Sarah Tyacke and Lord Briggs honoured

All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History celebrates outstandingcontribution

Archivists must be 'of their times' - Sarah Tyacke

'You need good professional archivists' - Lord Briggs 

The All Party Group on Archives and History has honoured the work of Sarah Tyacke and Lord (Asa) Briggs at their annual lunch to celebrate outstanding achievement.  The archivist and historian joined guests at the lunch at the House of Commons hosted by Dr Hywel Francis, Chair of the All Party Group.

briggstyackeThe work of Sarah Tyacke, who led the National Archives from 1992 to 2005 was introduced by historian Tristram Hunt MP.  He emphasised Sarah’s significant achievements as scholar, leader and archivist. It had fallen to her, and others, to find a way through the new challenges of a digital world of recordkeeping and a new age of information freedom.  Her contribution to the growth and reach of the National Archives was profound.

Sarah thanked the Group warmly and remarked that all archivists had to be ‘of their times’; she remembered being assured that ‘emails would never take the place of paper as a record of government’.  Without utilising new technologies to improve access, archives would be no more than ‘paper museums’ which had nothing to do with the future. But the work of archivists and record keepers was all about the future. They were preparing and keeping ‘a continuing quarry for study’.  Sarah urged support for the archives world at a time of diminishing resources .  ‘Constant vigilance is necessary’ she said.

Lord (Kenneth) Morgan, Welsh historian and author, introduced Lord (Asa) Briggs as a ‘total historian’ and an ‘incomparable social historian’ whose honesty and humanity shone from his work. His work had had a profound effect. While others described the events, the landscape, the buildings of history, Lord Briggs had described the people, including the all-important ‘humdrum’ details of existence. Lord Briggs had proved beyond any doubt, he said, that ‘there is such a thing as society’.

‘I decided that the sort of history I wanted to write would be based on primary sources’ said Lord Briggs in reply. Because of this, he believed he had had ‘more to do with archives’ than any historian of his generation. He spoke of ‘finding archives everywhere ‘and of the deep debt his work owed to the work of archivists. He recalled how he had helped to set up the BBC archives – now the best archive of broadcasting in the world - when he wrote, working with Lord Reith,  the history of the BBC . The Mass Observation archive at Sussex University had also been key to his work. Lord Briggs warned against any move to put the nation’s archives into amateur hands: ‘you need good professional archivists’ he said.

Dr Hywel Francis noted the synergy and the way in which the life achievements of  Sarah Tyacke and Lord Briggs were complementary. Both had lived the words attributed to Benjamin Franklin:  ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’.


About Sarah Tyacke: Sarah Tyacke CB FSA led the National Archives from 1992 to 2005. Before that she led Special Collections at the British Library. She is a respected historian of cartography. She is Chair of the International Records Management Trust and of the Foundation for the International Development of Archives, of the Harley Trustees and formerly of the Mount Everest Foundation. She was awarded the President’s Medal by the British Academy in 2010. Sarah continues to work to help develop and protect archives all over the world.

About Lord Briggs: Lord (Asa) Briggs, born in 1921, graduated in 1941. He served at Bletchley Park during WWII and then held academic posts at Oxford, Leeds and Sussex. He was Provost of Worcester College, Oxford from 1976 to 1991 and  Chancellor of the Open University from 1978 to 1994. Lord Briggs is the pre-eminent historian of the Victorian age. He also wrote the definitive history of broadcasting 1922–1974 and the history of Marks and Spencer for its centenary in 1974.

Read more about the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History here.