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History Notes Issue 4 [August 1992]

FCO Records: Policy, Practice and Posterity (1782 – 1993)

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FCORECORDS Policy, Practice and PO&terity, 178~-1993



and Posterity, 1782-1993 Historical Branch, LRD


Pressures for more open government have changed FCO records policy. These changes have included the introduction over the last eighteen months of all significant practices recommended in the White Paper on Open Government published in July of this year. These have substantially altered the Office's handling of its records and have, for instance, already enabled us to release over one thousand items from our withheld archive. These changes had been foreshadowed in a speech by the Secretary of State in May last year when he said: 'In Britain the culture of secrecy went too wide. The presumption should

be that information is released unless there are compelling and substantive reasons of national interest to withhold it.' British diplomatic records go back to the 13th century and were initially the responsibility of the Chancellor and later of the King's Principal Secretary. The appointment of Charles James Fox in 1782 as the first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was followed, less than 20 years later, with the appointment of the first Librarian and Keeper of the Papers. Although the job title and description have changed somewhat in the last 1go years his responsibility for the custody of printed books and manuscript correspondence was essentially the same as that of the Head of Library and Records Department today. The impact of information technology, in particular ARAMIS, on the creation of records, their subsequent retrieval and their eventual transfer to the Public Record Office will, in the coming years, bring about a sea change in the ways the FCO produces and uses its records. This short guide, originally produced to mark the 1992 transfer of the records service to Hanslope Park, outlines the history of record creation and record keeping in the Foreign Office. In part it is a compilation of answers to questions about how the records needs of the FCO are met, the requirements of the Public Records Act satisfied and, finally, how we try to see that academic histories of Britain's changing role in the world are firmly based on British sources.

November I 993

Richard Bone Library and Records Department

CONTENTS Page I The Creation o£ Records

Paper, Ink and Pens Printing and Copying Typewriting Photocopying II The Transmission o£ Records

Postal and Messenger SeiVices Telegrams Receipt and Distribution Cypher Telegrams

2 2

3 4 4 5 5 6

lll The Preservation of Record.


IV The Transfer o£ Records to the Public Record Oflice



Guide to the Location o£ Records

VI The Publication o£Recorcls

VII Quotations Vlll Chronologies Public Records Acts and Commissions Heads of LRD and Predecessor Departments, 1782-1993

IX Suggestions for Further Reading

10 II

12 14 14 15 16

I THE CREATION OF RECORDS Paper, Ink and Pens From its establishment as a separate rmrustry in 1782 until the beginning of the 20th century, the Foreign Office was indeed 'a department of scribes' and the familiar picture, from Dickensian illustrations, of clerks standing at tall desks and writing with quill pens, held good until well into the 19th century. Despatches were frequently dictated by the Secretary of State to an attendant clerk, who made a file copy in a large leather-bound register before sealing and addressing the original for transmission abroad. Lord Palmerston made his clerks work very long hours, even on Sundays, while George Canning was famous for his ability to dictate to three clerks at once. Much of the paper they used was high quality rag paper, which was so durable that volumes of 18th and 19th century despatches frequently survive in better condition today than some departmental correspondence dating from the Second World War.

Quill pens, made by cutting a nib with a 'pen knife' from goose or crow feathers, wore out so quickly that in 1795 the staff of nine at the Colonial Office went through 2000 quills in less than a year. The quality of the quills was as important as the handwriting, and both inspired some of Palmerston's more famous rebukes: 'Reading Mr R--'s handwriting is like running Penknives into one's Eyes.' 'If the gentleman who writes these interesting despatches would use goose quills instead of his own quills, and ink as black as his feathers, it would be more agreeable for his readers.'

'Why is such Pale Ink used in the Office? It is very important that Ink should be used which will last I apprehend that those who write, put water into their Ink when it gets thick; but instead of doing this, they should throw the thick Ink away and tap a fresh bottle.'

