By installing an electronic mobile storage system in its archive repository, the Bothwick Institute for Archives set a precedent, becoming the first public records office in the UK to adopt the latest generation of electronic mobile systems for storage.

The Borthwick Institute was founded by York Minster in 1953. Its core collection remains the Archibishop of York’s archive, which dates back to the 13th Century. Since then the collection has expanded to fill some 30,000 fully indexed archive boxes holding, amongst other things, archive documents from chocolate manufacturers Terry’s and Rowntree’s, Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s personal archive – plus nearly every will in the north of England from 1300 to the 19th Century.

For 50 years the collection was housed in a the medieval wing of St Anthony’s Hall complex. Even in the early 1950s, the accomodation was not ideal for an archive. Thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the Institute was able to build a new, dedicated building in 2004 and approached Bruynzeel to supply archive storage solutions for its 10 climate-controlled strongrooms. The archive’s new 21st Century home opened to the public in 2005.

The solution

Chris Webb, Head of Archives at the Bothwick Institute for Archives considered various storage options for the archive’s new repository. However, standards at the time for historical archives and public records were based around the use of manually operated systems. “With the nature of the material we hold, we have to take account of The National Archives’ regulations,” Chris explains.

After providing information about Bruynzeel’s system and examples of national archives using electronic mobiles in other countries, the Borthwick gave the go-ahead to install electronic mobile shelving as its preferred system. Bruynzeel installed 57 mobile carriages in the repository. The system has integral lighting, air circulation parking and the capacity to link operation with the archive’s database. The Bothwick’s architects, Leach Rhodes Walker, had originally specified conventional lighting for the repository that required over 300 fluorescent tubes. However the client eventually opted for the mobile shelving integral lighting, cutting the number of tubes to under 200. This also provides much better illumination and saves on power costs.

After more than a decade in operation, Chris Webb says the Borthwick was right to install an electronic system , with benefits in terms of ease of access, savings on power cost, and simplicity of use.

“We’ve got a dual responsibility to ensure the preservation of material and make records accessible,” said Chris Webb. “We felt this system would be a big help on both counts. The benefits for preservation and access we were hoping to see are working out in practice.”


  • First electronic storage system of its kind installed by a public archive
  • Integral lighting
  • Elegant Jacob Jensen designed Shade front panels
  • Space for over 30,000 indexed archive boxes
  • Cantilever shelving for large items and rolled map storage

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