Explore Your Archive 2023

The iconic Round Tower at Windsor Castle is home to hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the history of the Royal Family. Each year, we share items from the Royal Archives as part of the UK-wide initiative 'Explore Your Archive Week'.

The Round Tower


The team at the Royal Archives have selected material according to the themes set by The Archives and Records Association for the 2023 campaign. We hope that these unique and rarely-seen items help you understand more about the work of the Archives and the documents they preserve, as well as the history and work of the Royal Family. 


Day One: Tradition

On Christmas Day 1932 the BBC launched its Empire Service (now World Service), and in preparation for this event Sir John Reith (BBC Director-General) wrote to Sir Clive Wigram (Private Secretary to King George V), asking if the King would say a few words to mark the occasion. The request was approved, and the King delivered his first ever Christmas radio broadcast that year, live from Sandringham, noting in his diary 'At 3.35 I broadcasted a short message of 251 words to the whole Empire'.This commenced the tradition of the Sovereign’s Christmas broadcast, and in 1957 Queen Elizabeth II agreed that for the first time, and to mark the 25th anniversary of the royal Christmas broadcasts, the broadcast could also be televised, which still happens to this day.

Christmas Broadcast text


Day Two: Expeditions

Queen Victoria took great interest in the 1875-76 Arctic expedition, led by Captain George Nares, RN. The aim of the expedition had been to reach the North Pole, but although important discoveries were made, it ultimately failed to achieve this goal. The Queen recorded in her Journal on 29 October 1876 that “…The Arctic Expedition has returned. They found impenetrable ice to the north of the Pole, but have been 30 miles further, than any of the other explorers…”. A message of congratulations on their safe return was sent on behalf of the Queen on 4 November (a copy of which is above), and on 1 December Captain Nares (who had captained HMS Alert) and Captain Henry Stephenson (who had captained HMS Discovery) were among the dinner guests at Windsor Castle.



Day Three: Big

The Not Forgotten Association [NFA] was established in 1920 by Marta Cunningham ‘to provide comfort, cheer and entertainment for the wounded ex-servicemen still in hospital as a result of the Great War’. Princess Mary became the first Royal Patron of the NFA, a role she held until her death in 1965, when HRH The Duchess of Kent took over as Patron, herself being succeeded by HRH The Princess Royal in 2000.

With the approval of King George V and Queen Mary, Garden Parties were held at Buckingham Palace for the wounded servicemen. The first of these events was held on 23 August 1921, during which a telegram of thanks was sent to Their Majesties and Princess Mary, who replied that they were pleased to hear that those attending had "enjoyed their afternoon in the garden and hope[d] that these entertainments will continue to be a success".Not Forgotten Association Garden Parties still occur annually at Buckingham Palace. From 1921, there has also been an annual Christmas Tea Party, initially in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace and now at St James's Palace.

Programme for the Not Forgotten Association Garden Party held on 26 August 1926 at Buckingham Palace. During the Garden Party the servicemen were entertained by the above performers.


Day Four: Small

The idea of Princess Marie Louise (cousin to King George V and childhood friend of Queen Mary), designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built between 1921 and 1924, the Dolls’ House contains the work of nearly 1,500 tradesmen, artists and authors, all of whom were especially commissioned to produce miniatures of their work at a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot. 

All those who had contributed to the production of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House received copies of a letter of thanks from Queen Mary, similar to this one. 

The Dolls’ House was first displayed at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 where it raised funds for the many charities with which Queen Mary was involved. In July 1925 it was moved to Windsor Castle, where it was situated in a room designed by Lutyens and where it can be visited today.


Day Five: Unique

Letter from ‘Ralph Robinson’, a pseudonym sometimes used by King George III when writing on agricultural matters, to Arthur Young, the famous eighteenth-century agriculturalist.  Young produced a periodical called Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts, to which the King contributed this and other articles, under his pseudonym, giving his views on the pioneering agricultural methods of the day.

