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History centre nears opening

Box upon box, shelf after shelf; this is the heart of Kent's new county archive and library.

Archive boxes at Kent History and Library Centre Credit: ITV Meridian

A lot of our stuff has been hidden away in County Hall for far too long

– Lesley Spencer, Project Manager

Curators here have real history on their hands - an order for a Maidstone soldier's pension signed by Oliver Cromwell; a charter from King Wittred of Kent in 699 A.D; and a magistrates note of a speeding fine in Folkestone - for one Arthur Conan Doyle in 1905. The collections have come from all over the county for preservation, restoration - and for anyone to see.

"Part of the driver for this is to make our archives and our local studies material much more accessible and user-friendly. People who know it's there use it very well but what we're trying to do in this centre is make all our treasures much more accessible to everybody" says project manager Lesley Spencer.

Archive books at Kent History and Library Centre Credit: Kent County Council

The old main archive at County Hall was built in the 1930s and is no longer fit for purpose. This twelve-million pound building is its replacement, Maidstone's new public library on the ground floor hiding the extent of the collection underneath.

Maidstone's new library Credit: ITV Meridian

This building's all about Kent's heritage and culture

– Stuart Bligh, Head of Archives

Fourteen kilometres of archive material is stored here on hundreds of racks. The county council's been collecting documents since 1820; business records, correspondence, charters, books, pictures - they tell the story of Kent.

"It's important we have the original documents and wehave many, many people still accessing those. You can't really feel history or smell history through a computer screen but having said that we do of course plan to have lots of material digitised and available" confirms Head of Archives, Stuart Bligh.

"It's a huge task because we're at a watershed moment really where people are moving from accessing actual copies through to virtual copies so we've got lots of work to do in the coming years but this building will allow us to do that properly" he adds.

The building opens on Shakespeare's birthday - Monday April 23rd.