The Archives of the Préfecture de Police, Paris

PAGE UPDATED in August 2014

I’m posting this guide (based on my own experience) because like the Archives Nationales, the archives of the Prefecture of Police have moved out of the centre of Paris.  Once located a short walk from Notre Dame, the new site is in Pantin in the north east of the city. You can reach Pantin by taking line 5 to the ‘Hoche’ metro station. Though Pantin is more accessible than Pierrefitte (the location of the new AN), it still may take some time to get there – but the trains on metro line 5 are much more pleasant than those on line 13. From the 13th arrdt, it took me about 35 minutes, and there is a 5 minute walk once you arrive.

Leave the metro station via exit 2 – ‘Pré Saint-Gervais’ – and turn right onto the street of the same name. Take the second left (rue Gutenbrg) and then the first right (rue Baudin). When you get to rue Baudin it isn’t at all obvious which building houses the archive. In fact, on my first visit I had not noted down the number of the building (it’s 25-27) and so I spent some time walking up and down rue Baudin trying to decide which building ‘looked like’ an archive. Fortunately, I picked the right one but I’ve posted a picture of it so you don’t waste as much time as I did.

The building that houses the archives
The building that houses the archives

Enter the site via the green gate to the car park on the left side of the building (press the intercom buzzer to be admitted). Once inside, go to the desk on the left to register. You’ll be asked for the usual information (name, address, subject of research). Once registered, you receive a card (unlike at the former site where it was necessary to sign in each day) and a key for a locker which corresponds to the number of the seat where you’ll be sitting in the reading room. You may want to have a look in the reading room and request a specific place as not all seats have easy access to a plug socket. Leave your belongings in the allocated locker; the rules on what you can take into the room are pretty standard for an archive – computer, camera, paper, pencil.

Opposite the registration desk are several computers on which you can consult a digitised inventory. This is an improvement upon the former site where inventories were kept in ring binders. When you have found the catalogue numbers you are looking for, use the same computer to order your documents. There are research guides available in the registration area too, if you need help or inspiration. Note that you can only order TWO boxes per HOUR.

Once you’ve ordered, wait for your documents in the reading room. It takes half an hour or more for them to arrive. The room is bright and comfortable. The desks are not as spacious as those at the AN Pierrefitte, but you should have enough room unless there is someone next to you. Unfortunately (and unforgivably?) there is no wired or wireless internet access in the room!

Once your documents have arrived, a member of staff at the counter in the reading room should let you know, but this is not always the case.  However, you will be able to see your boxes behind the counter, so go and ask for them if no one has informed you of their arrival. When you are finished with the box, return it to the counter. If you need it for the next day, ask for the member of staff to put it to one side for you (mettre à coté).

The reading room


While the new site is perfectly fine for research, my biggest complaint is that there is nowhere in the building to have a break. This was a problem with the former location too, though at least there was a nice park nearby, with a view of Notre Dame to boot. If like me you bring your own lunch to eat, and need a coffee break now and again, there is nowhere to do this in the building, and there is no park nearby (or at least I haven’t found one). Having said that, there are a few small cafes in the surrounding streets if you want to venture out and buy something, and there is a small bakery at the exit of the metro too. And so while it may be more of a hassle to get to Pierrefitte than Pantin, the new AN building (which was purpose built for researchers) includes some of the little extras (internet!) that we like.

The archive website:

NB The Prefecture Archives have moved to a new location.  I shall update this page after my first visit there during summer 2014.

Link to the archives site

In comparison to the AN and the BN, a visit to the Archives of the Prefecture of Police is a welcome break from the rules and formality of archival research.   There is no membership card, no interview, no need to compile a bibliography.  Just explain to the guard on the entrance that you are working at the archives, and then head straight on in. The archives are situated on the third floor of the prefecture building, along with the museum (which is worth a quick look; it’s free).

On your first visit, you’ll be required to fill in a short form concerning your name, address, subject of research and so on.  Each time you return, you must fill in the same form – as there is no membership card, I assume this is a way of keeping track of who is in the room.  The staff will then give you a key for a locker outside the room where you can leave your bag and coat.  There are plugs in the room for your laptop.

Once you’re ready to begin, the inventories are located in the reading room.  A member of staff will point you to the relevant one, depending on your period.  The archivists at the Prefecture are very helpful and friendly, and the overall mood in the room is relaxed.

Having consulted the inventories, you can now order your documents.  You can request two boxes at any one time.  Fill in a Bulletin de demande and leave it in the receptacle at the front of the room, were it will be collected by an archivist.  Trips down to the archive are made often, but at seemingly irregular intervals, and there are no deliveries between 12pm and 2pm.

When the documents arrive, the archivist will give you the box, and place your second order on a shelf.  Photography is permitted (yes!).  When you’re finished, replace the box on the trolley, and it will be returned on the next trip down to the archive.

At the end of your day, return your last lot of documents, get your things, replace the locker key in the box, then take the metro or bus home, or head up the hill behind the Prefecture to the Pantheon…

 Some words of advice

  1. The room is small and can become busy so make sure you get there early, especially during the summer.
  2. Unlike the AN and the BN, there is no air conditioning.  The windows are opened on warm days, but if you don’t like the heat (like me), maybe go to the Prefecture during the winter!
  3. While it’s comfortable to work at the Prefecture, there is no cafe in the building and nowhere within the building to eat lunch.  Happily there are several bakeries and supermarkets in the area, and a park opposite Notre Dame which is a great place to have lunch.  The cafe on the corner of place Maubert offers coffee at the bar for 1 Euro.  Result!