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National Accreditation for College Archive Centre

The School of Pythagoras

The Archive Centre at St John's College has become an Accredited Archive Service - a national standard of excellence which acknowledges significant contributions to the management, preservation and accessibility of historically important collections.

To date, just 90 collections nationwide have received National Archives accreditation of this sort, and the St John's Archive Centre is just the third to do so within Oxford and Cambridge. It represents another mark of recognition for what is already an award-winning new facility for the College Archives at St John's, which opened in 2015. 

The Archives contain documents and records about St John's dating back to its foundation in 1511. They include statutes, registers of membership, accounts and many other important and fascinating materials. In addition, the Centre holds numerous medieval deeds and documents from as far back as the 12th century. Some of these were inherited from the Hospital of St John - the Augustinian monastic house which pre-dated the College on its present site. Others relate to the estate of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII and the founder of the College itself.

The collection's many highlights include a copy of Magna Carta, the College's Foundation Charter, a signed letter of Elizabeth I, a printed petition to Oliver Cromwell, remarkably detailed records of College lands and property across the country, and extensive written, photographic and filmed records about student life at Cambridge as it developed over the centuries. These resources are used not just by members of St John's, but also by academics around the world and the general public.

In 2015, a new, state-of-the-art facility for these important archival collections was officially opened in the School of Pythagoras - one of Cambridge's oldest buildings and part of the site occupied by St John's. This was originally built, probably around the end of the 12th century, as a high-status house for a local family, but has had something of a chequered history - and is even remembered by College alumni as a former venue for student parties and theatrical productions some decades ago!

The building's redevelopment as an Archives Centre preserved the integrity of its medieval exterior, while providing within it a secure, climate-controlled storage space for the many fragile and priceless items within the College collections. A brand new reading room was also created, alongside a convenient exhibition space that enables visitors to examine many treasures that would otherwise rarely be seen.

Archive Service Accreditation, which is provided by the National Archives, shows that the Centre is demonstrating best practice according to generally agreed standards for the sector, by managing its collections carefully, ensuring that they are preserved for the benefit of future generations, and making them accessible to researchers and general audiences.

The report on the St John's Archive Centre praises the College's responsible attitude to managing archives of considerable value and potential, the integration of the Archives into a wider range of services offered through the College Library, and the "evident ambition" to raise the profile of the collections and to ensure that they are of benefit and use to as many people as possible. The new facility itself is described as "transformational", not least in improving access to the collections and physical accessibility.  

College Archivist Tracy Deakin said: “The Archival collections at St John’s are among the most significant in Cambridge so it is really important that we both care for them properly and ensure that the widest possible range of users have access to them, whether they are specialist scholars or members of the public who are curious to know more. We and many other institutions around Cambridge have done a lot to open these collections up in recent years, and it is really pleasing to receive this mark of recognition for our work.”

Mark Nicholls, the College Librarian who oversees the management of the Archives, added: “The refurbishment of the School of Pythagoras to give St John’s a modern Archives Centre involved a huge collective effort from College staff, Fellows, alumni and many others. It is extremely rewarding to know that this has resulted in national recognition for the standard of the facility and the service we deliver.”