Unusual discoveries in the archives
A mysterious sealed pouch has been unearthed in an 80 year old file at The National Archives, the latest in a long line of unusual discoveries at the archives, which includes a mummified rat, a pair of red pyjamas and a 19th century Death Mask. Click on the image (right) to view some of these discoveries.
An unknown substance
On 25 October, several sachets of an unknown substance were discovered in a sealed pouch inside a Foreign Office file dating from 1928. The file, which originated from the British Consulate in Cairo, detailed a criminal assault court case involving possession of narcotics. A researcher in The National Archives' reading rooms in Kew had ordered the file, found the sealed pouch and asked if it could be opened. Conservation specialists in the archives' Collection Care Laboratory analysed a sample of the powder and found that it was heroin.
The file was removed from public access and the pouch and its contents were transferred into the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Photographs of the pouch were returned to the file to preserve the public record, and the record (FO 841/276) is now once again available for the public to access.
Jeff James, Director of Operations and Services at The National Archives, said: 'From time to time unusual and occasionally valuable objects are unexpectedly discovered within our vast collection of 11 million records, however finds of this nature are extremely rare. Whilst it highlights the diversity of our collection and its relevance to our nation's history, this discovery also hints to more mysteries and untold tales yet to be uncovered, hidden deep within the archives'.
Other discoveries at The National Archives
As well as paper files, The National Archives holds textiles, paintings, metalwork, pottery plus many other fascinating objects of important historical significance, which are classed as 'public records' under the Public Records Act 1958.
Some of our popular items include:
- Mummified rat (E 163/24/31/9) - found amongst fragments of parchment solidified into a lump, this mummified rat skeleton was used in 1836 as evidence of poor conditions in which records were then stored and helped lead to substanital improvements to repository conditions and the formation of the Public Record Acts
- Red Pyjama Suit (EXT 11/131) - used as evidence in a trial following a police of a private ballroom raid in 1932, which found men dancing together, being intimate and wearing women's clothing and make-up. Thirty three men and one woman were charged with keeping a disorderly house and conspiring to corrupt public morals
- Death Mask of Dr. John Yonge, c19th century (SC 16/29) - the plaster, polychromed and partially glazed Death Mask of Dr John Yonge, Dean of York and the 34th Master of the Rolls from 1508 to 1516
See more of The National Archives' treasures in our online museum.