Obituary for Surr Carl Newton (1935-2014)

Carl Newton, who died in Eastbourne on Boxing Day 2014, was a leading proponent of good practice in records management in the UK. He was an influential and popular member of the Business Archives Council, especially during his time on the Executive Committee between 1979 and 1988, and his ideas and principles have made a lasting impression throughout the archives profession.

Carl was born at Yeadon in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1935. He graduated from New College, Oxford, in 1956, at a time when Alan Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper were bringing fame to the study of history at Oxford. After archives experience at the Bodleian Library in the summer of 1956, he obtained the diploma in archives administration at University College London in 1956-57. Over the next two decades he had a wide experience of local record offices at Sheffield City Libraries between 1957 and 1962; at the new Durham County Record Office between 1962 and 1966; at Staffordshire Record Office, where he took a keen interest in the archives of the potteries; and as County Archivist of East Sussex between 1970 and 1974, up to and including the reorganisation of local government. His publications included, in 1969, a masterly catalogue of the Londonderry papers (together with the Londonderry colliery records) at Durham Record Office.

Carl’s involvement with the BAC dated back at least as far as 1972, when he gave an illustrated talk at a BAC training day on ‘the Archivist and the Computer’. Always ahead of his time, he demonstrated the uses of the machine-readable catalogue which he had pioneered at East Sussex Record Office. He joined British Steel as Regional Archivist at Stockton in 1974, where he was responsible for the management of records at no less than 58 different locations throughout the North of England. Carl joined the BAC in this period. He took a leading role (and the vice chairmanship) in the formation of the North-East Branch of the BAC in January 1977 and his contributions included a memorable tour of British Steel Teesside and its steel rolling mills.

After moving to BP as Company Archivist in London in 1979, Carl joined the BAC Executive Committee. He was a very popular and conscientious member until he stood down in 1987/8. He was also an active member of the BAC Publications Working Party from its foundation in 1980 until 1985/6. John Orbell, member and later chair of the PWP, remembers how Carl wrote a challenging paper on the need to spread the word on records management, even arguing that a glossy leaflet should be distributed free at London Underground stations! Under Carl’s encouragement in those years the BAC published a ‘Principles and Practice’ edition of its Business Archives journal every year, with the emphasis on records management issues. This structure was maintained successfully for twenty years. His own contributions included an article in this journal in 1988 – ‘Records management and business information systems’, number 55.

Carl also regularly attended the BAC’s annual conferences from the 1970s and onwards into the 1990s. By this time he was recognised as one of the senior voices in the theory and practice of records management, alongside senior figures such as Derek Charman, Michael Cook, Peter Emmerson and Len McDonald. Peter Emmerson has described Carl as ‘an innovative thinker and practitioner’ and undoubtedly he made a major contribution to archives and records management. He was very much his own man, however. It was typical of Carl that he acted as conference chair and led the debate at the BAC conference on ‘Multi-media archives’ in 1987, at a time when few business archivists had addressed the huge potential of digital, audio and video sources. By this time Carl had become a consultant on records management, initially with James Martin Associates in 1986 and from 1988 in his own business, Strategic Information Management (later known as Document Strategies). He was a founder member of the Records Management Society (now the Information and Records Management Society) and he was awarded the Society’s ‘Records Manager of the Year’ award in 1999. It was very appropriate that his library of archives and records management was placed with UCL, his postgraduate alma mater. Latterly Carl was also a Visiting Professor in Archives at the University of Northumbria.

Carl had other interests and loyalties. He was a devotee of railways and railway history. He was a proud son of Yorkshire and an enthusiastic cricketer. His appearances for the BAC in the annual cricket match against the Society of Archivists in the early 1980s were unforgettable.Alex Ritchie remembers that, in the 1984 BAC Jubilee match, Carl conquered the Society with the bat and with ‘some of the slowest bowling ever seen’; he was thrilled with his match-winning figures of 25 runs for 4 wickets. In his later years Carl was prominent in the Elgar Society (he was the Society’s honorary archivist) and the Eastbourne Recorded Music Society. He was passionate in his belief in the importance of recorded music and his own collection of concert programmes and handbills – now at the Bodleian Library ­­– was truly outstanding.

In his work, Carl was always forward-looking and keen to develop records management on a rigorously technical footing. He also had a wonderfully dry sense of humour, always a great help in persuading us all to listen and to take note. Carl was altogether an original and he will be greatly missed not only in the archives world but also in the many areas of his interest and enthusiasm.