New Kent history centre set for launch
Family historians tracing links to Kent may be able to explore new leads following the launch of a major new archive centre next week
Family historians with connections to Kent will be able to explore a wealth of records and resources following the launch of a major archive in the county.
The Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone, which opens on Monday, 23 April, will offer visitors the chance to browse a diverse range of records and artefacts charting the stories of the county’s people. As well as expanded access to the archive collections and improved storage facilities, the building also features extended space for exhibitions and events, a community history area and a dedicated research room. Work on the centre has been complemented by a programme of digitisation, with an online catalogue at www.kentarchives.org.uk.
The £12 million facility, which has taken just under two years to complete, has been made possible thanks to funding by Kent County Council and the development of residential properties on the new site. The centre replaces services formerly offered at the County Archives, East Kent Archives Centre and the Centre for Kentish Studies, together with two local reference libraries, the County Reference Library at Springfield in Maidstone and Maidstone Library.
“This state-of-the-art building will mean that many more archive materials will be available to the public than ever before in Kent,” says Mike Hall, Kent County Council cabinet member for Customer and Communities. “We are bringing together local historical artefacts and documents from across the county and will be able to protect them in purpose-built storage, so records will last long into the future. Staff have been busy moving equipment and stock into the centre in recent weeks, and I look forward to opening a new chapter in Kent’s history.”
Among the estimated 14 kilometres of records that will be available to view at the new centre is a series of letters sent in 1817 by Jane Austen to her niece Fanny Knight, which refer to the author’s declining health and the contents of some of her novels. Other highlights include the only known signature of playwright Christopher Marlowe and King Wihtred’s Charter, which dates from AD699 and is believed to be the oldest document held at any local archive centre in the United Kingdom. Yet it is the chance to find out more about generations of less famous forebears who lived and worked in the county that promises to be the biggest draw for family historians from around the world.
“As any researcher knows, the more material that is housed in a single archive, the less leg-work we have to do,” says family historian Jenny Thomas. “Combining resources under one purpose-built roof is an exciting step, as well as a time-saving one. Anyone interested in researching their Kentish ancestors is likely to benefit from the opening of this new centre."