On the face of it, this did not seem to be an “out of the ordinary“ visit. How wrong can one be? We were met in the foyer by a most interesting gentleman, who was passionate about his work. He spent some time giving us an overall picture into the day by day running of the building, explaining how anyone could go to visit the Records Office to seek out information. This could be personal records, or records of buildings, wills or old maps. This building is a resource for the whole of Hampshire, with the exception of Southampton and Portsmouth. We were then taken to the first floor where various samples over several centuries were laid out for us to see. There were really detailed maps of old Winchester and Alresford, and it was fun trying to spot existing buildings. One of our members was excited to browse through a WI scrapbook of Cheriton in 1965, where she found photos of her father, and also photos of her house which had burned down. There was also a copy of an old will, with a detailed list of goods and chattels, the total value of which was 30 shillings. The oldest document on show was from the sixteen hundreds.

From here we went up another floor to the Conservation Room. Originally there had been two people who had worked in this area, but we were sad to learn that funding restrictions meant that no-one could be employed in this area at present. We were shown how old documents could be improved, when ravaged by damp, water or mice! Also how old books could be rebound and brought back to their original state. It was fascinating to see how velum was used to infill parts of documents which had rotted away. Also on show, were varying grades of fine material which were used for restoration.

After this room, we went up to the top of the building with windows looking out on stunning views over Winchester. Here, the Film Archives of Hampshire were kept. We were able to sit in a theatre and watch a film of Conan Doyle telling us about what had inspired him to write detective stories.

Our visit concluded with a trip back to the ground floor. We saw the Resources Room, which is open to the general public. Here one can deposit archives for safe keeping and also look up these archives at a future date. There were many reference books and computers where one could look up historical records. It was stressed to us, to think carefully about what documents or items of local history that we threw away. If we were ever in doubt, we could always check with the Records Office whether they were of any interest.

This was a fascinating visit of old records in an equally fascinating modern building.

Ferne Baxter