Palmerston was particularly concerned for posterity, and both Ministers and Consuls were requested 'to be more careful to use good ink in their communications to this office; the paleness of their writing makes their dispatches frequently inconvenient to read, and renders them less durable as Public Records.' Although metal pens had been known to the Romans, they were not widely used until flexible steel pens were devised and mass-produced in England from the 1 82os. They were then introduced into government departments on grounds of economy but 'pen-pushing' soon became a synonym for drudgery. Sir Thomas Sanderson, Permanent Under Secretary at the FO under Lord Salisbury, warned young clerks of the danger of losing enthusiasm for their work: 'after a time the steel pen enters the soul and the individual becomes a mere official (who is a very dismal creature).' In fact, the clerk of 1882 still had much in common with his predecessor of a hundred years before and the quill pen familiar to Charles James Fox (the first Foreign Secretary) and his clerks was slow to disappear from the FO. Sir John Tilley (Chief Clerk 1913-1919) recalled having quills of especial quality as late as the 18gos, and the Librarian, Sir Stephen Gaselee, used them, and the inkstand which had formerly been used by the Cabinet, until his death in 1941. Sir A Clark Kerr, British Ambassador at Moscow during the Second World War, kept a flock of geese to ensure a constant supply of quills for his official and private use ..The pockets of his jackets were filled with pieces of toast, which he used as batt to attract a bird whenever he needed a new pen.

Typewriting In 1 886 the Treasury accepted that th in tall 路 significant savings in time and mon y, in that a two copy-writers at a third of their wag . Mi appointed by the Foreign Office (in 188g) and and h r I r 11 first described as 'Lady Typewrit rs'. riginally u d nly ~ r n copying work, by 1905 they were typing draf1 and out ing d patones Grey paid tribute to their diligence and ffici ncy in 1907, d 1go8 that 'type-writing has now become e ntial', both in th fli abroad. Well into the 20th century, the ordinary manual typ

essentially the same, with very little technical improvement. The Stationery Office usually supplied Remington machines, the stability of which was thought to be superior, but there were occasional requests for Empire machines with French accents. A I gth century complaint resurfaced in I 927, when Sir Austen Chamberlain brought a faintly typed despatch to the attention of the Chief Clerk and obseiVed: 'Try to read it by candle light.' Age and innumerable FO documents had brought home to Chamberlain that he was 'a one-eyed shortsighted man', and he threatened that if despatches were not typed in the blackest of type, he would make himself 'as disagreeable as Lord Palmerston.' Photocopying The use of photography for the copying and preseiVation of public records had been suggested as early as 1853 and during the siege of Paris in the FrancoPrussian war of I 87o- I, messages were photographically reduced to microscopic size so that up to thirty thousand could be sent to the city by a single pigeon. Photocopiers, however, were not developed until the 2oth century. The Treasury recommended the use of the photostat machine, on grounds of economy, to the FO in Ig26, and by 1947, the Foreign Office Guide stated that 'a fully equipped photostat department is established in the Main Foreign Office Building and should generally be used for the simple reproduction of documents in order to avoid placing a strain on the typing staff.'


Po tal and n ·1 th d patch

J...-.a,~:: • ::~,.:

The first di tinct Offi

OT.:.cuu.;,Gl uv

In 1859 the Service was revi wed in th light of ri ing t anachronistic mileage allowances in the days of rail trav I) and th system of telegraphs. The Messenger Corps was redu d to 15 an salary of £soo with an expense allowance of 2 6d for day p nt introduced. At the same time, the number of d liv ri to a h p t w


example, Paris was reduced from three a week to two, Constantinopl~ and St Petersburg from once a week to once a month, while the Messenger servtce to the Hague was abolished.

