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Address. Public Record Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU [Map]
Telephone. (020) 8392-5200 (general enquiries)
Fax. (020) 8878-8905 (general enquiries)
e-mail. [general enquiries]
Governing body or responsible institution. The Keeper of Public Records and the Management Board
Function. The Public Record Office (PRO) is the National Archive of England, Wales and the United Kingdom; a government department responsible to the Lord Chancellor, the minister in charge of the English legal system.
Subjects. Legal records of government departments (proclamations, edicts etc.), foreign gazettes and pamphlets, other public records related to English history.
Access. Open to all free of charge by reader's ticket, issued on site. Foreign nationals should bring a passport or national identity card. - Opening hours vary, but the office is open Monday to Saturday from at least 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and usually longer; please refer to the Office or to the PRO Web Pages for details.
Special facilities. Full range of reprographic and technical services.
Travel directions. The nearest underground station is Kew Gardens which is 40 minutes from Victoria Station via the District Line. The nearest railway stations are Kew Gardens (North London Line) and Kew Bridge. - The PRO is situated off the A205 about 2.5 km from junction 2 of the M4 motorway. There is a large car park for users.
1.1 The Record Commission was set up in 1801 to retrieve parliamentary documents and publish the more important series. This Commission, however, was superseded by the Public Record Office (PRO), which was created by Act of Parliament in 1838. This institution continued to gather material and began to house the government archives of England, Wales and the United Kingdom. Prior to this the records were scattered in government offices and stores all over London. Records relating to Scotland are held at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
1.2 The PRO moved to Kew in south-west London in two stages between 1976 and 1996. It houses the complete archives of central government since 1086, stored in a purpose-built repository, on over 150 km of shelving.
Chronological outline and analysis by language
2.1 The overwhelming part of the holdings consists of manuscript material, but several classes of records contain large quantities of early printed material (a few thousand items), ranging in date from 1476 (a Caxton incunable) to the 20th century. These printed items were working tools which were attached to administrative records by officials who created them. They form an inseparable part of these classes of records. German-speaking material and/or imprints from the 16th to 18th centuries run to several hundred items at most. There are also a few imprints in Latin, Italian or French printed in German-speaking countries.
2.2 The principal classes containing German printed material are classes of Foreign State Papers (SP), namely SP 9, SP 115, SP 118, SP 119 and SP 124. These contain foreign gazettes, some of which are still in their original bundles, and printed pamphlets formerly held in the State Paper Office, a government repository which held papers relating to the conduct of foreign affairs.
2.3 SP 118 contains material printed in the Holy Roman Empire between 1588 and 1791. These items were extracted from other classes, probably in the 19th century, and the precise details of their provenance was lost, making it impossible to restore them to the documents with which they were originally associated. SP 118/1-31 consists of gazettes printed in Germany between 1663 and 1784. Some of these are in Latin, French or Italian, but the great majority are in the German language. Some have no details of their places of publication, but a number are from Hamburg, e.g. Nordischer Mercurius (copies from 1664, 1666, 1668-1670, 1674-1677) or Gazettes de France, d'Italia and from Engeland (1669), Relationes Latinæ et Gallicæ (1670) or Relations Courier (copies from 1675-1679). Others are from Vienna, such as Il Corriere Ordinario (copies from 1671, 1673, 1675, and 1677/78) or Neu ankommender Currier (1676), from Frankfurt a. M. (Journal und Continuation des Frantzösischen und Holländischen Kriegs/Journal, 1673), Cologne (Ordinari Wochentliche Dingstags Postzeitungen/Extra-ordinari Freytags PostZeitungen, 1679; Gazette de Cologne, 1744) or Osnabrück (Ordentliche Zeitung von verschiedenen Orthen, May 1667). Examples from Danzig and Stettin are Dantziger Ordinari day Zeitung (1668) and Europaeische Mitwochentliche Zeitung (1666).
2.4 SP 118/32-36 are 5 official edicts of various rulers ranging from 1623 to 1765, mostly dated but without further imprint information. Examples are Wir Johann Grave Tserclaes von Tilly (dated Assenheim March 1623) or Fernandus secundus, divina faveste clementia electus Romanorum Imperator (on Italy; Vienna, 26 Sept 1629).
2.5 SP 118/37-171 are all pamphlets from the period of 1615 to 1791, touching on international affairs. A large number comprises pieces on early stages of the Thirty Years' War, published between 1619 and 1621. Examples are Gratulatio de Bohemiae Regno, Moraviae Marchionatu, Silesiae Ducatu, et Lusatiae Marchionatu: Friderico, Bohemiae Regi, S R Imp Electori ... Scripta a Gotthardo Voege (n. p. 1619), Den curier postellion welcher auszreitt den verlornen konig Palatein zusuchen (n. p. 1621) or Relatio nuperi itineris proscribtorum Iesitarum ex Regnis Bohemiae & Ungariae missa ex Helicone juxta Parnassum (Prague 1619).
