It is around ten years since I began researching in London regularly to conduct historical research at the different libraries and archives. My first few times at the National Archives were the most challenging as I got firmly to grips with the catalogue.
This time was precious because I had to travel to – or commute across – London. It remains for me to publically thank those friends that could put me up. All of this was in time taken from annual leave from my full-time career that I longed to leave for one that involved historical research.
At the time I remember working to improve the time it took to get to London. Car, coach and train have all since been fully evaluated.
There is no doubt that I would use the train more if I had a firm idea of when I needed to travel. Alas, I never really know when I will be researching in the capital so it proves difficult to obtain those more economical tickets.
One can still get some work done on the coach. However, I often find that unless you get the seat next to the fire escape that has a wide aisle it is difficult to get my laptop lid fully open. The biggest drawback is the additional time from central London out to the National Archives in Kew.
Despite not having any time to do any work on the way there, the car does let me leave when I have finished and get me home a little faster on some occasions. On others, the traffic defeats you and there is nothing you can do.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough was starting to use a laptop to make notes rather than a pencil. This might sound strange. Ten years ago laptops were, however, rather more expensive than a desktop, and did rather less. Plus the keyboards were smaller and I have wide fingers.
The other bonus has to be the camera system at the archive that allows you to take photographs that you can then download afterwards. It was good when digital cameras began to get better at storing many pictures as needed at times. Nonetheless, I sometimes felt worried that my data card might fail or that perhaps I would lose my bag and therefore all my work. With the archive system this worry was taken away. The big plus is that one can spend the time in the archive just talking photos when you know the files are the ones you want.