Practical guidelines on using primary sources

Using the Churchill Archives Centre

Discuss your project with your teacher and with the Archives Centre staff to assess the feasibility of using material held at Churchill Archives Centre and to find out which collections may hold relevant information.

Make an appointment by telephone on 01223 336222 or email before you visit the Archives Centre. This could save you a lot of time if the items you would like to see are unavailable for any reason.  More information is available on our Visit Us page.

The Archives Centre is not ‘self service’ and you can’t borrow archival material. You need to look through catalogues and lists and decide which items you would like to see.

Always follow the reading room rules which are there to protect the archives:

  • Don’t eat, drink or smoke in the reading room.
  • Use a pencil not a pen.
  • Take great care in handling archives: don’t lean on them, or touch them with dirty hands.
  • Observe the security rules: leave your bag with the search room supervisor.
  • If you are given a file of loose papers make sure that you keep them in order.

You can take photographs of the archives here for free, or we will do an hour’s free copying for you.  Alternatively you can order high-quality scans or photographs of material which might be useful to illustrate a project, though there is a charge for this service.

Using archival sources

Leave time to look through lists, catalogues and documents: you may not be able to find exactly what you want straight away.

Prepare for your visit by using secondary (printed) sources: this will focus your mind on the project and will probably avoid you wasting time looking at irrelevant material.

Leave time to look at the primary sources: remember that you can be slowed down by having to decipher difficult handwriting. The Archives Centre staff may be able to help you with difficult handwriting so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This document is part of a letter from Elizabeth Everest, Winston Churchill’s nanny, to young Winston. It was written on 2 November 1891 and shows how difficult it can be to read older handwriting. Compare the image of the document with the text below.

Letter to Winston Churchill from his nanny Mrs Everest

Letter from Elizabeth Everest, Winston Churchill’s nanny, to young Winston, 1891. Reference: Churchill Papers, CHAR 1/4/18

… &they have not begun to do it yet. Edney comes up on Friday for good. Have you enquired if they have thatched the top of your Den yet? Have you got the instrument yet you were having made does it answer? I have no news to tell you but one request to make that is will you kindly favor me with a few lines. Out of sight out of mind with Winny. Goodbye my Lamb best love to you.

– Ever your loving old W.E.A.E. [?Womany Elizabeth Ann Everest]

[sketch] My photo

While you are making notes, take the details of the reference codes of the material you are looking at (e.g. CHAR 2/1/4). These should be used when quoting from archival material. It can also avoid you having to go back through the same material looking for something again.

For further information, please contact Katherine Thomson:

Email:Katharine Thomson.