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Archaeological Society Has Concerns Over the Future of the Surrey History Centre

Published on: 17 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 20 Dec, 2018

Surrey Archaeological Society logo

By Rebecca Curley

Local Democracy Reporter

Surrey Archaeological Society members are concerned about the future of historical documents and archives if the county’s history base is to close.

They fear the skilled workforce protecting the manuscripts and writings could be lost under proposals by Surrey County Council (SCC) to restructure its library and cultural services.

The council is now entering its final few weeks of consulting on cutting its cultural budget for 2019/20 by more than half from £8.7m to £4m.

This includes ideas to merge libraries and offer a more digitised service.

Coming under the banner of its heritage service, members of Surrey Archaeological Society fear this could impact the historical documents at the history centre in Woking.

David Calow showing Heritage day visitors around St Catherine’s Chapel in 2007

David Calow, honorary secretary, said there was a “mass of knowledge” held by the staff at the centre who “know about the history”.

He said: “Surrey History Centre in Woking is a remarkable asset. Formed twenty years ago by Surrey County Council from county records and records held by borough councils – including Guildford Borough Council – it now houses the most complete collection of charters, letters, maps, documents, photographs and books relating to Surrey that exists.

“Everything is here from original wills and legal papers over 800 years old to the archives of great Surrey estates and recent digital images. It’s all professionally catalogued and curated and made freely available in clean, modern, climate controlled conditions by expert and enthusiastic paid staff and volunteers with on-line catalogues and images to ensure the material can be seen worldwide 24/7.

“Used by people needing to know about planning constraints, land rights and council decision-making as well as researchers and family, house and local historians, Surrey History Centre is the sort of county archive a developed country would hope to have.

“We all understand that spending priorities are changing and the cost of care goes on increasing but for Surrey County Council now to be obliged to consider breaking up a first class facility that has taken their staff years to develop seems to show a lack of central planning that would astonish those who created the records it keeps safe.”

SCC says it has seen a 25 per cent drop in visits to Surrey libraries since 2010, but a big rise in online services.

It spends £14 per person on libraries compared to other county councils who spend £9.89.

It is proposing to reshape the services to make libraries more effective, including the introduction of shared spaces and hubs, access to better technology  and building on the skills of volunteers who work at libraries in the county.

Cllr Julie Isles, new cabinet member for all-age learning which includes libraries, pledged this week: “I will be building on work we have already started to reshape our libraries and cultural services so that they fit better with modern life.”

Consultation on the libraries and cultural services ends on January 4 (2019).

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Responses to Archaeological Society Has Concerns Over the Future of the Surrey History Centre

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    December 18, 2018 at 1:04 am

    Whatever happens, this exceedingly valuable library of historical documents of Surrey must be preserved. These include the old flood documents from the 1930s Wey Navigation realignment and the documents covering the building of the Burpham bypass in the 1970s/80s.

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