After visiting The Hold for the first time earlier this summer, I couldn’t wait to go back.

Located in Ipswich, the county’s official archive is home to over 900 years’ worth of Suffolk history and heritage – and my afternoon spent there back in June wasn’t enough time to see all that it has to offer.

So that’s why I got back in touch with the staff, to see if I could have a better nosey around their archives.

And their senior archivist, Bridget Hanley, was more than happy to show me around and let me shadow her for the day to see what she does and how she keeps everything in order. Nearly a millennium's worth of history needs organising – and someone’s got to do it.

Bridget has been working as an archivist here since 1986, and she absolutely loves what she does.

After she met me in the reception, Bridget first took me to the cataloguing room, where she and the other archivists and volunteers spend most of their day.

In the centre of the room is a large table, where the team look at pieces in further details, and where any new deposits first arrive.

“We get sent stuff in every day,” she explains.

“It could be a small packet of photos, or it could be a load of boxes. A lot of our time is spent assessing materials, working out whether we want it or not as we don’t keep everything.”

Unbeknownst to me, The Hold has a strict collection policy on what it will and won’t accept. “We have to stick to it as the strongrooms are expensive to build and we’re limited on space,” she adds.

It’s easy to sort through a small packet of photos and decide if they’re worth keeping or not, but more often than not, more extensive archives arrive, such as boxes of documents, books, or even deeds.

“We only take stuff related to Suffolk, and no duplicates. When it comes to accounts, we’d only keep the final accounts of an organisation, but we wouldn’t keep all of the chequebooks, stubs, and receipts. However, we always keep minutebooks from any organisation. It’s all a balancing act, really.

Bridget adds that The Hold prioritises archives from other organisations that it might not have many (or any) records for. “For instance, if a local opticians gives us its archives, we’d be really excited as we haven’t got any of those – but we have a number of archives from blacksmiths, so would we want any more of those? Those are the sorts of decisions we need to make.”

But she says that on the whole, The Hold takes most of what it’s offered. “People are fairly good at knowing what we want.”

“Over there is our loading bay,” explains Bridget.

“If anything has insects or mould on it, it will go there first into quarantine before it goes into the strongroom. Our conservator will assess it – and often the freezer is the best place for anything with mould or damp on it, to freeze it off. We’ve got room for drying pieces out, too. There’s lots of safeguards in place for the collections before they even come in.”

When you think of archives – chances are you think of old, weathered documents and files. But far from it, as Bridget is just as interested in collecting and preserving pieces from present day as she is from years gone by, for future generations.

“People are often surprised and think because we’re archives, we only want bits and pieces from the past, but we’re always thinking about the future too,” she says.

Called contemporary collecting, The Hold has already embarked upon a few of these projects – and shows no signs of stopping.

“The first bit of contemporary collecting we did was in 2012 for the Olympics, and we did it again in 2013 for the anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth. We’ve also collected pieces during lockdown, and for Pride in Suffolk’s Past.

“We want our collections to be reflective of today’s society - we want the pride stories, and the Windrush stories. That’s why we’re collecting things as they happen - I often look 100 years ahead and wonder what will people want to know about Suffolk in a century’s time.”

Once something, whether it’s 50 years or five years old, arrives at The Hold and has been checked for any damage, it then makes it way the strongroom.

Temperature-controlled and secure, the strongroom houses over nine centuries’ worth of history across a series of specially-built movable shelves – some of it incredibly precious and fragile.

And I was lucky enough to see some of it close up.

“This is a deed from 1808 that relates to a property in Sproughton that was sent to us from Spain. It hasn’t been sorted yet – one of the volunteers will need to catalogue it then upload it to the website so people can look at it,” explains Bridget.

Things arriving at The Hold come in all shapes and sizes – with many people donating rather personal collections such as diaries and scrapbooks.

“A lady sent us in her mum’s diaries – she did one every year during the 1920s and 1930s, and even during the war. I said to the lady ‘are you sure you want us to make these available?’ And she said yes.”

The diaries belonged to Winifred Basham, a Suffolk-based teacher in the early 20th century. “Her diaries are beautifully written, and extracts from her wartime diaries have gone on the BBC’s website. They’re very interesting and matter of fact, and give a great insight into what life was like in Suffolk during the Second World War.”

Other historical pieces that have made their way to The Hold include decades’ old shop plans and maps, and scrapbooks from local high schools.

“One of my favourite pieces is this First World War scrapbook from a school in Aldeburgh. It’s so patriotic, and features a mix of things throughout including stamps and a soldier’s prayer.”

I couldn’t believe how intact and well-preserved this centuries’ old scrapbook was. The colours were incredibly vivid and the glue was still sticking everything to the pages.

“Preservation of the collections is key to the role,” explains Bridget.

“It’s more important than access in a way. If something’s fragile, we won’t let people look at it unless it’s safe, as we need to preserve it for the next 200-300 years.”

That’s where The Hold’s conservator comes in. “He does repairs of all sorts – including paper, parchment, and book binding,” she adds.

If something isn’t safe for hands, it will be digitised and added to the digital catalogue and website, so the public can view it that way. Otherwise, it will be kept in the archives, where an appointment will need to be made beforehand.

In addition, there is also The John Blatchly Local Studies Library. Holding over 34,000 items within its shelves, it is home to a vast array of printed materials that cover the entire county – from books and directories to pamphlets and microfiche.

“Our staff are able to point people in the right direction – and we cover absolutely everything, including Suffolk places and occupations. For instance, if someone wanted to uncover the history of their house, we’ve got Kelly’s Directories. These ones here are for Ipswich and go from 1881 to 1975, and you can see who lived in your house during that time.”

Some of The Hold’s most valuable books are kept in glass cabinets – but are available upon request, including Dr John Blatchly’s collection. “We were bequeathed his collection and archives when he died, and he had three passions: monumental brasses, book plates, and historical churches.”

With such a fascinating treasure trove of history kept in the archives, The Hold makes the most of its endless records and regularly curates displays for the public to enjoy.

At the time of my visit, there were displays showcasing Suffolk’s Windrush Generation, local Victorian asylum records, and a series of World War II letters between the Stopher brothers from Sweffling.

“This collection of letters is one of my favourites,” explains Bridget.

George and Albert Stopher signed up for The Suffolk Regiment shortly after war was declared, and the collection is comprised of their correspondence between them and their loved ones before they both passed away.

“The collection is made up of about 220 letters, and you really get to know them. It’s such a lovely but sad story.”

As the old adage goes, ‘every day is a school day’ for Bridget – and she loves nothing more than sharing Suffolk’s history and heritage with its residents.

“It’s so lovely to see the archives being used in such a way, especially when little kids come in and they play with the public displays and listen to the audio devices. It’s nice that current and future generations have what previous generations may not have had access to.”

If you’re interested in donating any of your records or archives to The Hold – whether old or new – the best thing to do is to contact Bridget first, where her and the team will be able to assist.

“People may think we’re not interested in what they’ve got – but it’s important to realise that archives aren’t highbrow, with everything on paper and parchment. We will accept a range of materials - including audio memories, photos, diaries, or correspondence. We had a pride exhibit on earlier this year, and since then we’ve had two or three deposits of new material from the LGBTQ+ community.

“The point of these sorts of exhibits is to make people realise that their stories are worth keeping and telling. And if someone doesn’t want their stuff accessible straight away, we can put a closure period on it, for say 100 years’ time, or however long they wish it to be. But the important thing is that we’ve kept it, preserved it, and catalogued it for future generations.”

To find out more about The Hold, visit