Telegrams Following the invention of electrical telegraphy in the 183os, the telegram system was first used by the Foreign Office in 1852. In December of that year the Paris Embassy became the first British mission abroad to send a telegram to the Foreign Office, forwarding an announcement from the Governor of Malta on the arrest of a public figure. Telegraphic communication with Florence, Berlin and Vienna followed in 18 53. At this early period, the messages came first to commercial telegraph offices (the Electric Telegraph Company or the Submarine Telegraph Company) and were then delivered to the Foreign Office. This new medium was regarded with suspicion by Edmund Hammond, then Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, who told a Parliamentary Committee in I 858 'No; we do not have the Electric Telegraph in the office; provision was made to admit of its coming in, [to the proposed new Foreign Office building] because it was right and proper to make it, but I hope it will never come in.' Hammond declared that it would be 'a very inconvenient and very expensive arrangement to have the telegraph brought into the office', and when asked if he favoured telegraphic communication between Government departments, he replied 'No, I dislike the telegraph very much, because you get nothing on sufficient record which passes by the telegraph, and you are very much tempted to answer off-hand points which had much better be considered. I think the tendency of the telegraph is to make every person in a hurry, and I do not know that with our business it is very desirable that that should be so'. Despite Hammond's misgivings, a branch of the Electric Telegraph Company was installed in the Foreign Office soon afterwards, and by r861 telegrams were an integral part of the communications systems connecting the Office with missions abroad. In 1 870, the General Post Office took over responsibility for telegraphs from the commercial telegraph companies. Foreign Office Accounts for the year I 871-2 show that over £4900 was spent on telegraphs, which was close to the original estimate prepared by the FO, but which the Treasury had reduced to £3500. (fhe shortfall was compensated by 'economy the conduct of the Messenger Service', the costs of which were reduced from £t8,ooo to below £ t6,ooo). The telegraphic address PRODROME (from the Greek prodromos meaning precursor) was registered in I884, PRODROME LONDON being used for diplomatic telegrams to the Office, and PRODROME followed by the name of the mission for telegrams from the Office.

Receipt and Distribution In this early period, telegrams arriving during the day were delivered to departments like ordinary post and filed alongside letters and despatches. The first telegram sent from Florence appears in the same volume as the corresponding despatch and enclosure, with a time difference of seven days between them. By I878, telegrams were so frequent that they began to be numbered like despatches, and for some missions amounted to several hundreds each year. Until tgo6, telegrams which arrived during the day were delivered direct to individual departments and their receipt and despatch was recorded in departmental diaries or registers. Telegrams received out of office hours were


AJI t l ram w r D 路partm nt and 路r and d patch w r r circulated to th missions abroad. hours each day.

Telegrams sent in cyph r were originally fi 11 w which were sent through nonnal n f coflnm despatches providing more d tail on th 路nstnacu~ons recorders were replaced by paraphrases, o th t 路r cypher would not be compro:mi d.




As well as being the most frequently consulted departmental papers at the Pu~lic Record Office, the records of the FCO's predecessor department, the Foretgn Office, are acknowledged to be among the best organised and best kept papers of any government department. This reputation has its roots in an early structured registry system in keeping with the Office's long tradition of looking after its records. The origins of this tradition lie in the reforming work of Lewis Hertslet, the Librarian, who in the early 19th century devised a new registry system on which modern FCO records are still loosely based. The key features of his plan, ~ntro~uced in I 8 I o, were the allocation of a letter code to each country for IndeXIng purpo~es, and the monthly registering of papers by number, date, name, place, and subJect. Pape~ were. divided into two categories: foreign, covering toward despatches and thetr replies; and domestic covering correspondence with foreign representatives in Britain. A digest of these papers was bound annually, and passed by the user-department. to the Library together with the original correspo~den~e when no longer 1n current use for indexing and storage in the Manuscnpt Library (popularly known as the Reference Room--as despite many official name changes, it is still known today). ' The manuscript volumes were bound in the Office in 'damp and dark cellars' in Downing Street. The bookbinders' cat suffered the unhappy fate of becoming imprisoned behind one of the heavy bound volumes of The 1imes, died, and the resultant smell caused the Board of Works to dig up the floor to search for a drainage problem. However, it was not until the binders moved to temporary accommodation that the eat's mummified remains were discovered. These were subsequently placed in a despatch box and sent to the Secretary of State, Lord John Russell, who evidendy circulated it to the rest of his Cabinet colleagues. For all its advantages, the new records system soon encountered the familiar problems of too little space and too few resources. The Library in Downing Street quickly filled up with bulky bound volumes of original correspondence. By 1840, there were sooo volumes, which were split between the Reference Room and wooden presses scattered throughout the corridors of the Office. The Library was similarly pressed for space for its collection of printed books, which were shelved three deep 'in cellars and in rickety rooms' and 'dispersed throughout the passages of the office wherever space could be found for the erection of a few shelves ... no matter how dark or inaccessible such spots might be'. Disaster almost struck the poorly protected collection of manuscripts in 1839, when a chimney fire burst through a wall in the Reference Room and threatened the wooden presses. The volumes were quickly removed by some Life Guardsmen called in from outside while a clerk and a housemaid kept the flames back with buckets of water, but were saved from being thrown out of the windows into Fludyer Street by the arrival of the fire engines. In terms of resources the new indexing system introduced by Hertslet was labourintensive and constantly in arrears. However the PUS, Edmund Hammond, was unsympathetic to requests from the Librarian in 1862 for more staff, suggesting that 'if the three Clerks employed in the Registry and Index steadily do their duty, there should be no difficulty in keeping the work under.' For the next eight years Hammond personally monitored records work, at the end of which period he


