Yesterday’s (28 June) abrupt closure of Columba House at 16 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, brings to an end a Golden Age in Scottish history. From being held in one location, hundreds of years of archive materials amassed by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland are about to be split into nine different parts, located in nine different places.
The Scottish Catholic Heritage Commission has decided not only to move the one million documents of the Scottish Catholic Historic Archives to the University Library in Aberdeen — thus divorcing them from the post-1878 papers, but to disperse them further to each of the eight Scottish dioceses – St Andrews and Edinburgh (presumably to the archdiocesan Gillis Centre), Oban (Argyll and the Isles), Ayr (Galloway), Dundee (Dunkeld), Aberdeen, Paisley and Motherwell.
Glasgow has never centralised its diocesan archives, so they will continue to be held at the Archdiocesan Offices in Clyde Street, Glasgow.
This dispersal will lead to a noticeable deterioration in the archival service provided for researchers.
It will lead to valuable historical records being in most cases housed in spare rooms or even broom-cupboards, stored in plastic bags, with part-time supervision and little trained archival staffing and, more crucially, with restricted access arrangements.
This will particularly inconvenience researchers who need to consult the archives of more than one diocese.
The unified records of the Scottish Catholic Church are about to be scattered to all corners of Scotland and, metaphorically at least, butchered.
Michael TRB Turnbull
Longniddry, East Lothian