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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

9 - A Great Historical Enterprise: The Public Record Office and the Making of the Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem


On 27 March 1802 John Caley, secretary to the Record Commission, was compelled, with deep regret, to inform the newly-appointed speaker of the Commons, Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester, that ‘the remuneration ordered to be made to him for his services … is neither adequate to his expectations nor as he conceived to his deserts’. Many project research associates no doubt have shared that sentiment over the years. Yet despite his complaint, Caley went on to perform an important role in the first steps taken to widen access to the public records. Abbot, Caley's mentor, had been a key figure in the establishment of the Record Commission in 1800. Caley's comment that ‘none but Mr Abbot’ could have performed the superintendence of the ‘great business of the National Records’ probably reflected contemporary opinion of Abbot's efforts. Caley complained that he himself was either deficient in the duties assigned, or that they were very light, and therefore begged to be allowed to work on something that was essentially more interesting to him. His connections to Abbot and to Thomas Astle, keeper of records in the Tower, ensured that a specific office of sub-commissioner was created for him at a more than generous annual salary of £500. He thus became responsible for the arranging, binding and repairing of manuscripts within the Tower records repositories.