claimed that the FO's registry and indexing system was 'perfect'. Fine tuning was achieved towards the end of the 1 gth century by the adoption of th Ridley Commission recommendations of 1 8go, which further raised record-k ping standards. The importance of maintaining these standards was impressed on th r of th Office by the responsible AUS, Sir Thomas Sand rson. In a c I brat d pamphl t of October x8g1, entitled 'Observations on the Use and Abuse of R d ap for the Juniors in the Eastern, Western, and American Departm nts', h roundly condemned the practice of using 'hieroglyphic abbreviations which hav no m aning except to a small circle of initiated persons, of whom the Seer tary of tat is not one. Such an indorsement as "Tr. Dft. to Govr of Nfd. respg U.S. comm 0 , with obsns respg" might almost as well be left out altogether', and he r qu t d tha annexed papers should be kept to a minimum, to avoid covering d spa h with a sort ofJoseph's coat of ragged slips of many colours'. Some of his pithi st comm nts were reserved for the filing of papers, a matter in which 'erratic g niu is not a quality very well suited for a public office', with juniors being ask d to k ep to the established system and not invent their own to avoid the 'drastic but g n rally effective method' of emptying the contents of presses on to the floor until the missing papers could be found. The next landmark in the organisation of FCO records was undoubtedly the Eyre Crowe reforms of 1906 which, among other things, introduced the jacket sy tern for papers. The entering of individual papers within its own paper jack t on which generous space was provided for minuting encouraged junior clerks to pen opinions and advice for the benefit of their seniors. The system had its critics, including Sir John Tilley, who claimed that it meant that 'in many cases the high st authorities had to accept and become responsible for the view of their subordinates': but its aim of training junior staff in diplomacy was achieved. In th words of Zara Steiner: 'the days of the Foreign Office as a department of scribes w r past'.


IV THE TRANSFER OF RECORDS TO THE PUBUC RECORD OFFICE FCO records are today regulated by the 30 year rule, whereby records are released to the Public Record Office (PRO) on the first day of each New Year, 30 years after their creation. The origins of the PRO can be traced back to I578 when the State Paper Office was established as a repository of the papers of the principal Secretaries of State, but prior to I8oo there was no systematic collection of records from government departments. Following the first Public· Record Office Act of I8g8, the Foreign Office began transferring records to the State Paper Office in I858. The transfer began with 953 volumes of correspondence. Over the next century regular transfers brought the total number of Foreign Office documents in the PRO to 8 million in 1949. Foreign Office papers currently account for 13°/o of all record requests at the PRO (excluding Census returns). The actual transfer of records to the PRO is the last stage for the FCO of a cycle which begins with the creation of a paper and is continued through successive stages of registry (three years) and archives (27 years). Mter three years in a departmental registry, files are transferred to the main archives managed by LRD where they are kept for the next 27 years. Towards the end of that period the files are selected for preservation under guidelines monitored by PRO inspecting officers. This selection process is designed to weed out ephemeral material (such as drafts) and duplicate papers. Damaged papers are repaired at this stage and all files are tagged and listed under their new PRO class and piece number. Since the introduction of the go year rule, all files are reviewed for sensitivity and a small percentage (currently I-3°/o) is withheld with the authority of the Lord Chancellor. A re-review of this retained archive, which amounts to some 730 feet, has been under way since the autumn of I 99 2. In a much changed international environment, new archival techniques are enabling many of these records to be transferred to the PRO and in future fewer files are likely to be withheld. The scale of this enterprise can be judged by some of the statistics for papers received into the main archive over the years: I82I I9I4 1939 1945 1967

4534 I 14,761 270,968 54I,076 1,061,941 1,326,449


In addition there are a number of separate collections such as Embassy, Colonial and post-war Control Commissions, for which there are no recorded statistics. Some idea of the weight of these additional papers is given by the fact that the Control Commission files for Germany and Austria were said to weigh 240 tons, or the equivalent of forty elephants.


