The Duke of Cambridge has officially opened the new Archive Centre at St John’s College Cambridge on a return visit to the college. Prince William, who studied a 10-week course affiliated to St John’s last year, was invited back to tour the college’s new state-of-the-art archive centre, housed in a 13th Century building known as the School of Pythagoras. As part of the official opening, the Duke unveiled a plaque outside the new archive. The building contains some of the college’s most historically valuable and precious documents dating back to medieval times, and includes a rare 14th Century copy of the Magna Carta.
The Master of St John’s, Professor Christopher Dobson, who accompanied the Duke of Cambridge on his tour, told the Daily Telegraph: “The archive really grabbed his interest. He said he could imagine spending two or three days there looking at all the manuscripts and documents.” The School of Pythagoras is believed to be the oldest surviving secular house in Cambridgeshire, and one of the oldest buildings in the city, pre-dating the College itself. The School was originally a private house before being used for various purposes until it was eventually purchased by St John’s in 1959. The building was not immediately used as an archive by the college. It served, amongst other things, as a studio for set painters from the college’s drama group. The School was eventually earmarked to be transformed into a first-class home for the St John’s historically important archives as part of a £70m renovation project of its historic buildings. Bruynzeel Storage Systems worked closely with the conservation architects, Caroe Architecture Ltd, who were tasked with bringing the building into the 21st Century. Bruynzeel supplied and installed Compactus mobile shelving and picture racking on the ground floor of the building, where a climate-controlled strongroom houses some of the college’s most precious archive materials.
As well as a copy of Magna Carta, the collection includes the household accounts of Lady Margaret, the College’s Foundation Charter, a licence bearing the Great Seal of Richard II, signet letters of Elizabeth I, and numerous records from the college archives. New material is added to the collection every year.
The transformation of the Grade I listed building into a state-of-the-art facility is now complete. The many fragile and priceless items in the archives are held in the climate-controlled strongroom on space-saving mobile storage systems. The compact nature of the storage facility provided the architects with sufficient space to create a reading room for researchers and an exhibition space for visiting groups on the first floor. The redevelopment work has already won an award for architectural excellence at the Cambridge Design and Construction Awards.