2.6 Many pamphlets are from the later 17th century relating, e.g. to the Netherlands (Copeyliche abschrifft, des von Ihrer Hoch-Furstlichen gnaden zu Munster, an die Herren General Staaten der Vereinigten Niederlanden abgegangen Schreibens, no imprint, dated at Luttgersburg 14 Sept 1665) or to Sweden (Motus animorum circa motum armorum Svecicorum in Germaniam, & primum quidem in provincias Serenis. Principis Elect. Brandenb. Marchiam & Pomeraniam, n. p. 1675). The collection is especially strong in French arrêts from the 18th century, but there is other material, such as an ``avertissement' concerning the Czar of Russia (Avertissement au public touchant un edit publie par l'ordre de Sa Majeste Czarienne. En date du 27/16 Avril l'annee 1702; Cologne chez les heritiers de la veufve Pierre Marteau [false imprint] 1702) or a Journal du siege de Schweidnitz avec la capitulation et la liste des prisonniers (Berlin: Christian Louis Kunst 1762). Historically highly interesting is a published letter in French from the Comte d'Artois to his brother Louis XVI, published in Koblenz in 1791, containing ``la declaration signee a Pilnitz le 27 Aoust 1791'.
2.7 The spacing of pamphlets is irregular, with large numbers published in close succession, followed by lengthy gaps. The contents plainly reflect the interests of officials in London. Many of the pamphlets are in German (e.g. Ein ballett, vorstellend einige bey fruher tag-zeit sich ereignende kurtzweilige begebenheiten, n. p., n. d., or Beantwortung der vom Herrn Grafen von Dohna vor seiner abreise vorgelesenen declaration, Vienna: Johann Peter von Ghelen 1744), but many others were plainly addressed to an international audience. These were published in Latin or more frequently in French, as for example works like the Exposé des motifs qui ont engagé Sa Majesté le Roi de Prusse a s'opposer au desmembrement de la Bavière (Berlin 1778). There are other Prussian publications of the 18th century, dealing with topics such as Austria, the Netherlands or Poland, e.g. Exposé des droits de Sa Majesté le Roi de Prusse sur le duche de Pomerellie et sur plusiers autres districts du Royaume de Pologne. Avec les pieces justificatives (Berlin: George Jacob Decker 1772).
2.8 SP 118/172-173 hold imperial edicts, mostly relating to the administration of the Austrian Netherlands in the 18th century, but including a French version of Ferdinand II's second dismissal of Wallenstein, Ordonnance par sa Maiesté Imperiale donnée contre Fridlant. Le 18. de Février 1634.
2.9 SP 118/174-180 are pamphlets printed between 1588 and 1725. Again, several are plainly evidence of English interest in the Thirty Years' War, notably the Abbildung der fürnembsten städt schlösser und flecken in Teütslant so seiner ex: Marqu. Spinola ergebn. A. 1620 und 21 (1621?) includes depictions of 50 Rhineland towns taken by Ambrogio Spinola in 1620/21.
2.10 Class SP 115 contains 2 gazettes and 8 pamphlets from Denmark, dated between 1641 and 1679, but mostly from the late 1670s. Four of these are in the German language, e.g. Altonaische Relation (Altona: Victor de Low 1673-1674), Europäische Relation (Altona: Victor de Low 1679), Declaration wegen confiscirten Englishen fordrungen, 1 Februarii, anno 1667 (Copenhagen: Heinrich Goede 1667) and Greiffenfeldischer inquisitionis end urtheil in inquistions Sachen (no imprint, dated at Copenhagen, 26 May 1676).
2.11 Class SP 124 is for printed material from Russia, and contains only one item: Nachtdeme man in der reichs-gesandten-cantzeley in Mosko die alten archiven durchsuchen, und registriren lassen, ist darunter ein original ... (dated St. Petersburg 1718).
Because printed material in the Public Record Office forms parts of larger archival classes, it is generally listed archivally rather than catalogued.
3.1 Modern catalogues
Prior to 1999 there were two main finding aids for PRO records: the PRO Guide, an 8-volume summary guide to the 17,000 series of records, with administrative histories of the government departments which created them, and 85m of printed series lists, giving document descriptions and references within each series. In 1999 these were superseded by an online catalogue which is now the current finding aid for all PRO collections. It is available on the PRO web site.
Card catalogue [for printed documents]
Lists of Classes [typescripts]
3.2 Historic catalogues
Scargill-Bird, S. R.: A guide to the principal classes of documents preserved in the Public Record Office. London 1891; repr. 1896, 1908
Giuseppi, M. S.: Guide to the Public Record Office, ed. by the Public Record Office. 3 vols. London 1963
[All these catalogues are grossly out of date and are now of curiosity value only. They should not be used to find PRO documents today.]
4.1 Archival sources
The archival collections which relate to the PRO and its administration are in the PRO series PRO 1 - PRO 66/4.
Galbraith, V. H: An introduction to the use of the public records. Oxford 1934; repr. 1971
Cantwell, J. D.: The Public Record Office, 1838-1958. London 1991
Lawes, A.: Chancery Lane. The Strong-Box of the Empire. Kew 1996
Public Record Office Souvenir Guide. Kew 1998
Paisey, D.: German newspapers of the 17th century in the Public Record Office, London. In: Gutenberg Jahrbuch 53 (1978) pp. 168-172
The history of the German collections cited above is to be found in the Administrative History sections of the relevant series in the PRO online catalogue. General information about office collections as a whole can be found in:
Report of the Deputy Keeper of Public Records (London, annually from 1858-1965)
Annual Report of the Keeper of Public Records (London, 1966-date)
See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 312-314