V GUIDE TO THE LOCATION OF RECORDS Identifying and locating the records of the FCO and its predecessor departments is carried out by the Retrieval Section of LRD's Records Branch. Indexes, day books, registers, telegram books and other aids are used to find files on specific subjects in response to enquiries from the FCO and members of the public. Files less than 3 years old are kept by individual departmental registries. Files between 3 and 27 years old are held in LRD's Archives and can be located by their original departmental file number. When the files have been reviewed, repaired, and numbered according to the PRO's system of classification (for example, FO 371 for political files, FO 370 for Library files), they are held by the Public Record Office at Kew. Files deposited at the PRO can be identified from the indexes and shelf lists held by Retrieval Section, and can be requisitioned if needed for enquiries by departments.


VI THE PUBLICATION OF RECORDS British Governments have long recognised the value of publishing diplomatic documents as a means of influencing public opinion at home and abroad. As Foreign Secretary in the turbulent years, 1812-22, Lord Castlereagh was particularly anxious to defend his European policy against hostile criticism in Parliament and the press and to this end he inaugurated the systematic publication of selections of Foreign Office correspondence in the form of Blue Books. Then in 1825 the Office's Librarian began editing British and Foreign State Papers, a collection comprising 'the principal Documents which have been made public, relating to the Political and Commercial Affairs of Nations, and to their relations with each other'. Originally intended only for distribution to Ambassadors and Ministers, the series was put on general sale in 1831 by Lord Palmerston, who observed: 'If I find that I do not lose by the sale, I shall think the advantage of diffusing information a gain, and shall have all the former volumes successively reprinted.' A classic work of reference, its publication continued until 1968. It was not, however, until the early part of the 2oth century that the Foreign Office began to think in terms of sponsoring the fuller publication of its records. Evidently concerned at the way in which so much recent diplomatic history had been written on the basis of documents released from continental, and more especially Prussian, archives, Eyre Crowe, who was later to become Permanent Under-Secretary, argued in 1908 that Britain had 'nothing to lose as a nation, and a good deal to gain, by the widest possible publicity being given to our transactions with foreign countries'. The outbreak of war in 1914 served as a catalyst to a more active publishing policy. Professor James Headlam-Morley of the Propaganda Bureau was allowed access to pre-war documents in order to write a history of the immediate origins of the war from a British point of view, and the Office acquired an Historical Section whose Peace Handbooks were subsequently published. Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the war Headlam-Morley, who was appointed the Office's first Historical Adviser, and other officials assisted the authors of both the Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy, 1783-1919 and the Chatham House publication, A History of the Peace Coriference at Paris. A more ambitious project was the publication between 1926 and 1938 of the British Documents on the Origins of th.t War, 1898-1914. The Government's decision to proceed with this series was much influenced by the then current debate on 'war guilt' and the propaganda points scored by the German Foreign Office through the publication of its pre-1914 documents in the form of Die Grosse Politil. It was in a similar spirit of openness and with a view to encouraging a fuller understanding of Britain's conduct between the wars that it was decided in March 1944 to publish another series, Documents on British Foreign Polig, 1919-1939. The success of these volumes led the Government to extend the publication of Office records to the post-1945 era and the Historical Branch is now responsible for editing Documentr on Britirh Policy Overseas. Since 1g84 ten volumes have appeared. These are produced in two series (1945-1950 and 195D-1955) and, with the accompanying microfiches, aim at both providing the widest possible readership with access to the most important documents of the FCO archives and ensuring that assessments of British foreign policy are based upon British rather than foreign records.



