The London Metropolitan Archives are situated in a massive building near Farringdon. When I saw them for the first time I was on a field trip for a Creative Practice class. Everything was in proper order, a guide showed us the treasure conserved as a holy reliquary in this industrial looking construction. I remember the slide showing a picture of the Magna Carta and an original doodle of Eeyore drawn on a dinner invitation. I recall the biting cold of the storage room.
Unfortunately none of the items of the material made available to us related to my research, so I decided to go back to the archives shortly after. This time I had to sort out how to get the material I need on my own. I asked help to an operator at the information point and he patiently explained me the procedures. I searched through the series about Tower Hamlets Cemetery and found the register of the burials from 1857 to 1862, several plans for the cemetery and the correspondence about the private graves in the cemetery.
And it was when I was doing research on my own that the archives came to life. I had the chance to interact to the operators who work there and helped me much. I saw the difficulties related to this kind of work: material that is missing or misplaced, and the human lack of coordination that makes people not knowing where the piece of a collection is. I could have felt annoyed, instead I felt excited because I was witnessing the real ongoing activity of this institution.
As I managed to obtain the documents I needed I felt my research come to life and becoming more real. I was in front of the original plans for the cemetery, more than a century and a half old. I scrutinized the register of the burials between 1857 and 1860, an enormous book with a broken spine. I contemplated the feeling of having something so old in my hands and reflected on how death was a common fact at that time, not the exceptional fatality relegated to the corner of our mind. I also searched through the deeds of property of the private graves and contemplated how strange it is that even death is subject to the laws of market.
Reading the original plans for the cemetery and some correspondence about the draining I discovered that Tower Hamlets cemetery was conceived as a ground-breaking work of city-planning and involved quite a large extension of Stepney and Bromley at that time.
My own research at the London Metropolitan Archive did not bring my essay very further but it showed me an interesting method to feel history as something that is alive in your hands and to get in touch with the everyday aspects of the past.