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SAHB visit to the new Science Museum library and archive

On the rather wet and windy Thursday morning of 20th August 2009, twenty SAHB members gathered at the Science Museum Library and Archives at Wroughton near Swindon, Wiltshire. Forewarned about the time needed to process the official visitor passes (which entails each person being photographed), most delegates arrived well before the appointed time – only to be informed that passes would not be required after all!

Perched on a windswept hilltop, the ex-military airbase looked somewhat bleak in the rain, and the former World War Two aircraft maintenance building that is home to the library also seemed a bit gloomy at first sight. However, in direct contrast to its grey concrete exterior, the library is bright and ultra-modern inside. The warm welcome extended to SAHB members by the staff was equally upbeat and friendly, with tea and coffee made available.

Following a comprehensive introduction by librarian Nick Wyatt, the party was split into two – half going on a tour of the facility, the other half examining an impressive display of historic automotive material that had been specially arranged for us in the reading room. The two groups then swapped places.

 Wroughton holds 85% of the Science Museum library collection (the rest remaining at the Imperial College library in Kensington) and all of the archives, which adds up to over 10,000 journals and 100,000 books (plus patents, manuscripts and trade brochures, etc) stored on 16 miles of shelving. During the look around the various sections we were shown a vellum-bound volume of Galileo dating from 1613, a 1704 book by Isaac Newton and a first edition signed by Einstein. Illustrating the incredible variety of subjects to be found was a 1692 book entitled ‘Purging Pills for Horses’!

In the reading room, archivist Cecilia Cassingham gave a brief overview of automotive material available for research and, after explaining the problems of trying to unravel copyright issues, she was astonished to learn that one of our number – Anders Clausager, chief archivist at the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust – would probably be able to assist her with rights concerning documents from the coachbuilder Hooper. Several members discovered useful items on show and purchased photocopies, while our chairman was seen busily running a ruler over some original Napier engine drawings.

Without exception everyone was hugely impressed by the library and its staff, and most of us plan to return at an early date to conduct further investigations. After departing from the airfield, the majority of members made their way to the excellent pub ‘The Crown’SAHBSM in nearby Broad Hinton where a convivial lunch was generously provided by Ken Ball. Without doubt this was a most successful SAHB event and grateful thanks go to Malcolm Jeal for organising the whole occasion so well and to Ken Ball for his generosity. Tony Beadle

 (Photograph courtesy of Peter Card)


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