Following my visit to Westminster City Archives today, Judith recommended I visit Dave Walker, Local Studies Librarian at the Kensington Library. So after navigating the underground and a light lunch at a Pret which seem to dominate London’s landscape at every corner, I found myself in Kensington.
I was immediately greeted by one of Dave’s staff members Tim who I learned was born in Heidelberg, Victoria – within my library service region, but he moved back to England when still an infant with his parents.
Tim gave me a tour of the Local Studies centre which is situated in a glassed off section separated from the second main floor of the building. There has been recent re-organisation of the collection as they amalgamate a Chelsea Local studies collection into the department. The collection includes records of all descriptions and formats covering the local area of Kensington and Chelsea as well as an extensive collection of general London area books. It is popular with all kinds of researchers including genealogists but also property historians. I was interested to hear that mortuary records are a popular and very useful resource especially providing information on people who were killed during the London Blitz.
Dave then graciously gave me a behind the scenes tour of additional items in the collection which are stored off public access over two floors. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in a Public Library. This large archive is unique and special to the local area and reinforced to me the role that Public Libraries have in preserving local history. Dave showed me the oldest item in the collection – Earl’s Court – court rolls from 1554 – 1601. It is easy to forget as you travel around London, that parts of it were once rural areas. Compactus store a variety of records including Drainage records for nearly every address, manuscripts, railway photos, archives from local organisations and more.
Dave promotes the collection via his thoroughly researched blog posts to his Library Time Machine Blog. Look for his post with an Australian connection at Mrs McCulloch’s House and you will also get a bit of an idea of how passionate Dave is about the local historical records. It was certainly an unexpected privilege to meet him today.