dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 2010 to 2018. She is a past president of The Historical Association and past chair of The Battlefields Trust, and has also served as Trustee of the Royal Armouries. She is Master elect of the Worshipful Company of Fletchers. Anne has published many books and articles on the Hundred Years War, and especially on the battle of Agincourt, which draw heavily on records in The National Archives. She edited the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England and co-directed the Gascon rolls project ( as well as a database of late medieval soldiers (

Anne has kindly provided the following suggestions for further reading:

Best narrative histories

Juliet Barker, Conquest. The English Kingdom of France (Little, Brown 2009)

Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War. IV. Cursed Kings (Faber, 2015)


Anne Curry, Henry V (Penguin Monarchs) (Allen Lane, 2015)

Christopher Allmand, Henry V (Yale Monarchs) originally published 1992, with several reissues

Older works

Richard Newhall, The English Conquest of Normandy (New Haven, 1924)

J H Wylie and W T Waugh, The Reign of Henry V, 3 vols (1914-29) – available on line

Specialist study

Christopher Allmand, Lancastrian Normandy. The History of a Medieval Occupation (OUP, 1983)

For various specific studies see Anne Curry’s publications listed on her university website, some of which are available as downloads.

Also forthcoming

Anne Curry, ‘The Norman Rolls of Henry V’, in People, Power and Identity in the Late Middle Ages: Essays in Memory of W. Mark Ormrod, ed. G. Dodd, H. Lacey and A. Musson (Routledge, 2021)


Tuesday 1 June 2021: The Churchill Girls

Our Social Media Co-ordinator Matt Welch interviewed Rachel Trethewey in advance of her talk to the Friends. Please click here to see a transcript of the interview. A recording of this talk in now available here.

Rachel Trethewey, author of The Churchill Girls, will talk about the wartime of Diana, Sarah, and Mary. They were each so different, but all three were imbued with a sense of responsibility to each other and their country. They not only contributed to the general effort at home, but also supported their father in his own war efforts. His daughters were eyewitnesses at some of the most crucial events in twentieth century history, travelling with him to the war conferences at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam, where they met Stalin and Roosevelt.

Their contribution at the heart of his inner circle helped to change their father’s attitudes to the role of women in society. Yet being the children of the war leader brought with it a difficult blend of privilege and pressure, which would tell in later life.

Rachel Trethewey read History at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where she won the Philip Geddes Prize for student journalism. During her subsequent career she wrote features for the Daily Mail and Daily Express. She regularly reviews historical books and biographies for The Independent and has previously written Pearls Before Poppies: The Story of the Red Cross Pearls (The History Press, 2018) and Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s Other Women (The History Press, 2018).

Tuesday 11 May 2021: Jack Tar’s Own Story

Our Social Media Co-ordinator Matt Welch interviewed Stephen Taylor in advance of his talk to The Friends. Please click here to see a transcript of the interview. A recording of the talk is available here.

The common seaman was crucial in Britain’s rise to prosperity and expansion up to the Industrial Revolution. From crossing the globe in voyages of exploration to trading with India and China, and taking part in the naval battles that established command of the oceans, Jack Tar held the nation’s destiny in his calloused hands. Despite being witness to major historical events, Jack’s own story was largely untold.

Come along to hear Stephen Taylor tell that story as he challenges the assumption that sailors, as commoners of their time, must have have been illiterate. His talk is based on his book, Sons of the Waves, in which sailors’ memoirs and letters as well as archival records are used to tell the story. It is that of proud and spirited men, learned in their own fashion, who had robust opinions and the courage to challenge overweening authority.

In his talk the author will not only give us a picture of Jack’s role in our maritime past but also explain how he used documents at The National Archives to help him confirm the veracity of seafaring tales, some of which appeared on initial reading to be absurdly far-fetched.

Stephen Taylor is a former journalist, foreign correspondent and the author of eight books, of history, biography and travel.

Tuesday 1 December 2020: Documenting the Death of Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler died in his Berlin Führerbunker on 30 April 1945. The conventional historical narrative, established by British Military Intelligence in November 1945 holds that the Nazi leader shot himself in the head once it became apparent that the Russian advance on the German capital was unstoppable. What evidence was there to support this conclusion – and what traces of this enquiry remain in the National Archives? This talk explores the scope of post-war Allied investigations, the political impact of Hitler’s passing and the challenges of finding clear-cut proof of death. Following the archival trail, it takes us beyond the usual scholarly focus on Hitler’s final movements to also consider public encounters with key documents and eyewitnesses and the meaning that Hitler’s death held for different audiences.

Dr Caroline Sharples is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Roehampton. Her research interests encompass memories of National Socialism, representations of the Holocaust, war crimes trials and perpetrator burials and commemorations. She is the author of West Germany and the Nazi Legacy (Routledge, 2012) and Postwar Germany and the Holocaust (Bloomsbury, 2016), and co-editor, with Olaf Jensen, of Britain and the Holocaust: Remembering and Representing War and Genocide. She is currently completing a monograph on the cultural history of the death of Adolf Hitler.