'My view of the records of the Foreign Office is that th y hould ontain as full a record as possible of all that passes and of the real motiv s and groun of v nts.'


Lord PalmerstoD to Lordjolm

'A people which knows not from whence it comes, also know no whith r it go . Its political education will only be effected in a sound mann r if i i ti d to a living consciousness of its historical development, and this i not ima ·nabl o long as original documents remain inaccessible.' Heiaricll voa Sybel, 1873

'Our Archives--it cannot be repeated too often-are a sort of gun powd r which can, in certain cases, explode and cause damage, wh n it ought to b u d only to defend ourselves against our enemies.' BarOD de Coan:el, 1907

'We have nothing to lose as a nation, and a good deal to gain, by the widest possible publicity being given to our transactions with for ign countri s.' Sir Eyre Crowe, •gol

'If the Foreign Office gave out a little more daylight, th y might d more sunshine.'

rv a little

Francis Hirst, Editor of The Ecoaomist, to the •9•4 Royal COIIlllllii.asji.a

'Under modern conditions an office such as the Foreign Offic cannot hold its own unless in some way or another it takes the public into its confid n mo than it has done in the past.' Junes Heaclbun-Morley, Assistant Director ofPoliticalhatelligeace Departlneat, 1918

'Access to the Foreign Office Records is a vital consideration in all att mpts to make foreign policy dependent upon the popular will.' Prof4

r C KWe

r, •924

'We do not always realize the importance acquired during th Middl Ag creation and orderly arrangement of archives.'

y th

'The wretched historian' faced with mil s of archival sh lving: 'Won't om him a motor bicycle?'

n buy

Sir Keith H


'Although, ideally speaking, everything should be "down on pap r" and asily traceable-filed and indexed, that is, with ample cross-r fer n th a tual manipulation of so much paper is no easy task.' Lord Strang,The Forelp 0



'A good archivist will have a very capacious memory for d tail w ll skilled in those techniques that are intend d to mak long m mori possible unnecessary.' dJtto


'To a tired man, who has to plough through a pil of ompl x fil s at a sitting, the aspect of one untidy file is o r pugnant as to inspir positive hatred of the perpetrator .... Departments mu t th refor s e to it that files which have to go forward are in very r p ct pi asing to th y . Minut s if in manu cript must be carefully written. Biro p n ha one) and other modem abominations should be temporarily laid a id . Heavily orr t d drafts, which are difficult to read and in any event give th impr ·on of d partm ntal foozling, should be retyped.' Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick,


drafting tanclards ill the FO c J9.f9, The laaer Circle, 1959

'Whatever the formula, a draft of a privat 1 tt r mu t at least be friendly in tone and couched in simple Engli h. Minatory phrases or the stilted verbiage of a village policeman giving vi den ar out of place.' ditto

'The Office is large and there is a lot going on. It is not always enough to pop the really urgent paper into a red label box and hope for the best.... Far more effective, though more troublesome, is the method of carrying the paper in the hand to place it under the nose of the high r authority.' ditto

'That night in bed ... my restless brain sorted through a confused pile of new objects: "In" and "Out" telegrams, roneo-ed on sheets of what looked like cheap blotting paper; pale blue drafts and mauve despatches; sheaves of white paper inscribed with initialled minutes that to the beginner seemed to have about as much logical sequence as the "remarks" in a hotel guest-book; arid semi-official correspondence and ambiguous stock letters ... the whole done up in foolscap-size paper "jackets" with oblong, typed "dockets'', and circled with red tape-though of course, in contrast to hunting pink which as everyone knows was actually red, so-called red tape, as I knew since that morning, was actually pink.' Valea.tiae Lawford, oa his ftnt clay at the Foreip Of1ice, Boaad for Diplomacy, 19&,

'Amid the uncertainty, there is one thing that we can be sure about: in ten years' time, I and my contemporaries will be bemoaning the decline in standards in the Foreign Office and the poor drafting ability of the young desk officers of 1992. And this at least will show that some things never change.' John Goaldaa oa 'The Foreip Oftice aacl dae Fatare',


'They seem to think it is some sort of magic, probably based on photocopying or something; they don't seem to understand that we still have to type.' Cormnent by word-processor operator for Maapower Services Commi•.Y.. stady,


