Sir Alan Frederick Lascelles, born in Dorset 1887, was royal secretary to four British monarchs between 1920 and 1953. Lascelles, known as Tommy, served in France with the Bedfordshire Yeomanry during the First World War. He was later appointed aide-de-camp to the Governor of Bombay. Following his return to England from India in 1920 Lascelles became Assistant Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and King George V. Lascelles rose to the position of Private Secretary to King George VI and after the death of the King in 1952 was briefly Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II. He was Keeper of the Royal Archives from 1943 until his retirement in 1953.

Black and white photo of Tommy Lascelles in the garden. He is facing away from the camera and resting on a one legged stool.

Lascelles during his retirement at the Old Stables, Kensington Palace, c 1977. Lascelles Papers, LASL II/6/6.

©Derry Moore

Lascelles’s papers are held at the Churchill Archives Centre and include documents from his professional and personal life. The collection includes diaries, correspondence, photographs, newspaper cuttings and maps covering the period from 1896 to Lascelles’ death in 1981. Lascelles was a keen writer and his diaries and correspondence provide an entertaining and fascinating sense of his early education, military career, family life, and time in royal service.

Amongst the large collection of papers are a number of objects, including Lascelles’s leather satchel, medals and a flag. Two keys in envelopes had also been collected amongst his papers, both with tags attached with string. The envelopes and text on the tags describe them as once having opened Lascelles’s boxes of secretarial papers.

Two small keys, each has a tag attached with string. One is marked "The Royal Train"

Objects like these are sometimes held within archive collections and often require special attention to ensure they are packaged safely; this ensures damage is minimised to the objects and papers that surround them. The keys presented a particular challenge as they, and their tags, needed to be secured within a box without preventing the tags from being turned over to examine the text on both sides. Several ideas were explored but an option to create a fastening with magnets appeared the most suitable.

The keys and envelopes were mounted on conservation board using a polyethylene tape. Polyethylene tape is soft and non-adhesive and acts as a strap to secure documents and objects for display or storage. The strap was fixed to the mount through slots cut into the board; one for each key was secured across the shank.

A close up of one of the keys, which has been secured to a card mount using a strip of clear polyethylene.

The tags were also secured using a strap, although this was only attached through one slot on the left side. A magnet was used to secure the right side, enabling the strap to be lifted, releasing the tags and allowing the backs of them to be seen.

Neodymium magnets were chosen as they are exceptionally strong and available in narrow widths. They have enough strength to hold their magnetic attraction through dense card, making them suitable for repackaging projects using mount board. The magnets were supplied coated in a triple layer of nickle-copper-nickle to prevent corrosion. The first neodymium magnet was embedded in the rear of the board by creating a recess for the magnet to sit in. This was covered with paper to give a flush surface to the back of the board. The second magnet was adhered to the end of the polyethylene strap and covered with linen tape.

A close up of the two tags, lying flat on the mount and secured with a long strip of clear polyethylene, which has a small square magnet at one end so that it can be lifted up to release the tags.

A clamshell box was custom-made from corrugated board, a light but strong archival standard material, which is ideal for box-making. The mounted keys and envelopes were then placed in their box, which is designed to be stored horizontally.

A top-down view of the clamshell box holding the two keys and tags, and two envelopes.

Finally, the box was labelled with the reference (LASL II 9/1) and handling advice, which provide instructions for staff and researchers consulting the keys in the Reading Room. The finished box and mount allow the keys and envelopes to be secured and preserved in storage safely, without restricting access to the rear of the tags.

The clamshell box lying flat on a table, the lid is half open so the contents can be glimpsed.

— Macaulay Bristow, Conservator

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