In June 1998 the Society agreed to continue a project begun by Richard Saville in the 1970s to improve access to part of the ADM 106 documents at the Public Record Office (now The National Archives). This collection of Navy Board papers includes many runs of correspondence - about a quarter of which are in-letters to the Navy Board, labelled miscellaneous, from dockyard commissioners, officers and workers, naval captains and contractors from around the world. The project also covers out-letters in ADM B and ADM BP from the Board to the Admiralty, held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The aim is to improve a very minimal finding aid, which lists bundles of correspondence arranged chronologically, by letters of the alphabet. By 1999 TNA had produced an on-line catalogue consisting of a database which could be interrogated, so every letter in the bundles (or in the case of ADM B at Greenwich, bound volumes) could be precised to include subjects and the names of people and ships. Researchers may access and interrogate the database electronically for both the documents held at Kew and at Greenwich, in the on-line catalogue the Greenwich documents are to be found as ADM 354 (ADM B) and ADM 359 (ADM BP).
By July 2013, 239,000 letters had been completed (some 56% of the entire project). Some may not have been uploaded into the catalogue yet but will be shortly. The years which are on the catalogue are all but 9 documents of the 1730's and 1740-1,1744-1776,1780-1782 and 1785-1787. ADM B (or 354) and ADM BP (or 359) were finished in the old Caird Library before the Olympics closed it down. ADM 354 and 359 cover much the same period but do not cover all the years. They do however cover some of the years not covered by the Navy Board Project,up to 1832 when the Navy Board ceased to exist. The letters in these two classes are distinguished by foliation, which does not yet appear on the documents at Greenwich. If anyone locates a useful document held at Greenwich from the catalogue, they will need to make a note of the letter by its date and the date of the covering letter, if it is an enclosure, in order to find it at Greenwich, until such time the documents there have the folio numbers applied.
More than twenty volunteers have worked across the two sites and currently the eight at Greenwich are hoping to begin a new project on the correspondence in ADM A in the new version of the Caird Library. In the fullness of time we hope this will also be made available on TNA website. We now have sixteen volunteers working at Kew.. Among routine matters found in the letters are requests for stores, the movement of transports, superannuation, surveys, embezzlement and wages, are unique events such as the mutiny of the ropemakers in 1675 and the fire at Portsmouth in the 1770s. There are also many trials of new techniques and equipment, copper plating, air pipes, pumps, distillation of seawater, medicines and inventions. There are constant requests to improve conditions in the yards and the development of yards overseas, including the difficulties of the Surveyor General of HM's Woods in America. This is an invaluable source for students of naval dockyards, technology, society and administrative history.
Susan Lumas (update July 2013)