'At the Foreign Office I am anxious to make changes. I have decided that those records for which I am responsible and which have been withheld for more than 30 years should be reviewed to see which can be released to the Public Record Office.' The Rt Hoa Doaglu Hard, utract f.rom a speech to the Kaole Qab, 14 May 199fl ' "Release" is the watchword rather than "retain". The new and more exacting criteria for withholding records longer than 30 years will release much more information into the public domain.' · Extract from the White Paper 011 Open Govemment, 1993



Public Record Acts and Commissions

Select Committee established to examine the condition of public records.

I836 路 House of Commons Select Committee recommended merging all public records into a single collection. I838 Public Record Office Act gave custody of the public records to the Master of the Rolls, who was charged with their safe preseiVation and proper use. I852 Order in Council placed 'all records belonging to Her Majesty deposited in any office, court, place, or custody' under the charge and superintendence of the Master of the Rolls. Records deposited at the State Paper Office transferred into the charge of the Public Record Office in 18S4路 I856 Public Record Office opened in Chancery Lane. I877 Public Record Office Act, amending the 1838 Act. Records deemed 'not of sufficient public interest to justify their preseiVation' were to be scheduled for disposal, although no records from before 1715 were to be destroyed. I8g8 Public Record Office Act, reducing the 171S preseiVation date rule to 166o. I

952 Grigg Committee appointed to review the preservation of public records after the Treasury estimated that preservation at current rates would require a new PRO every ten years.

I954 Grigg Committee Report on Departmental Records (Cmd 9163), criticised the inadequacy of the system, and the lack of historical criteria used in the selection of records for preservation. I958 Public Records Act, based on the Grigg Report, which repealed the Acts of 1838, 1877 and 18g8. The Lord Chancellor took over responsibility of the records from the Master of the Rolls, and the general practice of releasing records after fifty years was formalised. Allowance was made to retain some records beyond so years 'for administrative purposes or...for any other special reason'. I

967 Public Records Act, which reduced the normal release date from so to 30 years.

I977 New Public Record Office opens in Kew. I978 Wilson Committee appointed to review the arrangements of the 19s8 and I g67 Acts for the selection of papers for preservation and access to the records. Ig8I The Wilson Report published (Cmnd 8204), followed by the Government response (Cmnd 8s31 of 1982) accepting some of its recommendations. I993 White Paper on Open Government (Cm 2290) published.



Heads of LRD and Predecessor Deparbnents, :r8o:r-:rgg3 Richard Ancell Lewis Hertslet


Sir Edward Hertslet


Augustus H Oakes Richard William Brant Edward Charles Blech (adopted name of Bleck, 1918)

Alwyn Parker


Sir Stephen Gaselee



1945- 1946

Dorothy Anne Bigby (Acting)


Ernest James Passant•


Sir Duncan Wilson•


Sir Cecil Parrott•


Robert Whyte Mason•


Clifton James Child



Bernard Cheeseman•


E C (Eily) Blayney


Patricia M Barnes


Richard Bone

• Also Director of Research. • Mr Cheeseman was the Librarian of the Colonial Office I 954-66, and of the Commonwealth Office 1966-68.