The early attention you have given to my attempt of laying before the Publick through your useful Channel Mr Duckett’s system of Agriculture, fully entitles you to expect from me a compliance in the request you have intimated in a note at the end of that publication, that a particular account should be given of the course of Crops usually addopted by that original Cultivator, as well as his sentiments on fallows, and his mode of treating a field when full of Couch Grass.

    Mr Duckett has no fixed rotation of Crops, he seems to think that every Farmer ought to study in cropping his land, what Grain will pay him best, which is the only rule he follows unless prevented by bad Seasons.  All he requires is to get a feeding Crop between those of Grain, and renew his Soil by alternate deep and shallow ploughings.  He does not regard cross-croping his land; yet would avoid sowing Wheat after Barley, nay thinks Wheat after Wheat less prejudicial; he does not object to Wheat after Oats, but Oats after Oats and Wheat following Barley, he thinks are ever weak Crops, and that a continuation of such Successions would at last produce nothing.  On the Contrary Barley after Barley does very well, indeed he has known Barley succeed well with alternate deep and shallow ploughings, and proper dressings when sown two years successively…

    The method he constantly pursues for destroying Couch Grass, is by Trench Ploughing it into the Ground, where it dies when buried deep; that left on the Surface is destroyed by hoeing.     Grain of quick and luxuriant growth sown on the Trenched ground, also assists very much towards the destruction of this troublesome Weed, but a change of Rye, Tares and Turnips when produced by his mode of Culture will the most effectually destroy Couch Grass.   He confesses that this practice which he has successfully pursued for many years is condemned by many persons, yet he is convinced it answers perfectly, is less expensive, and quicker done than by any other method.

    I have wished to be as pointed as possible in attempting to answer your enquiries which may have led me into greater length than I should have wished; I shall therefore only add that

I am, Sir,

Your most humble Servant

Ralph Robinson


View the entire document on Georgian Papers Online.

Day Six: Art

Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the preparations for and progress of the Crimean War. The Queen was also kept informed of events and the condition of the troops, and on several occasions the Queen and Prince Albert went to see wounded soldiers in the military hospitals in Britain. The Queen describes in her Journal her visit to Chatham Hospital on 3 March 1855, as ‘an intensely interesting, touching, & gratifying one to me, & I wish I could pay constant visits of this kind to the Hospitals & tend & cheer these noble, brave, patient men!...’. As well as being a great diarist, Queen Victoria was also a keen amateur artist, and her journal entries were often illustrated by sketches, mostly drawn by the Queen herself, such as this one of the wounded soldiers she had met during her visit.


Day Seven: Hobbies

In 1896 (when Duke of York) King George V was elected President of the Philatelic Society, a post he held until his accession in 1910, and not long after which he became the society’s Patron. King George V was a keen philatelist, and over the course of his life amassed a substantial stamp collection.

On 17 May 1923, the King hosted a visit at Buckingham Palace from the Royal Philatelic Society and Foreign Philatelists, recording the event in his diary including the time he spent working with the Curator/Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection in setting up the exhibition.


Day Eight: Challenge

At 2. we went to see the Start for the Marathon Race from the East Terrace.  There were 56 Runners.  Later we all drove to Virginia Water for tea & went on the Lake. … We heard first that an Italian had won but he was disqualified owing to his having been helped in & an american won.

The Marathon of the 1908 Olympic Games was run from Windsor to London on 24 July.  The Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) and her children Prince Albert (later King George VI), Princess Mary, Prince Henry and Prince George went to watch the start on the East Terrace of the Castle.  The Daily Mirror newspaper suggested that the Princess gave a signal to start the race, but this is not the impression that the Princess gives in her diary account.  Although he was disqualified, the Italian runner, Dorando Pietri, was given a gilt cup by Queen Alexandra on 25 July when she was presenting gold medals to the Olympic winners at the stadium at Shepherd’s Bush.


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