It’s a year now since I nearly got locked in the car park at Lancashire Record Office. The sign at the entrance was perfectly clear: ‘These gates are locked at 5pm’. After spending a day researching the history of a Formby cottage I packed up my things at 4.55pm and started heading back to the car. The record office also closed at 5pm and I was not the last out of the building. There was one other car near mine, and as I put my seatbelt on I saw it drive past and stop at the exit where the driver got out with a bunch of keys and pulled one of the gates shut. I never moved so fast. I was out that gate in as long as it takes to say ‘I really don’t want to spend the night in Preston’. Whether their rigorous timekeeping was normal, I don’t know, but I was left wondering how a person could enjoy a full day’s research in the record office and extract their vehicle from their car park when the two places closed simultaneously.
Closer to home, I’m not the only one who has enjoyed the late-night opening at Shropshire Archives only to realise with a start that the last bus to the park-and-ride is about to leave town. So now, planning a visit to anywhere with lockable gates always begins with an exit strategy.
These experiences have left their mark. Visiting a 200-acre house and garden this week (not, sadly, to research it), I wondered how they make sure all their visitors have left the property before they lock up for the night. Do they send scouts out to round up dawdlers, or sound klaxons at intervals before closing? For my part, I now head for the exit with at least twenty minutes to spare, and it’s not so I can spend time in the gift shop.