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Exhibiting archives in parish churches


The care of parish church records is governed by the Parochial Registers and Records Measure, passed by the General Synod in 1978 and amended in 1993.

The Measure allows churches to withdraw their records temporarily for exhibition, provided the Diocesan Archivist is satisfied that the records will be kept in a suitable and safe place.

In accordance with the Measure, we can provide churches with small exhibitions of their documents for special events, such as heritage days or flower festivals.

We also have nine table-top exhibition cases which are available for loan, free of charge.

Please note, we can only provide exhibitions for the Parochial Church Council (PCC) which owns the documents and that exhibitions should normally be held in the church.

Only documents from the parish church’s own collection may be included (these will have references starting ‘PD’ in our catalogues).

Our staff need to be confident that the documents will not be at undue risk of damage or loss before agreeing that documents may be withdrawn for exhibition.

  Planning an exhibition

Documents are exposed to risks when they are withdrawn for exhibition, which they would not encounter if they remained at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO).

Parishes should seriously consider the risks that will be involved in transporting and displaying irreplaceable records and should minimise these risks as far as possible.

The relevant British standards for archives state that records should be displayed only in secure cases, where light, temperature and humidity are carefully controlled.

Showcases, such as those which we supply for exhibitions, protect documents from handling and give some limited degree of security, but do not provide environmentally-controlled conditions.

Anyone withdrawing documents from the NRO will be asked to sign a declaration. This will state that he or she accepts full responsibility for the condition and safety of the documents.

It also states that he or she will meet the cost of any conservation treatment which may be necessary as a result of damage incurred during the period of loan, or the costs of any other losses, damage or injuries resulting from the loan.

You could consider using copies to avoid the risks involved in displaying original documents. These could be put on permanent display in the church or reused for other events.

Print-out copies may be made from microfilms of most pre-1900 parish registers and many other parish records.

You can also photograph many documents in the NRO’s searchroom. We normally charge for photography permits, but we waive this fee for document owners who are copying their own records.

You will need to bring with you a letter, signed by the incumbent, churchwarden or PCC secretary, stating that the photography is on behalf of the PCC.

We ask that when you are exhibiting copies of documents, you include the reference numbers and state that the originals are held at the NRO.

This is so that anyone wishing to see the original documents can easily locate them.

  Requesting an exhibition

If you decide to go ahead with a display of original documents, it is best to reserve exhibition cases as soon you have fixed a date.

The cases are often in heavy demand, especially over the summer months.

We will also need time to choose suitable documents, check that they are in good enough condition to be displayed, prepare any mounts needed and write descriptive labels.

We advise you to contact us at least a month before your event to allow time to prepare for an exhibition.

  Choosing documents

Let us know if there are particular documents which you would like included in your exhibition. Otherwise, an archivist will select some suitable documents.

We usually loan out four or five showcases for each event - please bear in mind that each case will normally accommodate one, or at most two, documents.

The cases measure approximately 75 cm x 50 cm (30 inches x 20 inches).

Some documents are not suitable for display. These include:

  • Items too large to fit into a case (eg, most maps)
  • Original photographs, which are easily damaged by too much light (copies may be displayed instead)
  • Items marked ‘fragile’ or ‘unfit for production’ in our catalogues

Conservation staff will check that the records are in good enough condition to be displayed before agreeing to which documents may be included in your exhibition.

  Displaying documents

You must adhere to the following rules:

  • Documents must be displayed in locked showcases.
  • There should be someone invigilating exhibitions at all times. Showcases offer protection from handling, but can easily be broken or carried away.
  • You should site display cases and their contents away from radiators and other direct heat sources, as well as out of direct sunlight.
  • They should also be located away from areas where people may be eating and drinking and any other possible hazards.
  • Many documents cannot be safely displayed to good effect without some prior preparation. Volumes may need supports to avoid damaging their bindings and pages may have to be restrained so that books will remain open. Loose papers generally need to be put into protective polyester sleeves. Our qualified conservators will prepare documents for display. Do not remove documents from their protective sleeves or mounts because you may damage documents.
  • You should not attempt to mount or secure documents yourself without consulting our staff. Never use pins, staples, Blu Tack, glue or self-adhesive tape, or laminate original documents.
  • Documents must be kept in a secure place, preferably in the church safe, when not on display. The Parochial Registers and Records Measure states that documents should be kept in the church and not in a private house.

  Collecting your exhibition

The person collecting the exhibition needs to bring a letter signed by the incumbent, a churchwarden or the PCC secretary, authorising him or her to withdraw the documents.

We cannot release the documents without such authorisation.

Cars and vans are insecure and subject to rapid changes of temperature and humidity which damage documents.

It is therefore important not to leave documents in a vehicle for longer than is absolutely necessary and never to leave records unattended.

The showcases have glass or perspex lids. The perspex is particularly vulnerable to scratching, so please use the protective covers provided when transporting the cases.

It is also a good idea to bring blankets or something similar to help protect the cases while they are in transit.

  Care of showcases

The glass or perspex in the cases has been treated to filter out harmful ultra-violet rays.

You can use a soft duster for cleaning, but please do not use liquid cleaners.

Borrowers will be liable for the loss of keys and for any damage to the showcases.

Borrowers are also liable for any losses, damages or injuries which may arise from the loan of documents, showcases and mounts.

  Returning exhibitions

Please return the documents and cases on the agreed date, as the cases may well be booked for another exhibition.


We do not make a charge for preparing documents for exhibition and loaning out showcases, but donations are always welcome.