This week the National Maritime Museum welcomes almost 100 delegates from across the UK to discuss maritime archives. Stuart Bligh tells us more, and finds links to ships and the sea in some unexpected places.

We’re particularly interested in exploring ways of collaborating to provide more information about what is available and also to promote the material as an important and unique resource for the country’s rich and unique maritime history. We have speakers from SS Great Britain, Cornwall Record Office, the London Metropolitan Archives, Southampton University, Glasgow University Archives, Staffordshire Record Office and Tyne & Wear Museums and Archives to set the scene for what should be a lively discussion.

One key question is of course... what is a maritime archive? The answer is that it is a very flexible definition, both in terms of an archive as a repository and an archive as an individual document or collection of documents. Our archive collection here at the maritime museum, consisting of around 6 kilometres of manuscript material and an estimated 10 million items, is of course a maritime archive as it is a specialists collection packed full of documents relating to Britain’s maritime past. However other archives which have fantastic and rich collections of maritime-relevant material are perhaps not so obviously maritime, for example Staffordshire Archives, which has a number of important collections relating to naval figures including Admiral George Anson, Sir John Jervis and Admiral George Legge, yet the county is landlocked.

A quick check on the National Archives’ DISCOVERY catalogue returns 95,512 results for the term ‘maritime’, 94,442 for the term ‘sea’ and 1,803,517 for the term ‘ship’. So whatever the definition of a maritime archive is there are certainly a lot of them! As an island nation it is probably true to say with some certainty that every county or local authority archive in the country has something in its collections that has a link to the sea. From the point of view of the conference this week that is both an exciting and challenging thought.

Stuart Bligh, Head of Research and Information

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