Hilary Jenkinson

(Charles) Hilary Jenkinson
Born (1882-11-01)1 November 1882
Streatham, London, England
Died 5 March 1961(1961-03-05) (aged 78)
London, England
Resting place Horsham, Sussex
Nationality British
Education Dulwich College
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Occupation Archivist

Sir Charles Hilary Jenkinson CBE LLD FSA FRHistS (1 November 1882 – 5 March 1961)[1] was a British archivist and archival theorist. Writing in 1980, Roger Ellis and Peter Walne commented that "[n]o one man had more influence on the establishment of the profession of archivist in Great Britain than Sir Hilary Jenkinson".[2] Terry Eastwood in 2003 called Jenkinson "one of the most influential archivists in the English-speaking world".[3]


Born in Streatham, London, Jenkinson was the son of a land agent. He was educated at Dulwich College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating with first class honours in Classics in 1904. In 1906 he joined the staff of the Public Record Office and worked on the classification of the records of the medieval Exchequer. In 1912 he was put in charge of the search room, which he reorganised. During the First World War, he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery, and served in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1918. He then worked at the War Office until 1920.[1]

Returning to the Public Record Office, he reorganised the repairing department and later the repository, to which he moved in 1929. He was appointed secretary and principal assistant keeper in 1938, then Deputy Keeper (chief executive officer) from 1947 until 1954, when he retired.[1]

In 1944–5 he paid several extended visits to Italy, Germany and Malta as War Office Adviser on Archives, attached to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Subcommission, playing an important role in helping protect the archives of those countries from the worst of the depredations of war.[4][5][6]

He lectured on palaeography, diplomatic and archives in Cambridge, King's College London and University College London. He wrote a number of books on palaeography and diplomatic, and his Manual of Archive Administration (1922; revised edition 1937) became a highly influential work on archival practice in Britain and Ireland.

Early in his career Jenkinson served as Honorary Secretary of the Surrey Archaeological Society. He took a leading part in establishing its daughter organisation, the Surrey Record Society, in 1912; and thereafter, as secretary and general editor until 1950, in establishing its principles of editing and records publication.[7] He was a founder, Joint Honorary Secretary (1932–47) and Vice-President (1954–61) of the British Records Association; President of the Jewish Historical Society of England (1953–55); and President of the Society of Archivists (1955–61). He also played an important role in the setting up of the National Register of Archives in 1945.

Archival theory

Jenkinson's Manual of Archive Administration was first published in 1922; and republished in a second edition (revised and expanded, but not significantly altered in its principles) in 1937. It is described by John Ridener as "one of the most widely recognized treatises on the theory of archives and archival work".[8] Some of its ideas were original to Jenkinson; others had been developed by continental archivists, but were introduced by him to Britain (and to the English-speaking world) for the first time. However, Margaret Procter argues that despite Jenkinson's "iconic" status, his work also rested to a considerable degree on an existing British theoretical tradition.[9]

Key elements in Jenkinson's archival theory included the following:[10]

Jenkinson saw "the good Archivist" as "perhaps the most selfless devotee of Truth the modern world produces". "His Creed, the Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the Conservation of every Scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge; his Aim, to provide, without prejudice or afterthought, for all who wish to know the Means of Knowledge."[11]


Jenkinson's greatest influence on archival theory and practice emerged from his publications, teaching and other activities undertaken in a personal capacity, and undertaken to a great degree early in his career. By contrast, in his professional career at the Public Record Office, and in particular as Deputy Keeper from 1947 to 1954, he was often seen as an autocratic and inflexible conservative.[12] Elizabeth Shepherd comments that "it was only after his retirement that the PRO could finally develop a professional archival approach to its work."[13]

Jenkinson had a number of theoretical differences of opinion with T. R. Schellenberg, his American counterpart, particularly over the question of the archivist's role in appraisal and selection: in a private letter, Schellenberg dismissed Jenkinson as "an old fossil".[14] John Ridener ascribes their differences of outlook to the fact that (in contrast to Schellenberg's concern with modern records management), Jenkinson's theory was founded on "medieval record structures", and was unsuited to dealing with the increased bulk of modern records.[15]

Jenkinson's core beliefs in the objectivity of archives and the archivist as neutral custodian have undergone considerable criticism and revision in recent years. Writing in 1997, Terry Cook commented: "At its most extreme, Jenkinson's approach would allow the archival legacy to be perverted by administrative whim or state ideology, as in the former Soviet Union, where provenance was undermined by the establishment of one state fonds and archival records attained value solely by the degree to which they reflected the 'official' view of history."[16]


Jenkinson was appointed CBE in 1943 and knighted in 1949.[1]


Since 2007, the Department of Information Studies at University College London has hosted an annual Jenkinson Lecture named in honour of Sir Hilary. The series was established to mark the sixtieth anniversary of archival education at UCL.[17]

Personal life

Jenkinson married Alice Rickards in 1910. She died in 1960. They had no children.[1]

Principal publications

A fuller bibliography of Jenkinson's writings to 1956 appears as:



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Johnson 2008.
  2. Ellis and Walne 1980, p. 9.
  3. Eastwood 2003, p. vii.
  4. Bell 1962.
  5. Johnson 1957, p. xxvi.
  6. Bradsher, Greg (23 January 2014). "Sir Hilary Jenkinson of the Public Record Office: An Archivist Monuments Man". Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  7. Johnson 1957, pp. xv–xvii.
  8. Ridener 2009, p. 41.
  9. Procter, Margaret (2008). "Life before Jenkinson: the development of British archival theory and thought at the turn of the twentieth century". Archives. 33: 140–61.
  10. Discussed in Ridener 2009, pp. 41–68.
  11. Jenkinson, Hilary, "The English archivist: a new profession", in Ellis and Walne 1980, pp. 236–59 (258–9).
  12. Cantwell 1991, pp. 452–79, 502.
  13. Shepherd, Elizabeth (2009). Archives and Archivists in 20th Century England. Farnham: Ashgate. pp. 81–2. ISBN 9780754647850.
  14. Tschan 2002 (quotation at pp. 176–7).
  15. Ridener 2009, pp. 56, 65–6.
  16. Cook, Terry (1997). "What is past is prologue: a history of archival ideas since 1898, and the future paradigm shift". Archivaria. 43: 17–63 (24).
  17. "Jenkinson Lectures". ICARUS – International Centre for Archives and Records Management Research, UCL. Retrieved 3 May 2015.


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