IX SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING The history and development of records practice in the FO are covered in M Roper, The Records of the Foreign omce, 1782-1939, PRO Handbook No. I 3 (HMSO, Ig6g). Sir Edward Hertslet's Recollections of the Old Foreign Office (London, Igoi) is a mine of information on the organisation of records, the Library, and the conduct of business in the 19th century Office, while Sir Thomas Sanderson's I89I pamphlet ObservatiODS on the Use and Abuse of Red Tape for the Juniors in the Eastern, Western, and American Departments can be obtained from Retrieval Section (No. I 1006). Zara Steiner's The Foreign omce and Foreign Policy 1898-1914 (Cambridge, I969) covers the administrative changes of the Crowe reforms and Sir John Tilley and Stephen Gaselee include items on the Library and the Registry in The Foreign Office (London, 1933). The Foreign Omce Guide (1944) was revised and reprinted in I947 and casts many sidelights on office practice over the years. The use of departmental records for research is dealt with in Ronald Stavely and Mary Piggott, Govenuneat laformadoa and the Research Worker, 2nd edition (Library Association, 1965), which includes chapters by B Cheeseman and C D Overton on 'The Colonial Office, Commonwealth Relations Office and Ministry of Overseas Development', and W C Dalgoutte and C J Child on 'The Foreign Office as a Source of Historical Information'. Aspects of the history of writing equipment and of document reproduction are covered by W B Proudfoot, The Origin of Steacil Da.plicadag (London, 1972), Hugh Barty-King, Her Majesty's Stadoaery Oflice. The story of the &rat 200 yean, 1786-1986 (London, I986), D M Young, The Coloaial OfBce ia the Early Niaeteeath Century (London, I96I), Notes aad Queries, No 194, 16 July 1853, pp 6o-1, Michael Howard, The Fraaco-Prassiaa War (paperback ed, London 1967) p 326, H J Bruce, Silkea Dalliaace, (London, 1946) p 82. Harrison and Son's Wastrated Catalogue (which frequently formed the endpapers of both Tbe Foreip OBlc:e List and The Coloaial Of&ce List from the 187os to the 1900s) describes the varieties of papers and pens available, and has a wealth of line engravings showing copying presses, hectographs and related equipment. V Wheeler Holohan's The History of the KIDI's Messeagen (London, 1935) is selfexplanatory, as is G P Antrobus, King's Messenger, 1918路19401 Memoirs of SDver GreyhoaDd (London, I941 ). Further information on communications can be found in Raymond A Jones, The British Diplomatic Service 1815-1914 (Gerrards Cross, 1983) and P M Kennedy's article, 'Imperial cable communications and strategy I8701914', Eaglish Historical Review, vol 86, October 1971, pp 728-752. C Bright, Sabmariae Telegraphs Their History, Coaatracdoa aacl Worldag (London, 1898) is a comprehensive survey: Section 6 covers the effects of the telegraph on world progress and on diplomacy. The British Telecom Museum at 145 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4AT contains comprehensive displays on the history of telegraphs and telecommunications. Legislation and Commission reports include First Report of the Royal Collllllissioa oa Public Records Volume I (HMSO, I 9 I2), Committee oa Departmeatal Records a Report (the Grigg Report, Cmd 9163 of I954), Modena PabUc Recordsa Selectioa and Access (the Wilson Report, Cmnd 8204 of 1981), the Government's response to it, Modera Public Records (Cmnd 8351 of 1982) and Opea Govei'IUDeat (Cm 2290 of 1993) For a helpful short account, see Guide to the Pablic Records, Part I, Introductory (HMSO, 1949, reprinted 1953). I6

The publication of official documents is covered in a number of works. Blue Books are dealt with in Harold Temperley and Lilian M Penson, A Ceatury of Diplomatic Blue Boob, 18•4-•9•4 (Cambridge, 1938), while the development of links between the FO and historians are covered in Keith Hamilton's 'The Pursuit of "Enlightened Patriotism": the British Foreign Office and Historical Researchers during the Great War and its Mtermath', Historical Research, vol 61 (1988), pp 316-44, and Erik Goldstein's 'Historians Outside the Academy: G W Prothero and the Experience of the Foreign Office Historical Section, 1917-20', Hi.storicaljoaraal, vol 63 (1990), pp 195-211. The inter-war period is discussed in Uri Bialer, 'Telling the truth to the people: Britain's decision to publish diplomatic papers of the inter-war period', llistoricalJoaraal, vol 26 (1983), pp 349-67. Margaret Pelly covers the current series in 'Editing Documents on British Policy Overseas, 1945-1955', DiploJDacy and Statecraft, vo~ 1 (1990) pp 90-8. See also FCO Historical Branch Occa ioaal Papers, o 1: Valid Evidence (1987), No 2: Meeting of Editors of Diplomatic Documents (1989) and No 7: Changes in British and Russian Records Policy (1993) for DBPO and FCO Records practice.

FCO Records: Policy, Practice and Posterity, 1782-1993  

A guide outlining the history of both record creation and record keeping in the Foreign Office from 1782 to 1993.