High-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) causes nearly 100% of cervical carcinoma. However, it remains unclear whether HPV can establish a latent infection, one which may be responsible for the second peak in incidence of cervical carcinoma seen in older women. Therefore, using Ventana in situ hybridisation (ISH), quantitative PCR assays and biomarkers of productive and transforming viral infection, we set out to provide the first robust estimate of the prevalence and characteristics of HPV genomes in FFPE tissue from the cervices of 99 women undergoing hysterectomy for reasons unrelated to epithelial abnormality. Our ISH assay detected HR-HPV in 42% of our study population. The majority of ISH positive samples also tested HPV16 positive using sensitive PCR based assays and were more likely to have a history of preceding cytological abnormality. Analysis of subsets of this population revealed HR-HPV to be transcriptionally inactive as there was no evidence of a productive or transforming infection. Critically, the E2 gene was always disrupted in those HPV16 positive cases which were assessed. These findings point to a reservoir of transcriptionally silent, disrupted HPV16 DNA in morphologically normal cervices, re-expression of which could explain the increase in incidence of cervical cancer observed in later life.