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Tour of the Conservation Studio, during London Open House, 2017

​Conservation Studio tour, during Open House London

We were delighted to open up London Metropolitan Archives on Saturday 16 September to the public as part of the annual Open House London - the world’s largest architectural festival which gives free access to hundreds of buildings across the capital. Charlotte Scott looks what made the LMA event special and how it went.

Open House seeks to enable people to explore, learn and be inspired by London’s rich and varied architecture - all things of course we at LMA very much believe in too.  This year we are celebrating the 950th anniversary of the William Charter, our earliest document, and we particularly want to encourage new audiences and “open up” the service as much as possible.

So in the spirit of 'opening up', we decided to make our Open House event special by taking people to parts of the building which are normally only accessed by those staff who need to work there; and show them archives which are not available to see every day. We put together a tour of our extension with a strong room below ground level, holding 5 kilometres of archives on shelving going up to 4.5 metres; our plan room with rare mobile plan units (and a model of a ship); our largest strong room which holds some 18.5 linear metres of archives; and finally a visit to the Conservation Studio to see the William Charter and a recent acquisition, a 1838 daguerreotype of the Monument. To encourage people to explore LMA further we also planned to have copies of photographs, plans and prints of the site and the Clerkenwell area available along with the Mediatheque and Life on the London Stage exhibition, inviting the public to drop in during the day.

When Open House London publicised their programme in August our tours all booked up immediately, so we squeezed in some more, carefully calculating lift capacities and possible bottlenecks in corridors. Banners, badges, posters arrived and social media got very busy.

So, how did it go?

It was great! Around 130 people came to see LMA and it was a delight to host them.  People were interested, intrigued, enthused and surprised. Some old friends came to see where the archives they have used are actually stored (and see the reason why we have to have 20 minute production times), but over 90% of visitors had never come before and most of them had not heard of us before the day. The youngest visitors (under 10s) loved mobile shelving and thought industrial lifts were truly awesome. Seeing the LMA building through new eyes reminded all of us who work here what is unusual and special about it and its history of printing press to archive service in one of the oldest and most individual areas of London. It was good to be reminded of how we had changed and adapted the building over the last 35 years to accommodate more archives, but also to allow more people to visit and use the collections in other ways.

When we first planned Open House for 2017 we thought it would be just for the one year, but we are now thinking we could do this again, and take people to other parts of the building and show them how we do other activities. We might even offer more than one type of tour. 

Please let us know if you have any ideas here, and look out for LMA at the next Open House!

02 November 2017
Last Modified:
28 November 2017