I wonder if anyone actually has an accurate figure for the number of libraries and archives in London; I spend a good deal of my working life in these places and I certainly have no idea. Four more to add to the list of those that I am aware of are the libraries of the Inns of Court. The revelation came about courtesy of a colleague in the Library at Queen Mary who recently arranged a staff visit to the Middle Temple Library. Access to the Middle Temple Library is limited to members of the four Inns and to bona fide researchers by appointment only, so the QM visit was a chance not to be missed. The place did not disappoint: it's not just that the Temple setting is one of the most restfully calm and elegant in London; it's also the fact that the specialist collections are of the highest quality, and full of surprises. Each Inn library specialises in certain areas, and in the case of the Middle Temple the particular strengths are in American Law (the Middle Temple's connection with the US goes back to the founding of the first colonies and endures to this day), European Law and Ecclesiastical Law - all told, some 250,000 volumes of the stuff. And not to be outdone, I see from the NRA that the archives contain the following unlikely deposited gems:
The records of the Padstow Customs House 1700-10 (ref. GD.34)
The accounts of Rawmarsh (Yorkshire) tithes 1763-95 (ref. GD.18)
Genealogical pedigrees compiled by the herald Ralph Brooke 1598 (ref. GD.17)
And among the institutional records the standout must surely be from the Commons, Kitchens and Entertainment records:
Cigar Book 1931-59
So there you have it: something for the scholar of the eighteenth-century Cornish coastal trade, the finances of the established Church in Yorkshire, sixteenth-century genealogy, and a curio for the student of no doubt fine cigars. The simple fact is that London's range of libraries and archives is - perhaps - unmatched anywhere else in the world. I sometimes think that provided you are willing to look, search and look again in sometimes unlikely places, you will find anything and everything. In fact, now that I think of it, the subject of unlikely material, found in unlikely places and put to unlikely research uses might be the subject of my next blog ...