The Parliamentary Archives is the official archive of the House of Commons and House of Lords (UK Parliament).
The Archives can trace its origins back to March 1497 when Master Richard Hatton, Clerk of the House of Lords, took the unusual decision to retain sixteen enacted Bills (or Original Acts) after he’d used them to compile the Parliament Roll for the Chancery. This decision set in motion a quiet revolution in record keeping in the House of Lords, allowing successive Clerks to gradually expand and formalise this process.
Record keeping started later in the House of Commons. In the Middle Ages no formal records as such were created by the House. However, by 1547 the domestic records of the House were accumulating and a Commons Journal was being preserved.
Development and Destruction
The two Houses had built up a considerable collection of records by the early nineteenth century when, on 16 October 1834, a devastating fire took hold of the Palace of Westminster. The House of Commons archive, stored in various locations throughout the Palace, was badly affected. All major record series were lost with the exception of the House of Commons Journal. Fortunately, the House of Lords archive fared much better – stored opposite the Palace in the Jewel Tower the records survived the disaster.
In the aftermath of the fire, plans were put in place to create a dedicated archive store within the re-built Palace. The Victoria Tower at the south end of the estate was purpose built for this role with a cast iron spiral staircase connecting all the floors, each holding around eight strong rooms for the storage of valuable records. However, it wasn’t until 1946 that a dedicated department – the House of Lords Record Office, and a dedicated post – the Clerk of the Records, were established to oversee the transfer, preservation and access to Parliament’s records.
Recordkeeping in the 21st Century
In 1999, the House of Lords Record Office adopted the subsidiary title of Parliamentary Archives to better represent the department’s role as custodian of both House of Lords and House of Commons records. In 2006 the name was officially adopted.
Today the Parliamentary Archives continues to look after the records of the Houses of Parliament, providing free public access to the archives. Our team of records managers, archivists and conservators work closely with employees of both Houses to ensure that we capture the digital and paper documents which form the official record of the UK Parliament.
Find out more on the History of the Parliamentary Archives pages where you can learn about the history of the archives, how Victoria Tower has changed, listen to a podcast about what we do and see images of records about the archives and some of our most iconic documents.