Armada chests and legal documents: Anderson Strathern

Most law firms have antecedents back through the centuries. In recent years, there have been many amalgamations, and law firms can end up holding interesting caches of documents that once belonged to clients, or that they acquired in the course of litigation. Also, they can sometimes hold interesting objects, beyond the ubiquitous tin boxes for trust deeds.

Anderson Strathern, a major Edinburgh firm that is the successor to a number of other Edinburgh firms, has found itself with three “Armada” chests. These are wrought iron, often massive, strong boxes with elaborate, and locks in their lid. They were objects of luxury to protect documents from theft and give some level of protection in a fire. The qualifier “Armada” is the product of Victorian romanticism,  formerly they were known as Nuremberg chests.

The firm has employed a young historian, Mr Ewan McCall, to examine and advise on the historic documents that they have in their offices. He found a rich haul of goods and two locked Armada chests. The firm had a ceremonial opening of these chests by a locksmith at a small event where a selection of some of the documents found by Ewan were displayed. One can note a very interesting list of the library of a WS in 1794, who had a good collection of interesting books on Roman law, and a deed signed by Adam Smith when Professor at Glasgow, and interesting disputes over rights to the cargo of a vessel taken in the north east of Scotland. The oldest document was a sixteenth century charter.

Along with you blogger and some other guests, Dr Karen Baston, well-known to this blog, and Mr James Hamilton from the Signet Library, were there to examine the documents and see a locksmith open one of the two locked Armada chests (the other was opened privately in advance). This proved to have been used for storing documents until 1919 or so, judging from the dates of the contents, while the other was empty. Both chests were highly decorative on the inside, one painted on the inside of the lid, the other with an elaborate wrought decorative cover over the oak mechanism.


Of course, it is now a question, as it is for other law firms, about what do with such historic material.