The Hold: New archive project in Ipswich will help preserve Suffolk’s heritage
PUBLISHED: 12:34 04 June 2019
The Hold is an exciting project that will connect Suffolk people with their heritage by sharing the county’s treasured archives | Words: Sheena Grant
We all know what it's like to accumulate so much 'stuff' that you run out of somewhere to put it all. But the difficulties any of us are likely to encounter when it comes to finding a home for a lifetime's worth of the things we hold dear are nothing compared to those facing the Suffolk Record Office.
The archive has 900 years worth of records telling the story of our county and the people who have shaped it. And it's no exaggeration to say that in the last few years, things have been approaching crisis point.
The Ipswich Record Office in Gatacre Road opened in 1992 and was only ever intended to be in use for 20 years. It was one of three across the county - the others are at Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds - and all were creaking at the seams.
But necessity, so the saying goes, is the mother of invention. For out of this adversity, a project was born that will not only solve the county's storage problems but will also create one of the most innovative and exciting heritage centres in the country, transforming the way people engage with Suffolk's history.
The name of this £20 million project is The Hold, now taking shape at Ipswich Waterfront, near the junction of Fore Street and Grimwade Street.
Construction began in August 2018 and focused on creating strong rooms first, where the irreplaceable archives will be kept.
The building is due to formally open to the public in spring 2020. As well as delivering a new home for the majority of Suffolk's unique archival collections, The Hold will have state-of-the-art public facilities and teaching spaces.
It will be part of the University of Suffolk campus and will be run by the county and university together.
Project manager Amy Rushton says there are few facilities anywhere else in the country that can rival what it has to offer.
"The project initially started to address the record office's storage problems," she says. "Archives across all three branches were reaching breaking point, which is a serious problem for record offices as they have to stop collecting if they get too full.
"We are the memory bank of the county and our collections are always evolving and growing as we collect the present for the future. Running out of storage space is a serious issue and if gets to critical point record offices can lose place of deposit status, which could mean collections being removed."
It was clear, says Amy, the county had to act. "We identified this exciting partnership with the University of Suffolk, which gives us a building right in the heart of the university campus and relocates us to this vibrant area of the county town."
The Hold will replace Ipswich Record Office, the largest of the three offices. Small amounts of material from Bury and Lowestoft that need to be safeguarded will be transferred but those offices will remain as branches.
It's impossible to overstate the scale and ambition of The Hold, which represents an enormous investment in Suffolk's heritage, says Amy. Much of the funding for the project comes from £10.8 million Heritage Lottery funding.
"The lottery money supports not just the new building but a change to our community outreach across the county. We are appointing new members of staff to engage communities around Suffolk with heritage from our archives.
"Previously people came to us for talks or lectures. What we want to do is to turn that on its head so we go out to the community. The first project is called Sharing Suffolk Stories. That is starting already and is participant-led, looking to the archives for inspiration or to something contemporary that needs to be recorded.
"For example, we have a group in Tattingstone looking at the creation of the reservoir at Alton Water and people's emotional reaction to that process, using the archive to see what the land was being used for before the reservoir."
The Hold itself is expected to attract thousands of visitors a year, seeking to research local and family history, or take part in events and activities. It will also enable archive material to be put on display.
"For the first time ever we will have a proper dedicated exhibition space," says Amy. "It will be properly equipped with temperature and humidity controls. The building will have interactive interpretation, using original material, facsimile or digital, to give people different ways into the collection.
"We could have material going on show that hasn't been seen by the public for decades or even centuries. The exhibition space will allow us to borrow material from other archives too, places that have Suffolk material that we can get on loan and can wrap our own archive around it."
The Hold will have a café, shop and search room with adjoining audio room. "There will be a 200-seat tiered auditorium, which is part of the partnership with the university," says Amy. "There will be seminar rooms and the record office will have access to those facilities as well.
"There will be state-of-the-art strong rooms and cells. All collections will be safe behind the scenes, with conservation studios, a digitalisation studio and quarantine room, where we can get rid of bugs when material comes into us.
"There may be insects, larvae or mould and things need to be quarantined and treated."
Once finished, it is anticipated more than 100 direct and indirect jobs will be created, as well as training and apprenticeships. "It will attract more students to the university," says Amy. "It is also helping regeneration in that Waterfront area and should bring more visitors to Suffolk.
The building has been designed with a nod to the heritage of the area and Suffolk's past. "The architects have given us a beautiful Suffolk red brick building with horizontal bands of Suffolk cream and echoes of maltings buildings," says Amy.
"The roof will have a soft zinc finish. There will be around 4,700 square metres of floor space. We wanted to make something physically as well as intellectually accessible. All the public areas are on one level with a central route through the building from one end to other.
"Ipswich (record office) had 5,074 visits in 2017-18. Once it is open and operational we are predicting 36,200 (including 12,000 students) for The Hold in the first year.
"The current record office at Gatacre Road opened in 1992 and was only ever intended for 20 years. We are going to retain the strong room but the listed part of the building will have another use."
For Amy personally, managing the project is an incredible opportunity.
"It is a huge job but a fantastic experience," she says. "The Hold will connect people with Suffolk's history in a way that hasn't been done before. It will transform our ability to share this wonderful material."
What is in the Suffolk archive, how is it preserved and who decides what is worth collecting? Find out more in next month's Suffolk Magazine.
Earlier this year, time capsules were buried at some of Suffolk's most culturally and historically-significant locations to mark the 900th anniversary of the county's oldest 'treasure', the oldest document in the Suffolk Record Office collections.
It is the Royal Charter of King Henry I to the Monks of Eye Priory, dating from 1119. The charter confirms the lands, churches and tithes given to the priory by its founder, Robert Malet and his sister, Beatrix.
The time capsules, buried at Bury St Edmunds, Eye, Felixstowe, Framlingham, Haverhill, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Mildenhall, and Stowmarket, captured a snapshot of Suffolk life in 2019 and will be dug up in 100 years.
The record office is also working with communities to develop digital history trails to start and end near each capsule location. The first trail was due to be launched on Suffolk Day June 21 with others to follow.
Funding the hold
- The Hold will cost in the region of £20 million, more than half of which has come from the National Lottery. A £10.3m grant, awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) earlier this year is among the biggest ever made in the county.
- The project team also secured development funding of £538,000 from the HLF, bringing the total National Lottery funding to £10.8 million.
- Suffolk County Council has pledged £5 million and the university, £1 million. An £80,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation will be used to create the Learning Space.
- Further fundraising by the Suffolk Archives Foundation will support the project and The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership awarded the project £250,000, while a £414,763 grant came from the Coastal Communities Fund.
- Other funders include the Garfield-Weston Foundation, local trusts, heritage societies and foundations, Friends of the Suffolk Record Office and individual donors who have contributed to The Hold's John Blatchly Local Studies Library.