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The Record Commissions were a series of six Royal Commissions of Great Britain and (from 1801) the United Kingdom which sat between 1800 and 1837 to inquire into the custody and public accessibility of the state archives. The Commissioners' work paved the way for the establishment of the Public Record Office in 1838. The Commissioners were also responsible for publishing various historical records, including the Statutes of the Realm (i.e. of England and Great Britain) to 1714 and the Acts of Parliament of Scotland to 1707, as well as a number of important medieval records.
Although the six Commissions were technically distinct from one another, there was a considerable degree of continuity between them, and it is common practice to regard them as a single entity and to refer to them in singular form as the Record Commission.
The first Commission was established on 19 July 1800, on the recommendation of a Select Committee appointed earlier in the year, on the initiative and under the chairmanship of Charles Abbot, MP for Helston, "to inquire into the State of the Public Records of this kingdom". The public records were at this time housed in a variety of repositories, including the Tower of London, the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, the Pell Office adjacent to Westminster Hall, Somerset House, and elsewhere, often in a disorganised state and in highly unsuitable physical conditions. The idea of a single central repository was mooted as early as 1800, and became the subject of an abortive parliamentary bill in 1833, but it was to be some years before this was achieved: in the meantime, the Commissioners arranged for various moves of individual classes of records into new accommodation. These moves were well-intentioned and sometimes led to improvements in storage and arrangement, but more often resulted in the loss and further disorganisation of records.
The Commission (in particular the sixth Commission, which sat from 1831 to 1837) gained a reputation for inactivity, corruption, jobbery, and for including among its members too many persons in high office with other demands on their time. Some of these criticisms came from external observers, such as Sir Harris Nicolas; others were made by the Commission's own salaried employees, notably Henry Cole, and to a lesser extent Thomas Duffus Hardy. A Parliamentary committee, appointed to inquire into its work, reported in 1836 that the national archives remained scattered in a number of unsuitable locations, and in the custody of "a multitude of imperfectly responsible keepers". Out of these controversies emerged the Public Record Office Act 1838, which established the Public Record Office in that same year.
The Commissioners' second objective was to make the records more accessible through the compilation of finding aids (indexes and calendars), and where possible the publication of these, as well as the publication of full texts of selected records of particular importance. The sixth Commission employed four sub-Commissioners (Joseph Hunter, Francis Palgrave, Joseph Stevenson, and for a time John Caley), as well as other ad hoc editors and a number of clerks, specifically on the task of editing records for publication. Most of the Commission's publications used a "record type" typeface, designed to present the text in a near-facsimile of the manuscript originals. The publications programme was generally considered a success, and many of the Commission's editions remain in current scholarly use. In other cases, however, the absence of a permanent arrangement to the records rapidly rendered the compilation of finding aids redundant.
Ellis, Henry, ed. (1816). Libri Censualis, vocati Domesday-Book, additamenta ex codic. antiquiss.: Exon' Domesday, Inquisition Eliensis, Liber Winton', Boldon Book. (An edition of four 11th and 12th-century regional surveys associated with Domesday Book. See Publication of Domesday Book.)
Palgrave, Francis, ed. (1827-34). The Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons, together with the records and muniments relating to the suit and service due and performed to the King's High Court of Parliament and the Councils of the Realm, or affording evidence of attendance at Parliaments and Councils. (2 vols: includes in Vol. 2 a text of Nomina Villarum)
Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1833). Magnum Rotulum Scaccarii, vel Magnum Rotulum Pipae, anno tricesimo-primo regni Henrici primi, ut videtur, quem plurimi hactenus laudarunt pro rotulo quinti anni Stephani Regis.
Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1833). Rotulus Cancellarii, vel Antigraphum Magni Rotuli Pipae, de tertio anno regni Regis Johannis.
Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1833). Rotuli Litteraum Clausarum in Turri Londinensi Asservati. (An edition of the Close Rolls for the years 1204-1224. A second volume, covering the years 1224-27 and also edited by Hardy, was published by the Public Record Office in 1844.)
Hunter, Joseph, ed. (1834). Rotuli Selecti ad res Anglicas et Hibernicas Spectantes: ex Archivis in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi Deprompti.
Roberts, Charles, ed. (1835-36). Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turri Londinensi Asservatis, Henrico Tertio Rege, A.D. 1216-1272. (2 vols) (A selective edition of excerpts from the Fine rolls of the reign of Henry III.)
Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1838). Rotuli Chartarum in Turri Londinensi Asservati: Vol. I, part I: Ab anno MCXCIX ad annum MCCXVI. (An edition of the Charter Rolls from 1199 to 1216.)
Black, W.H., ed. (1837). Docquets of Letters Patent and other instruments passed under the Great Seal of King Charles I in the years 1642, 1643, 1644, 1645 and 1646.
Ellis, Henry, ed. (1838). Registrum vulgariter nuncupatum "The Record of Caernarvon": a codice Msto Harleiano 696 descriptum. (An edition of manorial extents in Caernarvon and Anglesey, mainly of 1352-53, with other related records)
Cantwell, John (1984). "The 1838 Public Record Office Act and its aftermath: a new perspective". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 7 (5): 277-86. doi:10.1080/00379818409514241.
Cappon, Lester J. (1972). "Antecedents of the Rolls Series: Issues in Historical Editing". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 4 (5): 358-69. doi:10.1080/00379817209513979.
Gouldesbrough, Peter (1973). "The Record Commissions and Scotland". In Ranger, Felicity (ed.). Prisca Munimenta: studies in archival & administrative history presented to Dr A.E.J. Hollaender. London: University of London Press. pp. 19-26. ISBN978-0-340-17398-5.
Walne, Peter (1973). "The Record Commissions 1800-37". In Ranger, Felicity (ed.). Prisca Munimenta: studies in archival & administrative history presented to Dr A.E.J. Hollaender. London: University of London Press. pp. 9-18. ISBN978-0-340-17398-5.