Higher education's most used archive, which contains gems such as Charlotte Bronte's will and the marriage bonds of Anthony Trollope and William Wordsworth, has received a Heritage Lottery grant of £4.4 million.
The cash will enable the collection at York University's Borthwick Institute to be moved from its home on two miles of shelving in an overcrowded and unsuitable medieval hall to a purpose-built, permanent home with state-of-the-art facilities.
Acting director Chris Webb said St Anthony's Hall in York, the institute's home since 1953, was increasingly unsuitable for preserving delicate documents, some of which date back to the 13th century.
"Unlike galleries and museums, archives do not receive any ring-fenced funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England," he said. "This seems to be an anomaly, particularly when an archive such as this one receives some 20,000 inquiries every year and makes such a huge contribution to scholarship."
The Borthwick cares for one of the richest collections of archives in Europe. Its millions of documents include the archives of the archbishopric of York, records of important families and politicians, including the Halifax war diaries and archives of hospitals, schools, businesses and charities, from the 13th century to the 21st.
One in ten families with English ancestors will find archives relevant to them at the Borthwick, according to Mr Webb.
Its new home will be alongside the University of York's Raymond Burton Humanities Research Library. The building, to be completed in 2004, will provide environmentally controlled strongrooms large enough to allow new acquisitions for the next 40 years. The public will have unrestricted access to the archives for the first time thanks to search-rooms three times the size of today's.
"I am looking forward to making this collection more widely available to local historians, family researchers, scholars from around the world and to schoolchildren," Mr Webb said.