Webpage created: November 03, 2018
Webpage updated: May 13, 2020
It was not until after the Second World War that the City of Plymouth had its own archivist to organise, calendar and exploit the collection of manuscripts that it possessed in its Central Library. Mr George Allen Chinnery MA (Hons) took up his post as Librarian/Archivist on Monday November 3rd 1952 and was based at Ham House. He held a honours degree in history as well as a diploma from the School of Archivists in London and was an authority on medieval Anglo-French, Latin and early forms of legal terminology.
He was succeeded by a Mr J M P Farrer, who was in turn followed in February 1958 by Mr Charles Edwin Welch, formerly a senior assistant at the West Sussex Record Office. He was educated at the University of Leicester and obtained his Masters degree at the University of Liverpool.
Mr Welch ensured that the City's records were properly catalogued and was responsible for writing the first two books in an intended, but unfinished, series on the subject of the archives. A lot of extra work was created for him when the various departments of the City commenced moving into the Civic Centre and deposited with him new records that in some cases went back to 1812. Whether this was instrumental in his departure at the end of May 1962 for a new appointment at Southampton is not known.
The new City Archivist was Mr Keith David Holt MA, a keen transport enthusiast. He was certainly in post in 1965 until he got a job back up north.
At some point around this time the City Archivists were Mrs Brenda Cluer, whose husband published two volumes of photographs of old Plymouth, and later Mr Robert Chell.
On April 1st 1974 Plymouth City Council was paced under the control of Devon County Council and the Archives Department of Plymouth City Council became the West Devon Record Office. During the last week of May 1975 the archives were moved into new accommodation in the basement of the Central Library, officially known as number 14 Tavistock Place. Now properly known as a Record Office, it was the legal point of deposit for pubic records, manorial records and parish records and provided facilities for private institutions to permanently preserve their documents. The new West Devon Record Office was opened to the public at 9am on Monday June 2nd 1975.
Any joy at this development was short-lived. Mr A A H Knightbridge, a pubic records inspector, carried out an inspection and in a report to the Council in December 1980 declared that the cramped and overcrowded storage premises were 'the worst he has ever seen'. The working space for staff was bad and the humidity in the basement and the damp at an auxiliary storage place at Crownhill meant that the preservation of the documents could be at risk. The classic set of shipping registers for the Port were in fact being stored at Exeter. Plymouth, said Mrs Margery Rowe, the head of the Devon Record Service, had only 900 square feet of storage facilities compared to 10,000 square feet in Exeter. The search room at Crownhill was supposed to accommodate 300 searchers per year but 2,500 visited it during 1979 and many had to be turned away.
Councillor George Creber, chairman of the West Devon Policy Committee, commented that: 'The staff are in incredibly efficient but I have never seen such cramped conditions, with everything packed in. They don't conform to the Safety Act, or anything else for that matter'. Councillor W Ivor Thompson said that it was 'deplorable that Plymouth, a City of such long and famous maritime associations, is unable to provide a permanent home for its own shipping records'.
One of the options available to Devon County Council was to spend £143,000 on a new building but instead they chose to convert a modern industrial warehouse in Clare Place, Coxside, at a cost of just £26,000. This provided a large storage room, a search room and a room for meetings and lectures. Still known as the West Devon Record Office, a small charge of £1 per person, or £10 a year, was made for admission. Miss Elizabeth Stuart was the Area Archivist. It opened to the public on Monday March 1st 1982 while the chairman of Devon County Council, Mr George Creber, performed the official opening ceremony on Thursday June 10th 1982 in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Reg Scott.
Mr Paul Brough became the Plymouth City Archivist in August 1991 and remained until August 2000, when he became Cornwall County Archivist. Mr Sam Johnston took over from Mr Brough until he was in turn succeeded by Miss Louisa Mann on April 6th 2010. The post of City Archivist, like the post of City Librarian, no longer exists as the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office will be subsumed in 2020 within the new Plymouth heritage centre to be known as "The Box".