Monday 19 August 2019

The brilliant reason The National Archives is selling a cuddly toy rat

A dead rat has a bizarre link to the history of the organisation.

The toy rat on sale at The National Archives
The toy rat on sale at The National Archives

By Nicola Irwin

It might seem like an odd choice of gift shop items but there’s a great story behind the cuddly toy rat now on sale at The National Archives.

The soft toy is lovingly referred to as Henry, named in honour of the teenager who campaigned for a proper national archive to be established.

But why a rat?

The toy rat on sale at The National Archives

Henry Cole, later Sir Henry Cole, was 15 when he began working with the records of the British government in the 1830s.

He was shocked at their poor condition and even found a dead mummified rat – with a stomach full of documents – among the archive.

He knew reform was needed.

“Sir Henry Cole brandished it (the rat) in Parliament to make the case for better public record keeping,” said a spokesman for The National Archive.

“Cole’s campaign to improve the state of public records worked. By 1841, 26 workmen were employed in repairs and bookbinding at the Public Record Office (The National Archives’ predecessor).”

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The rat, meanwhile, became part of the collection at Kew, in south-west London.

It was recently scanned and a version 3D-printed by the archives’ Collection Care Department.

The toy version is on sale for £8.99.

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