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Finding archives elsewhere

What types of archives are out there?

The UK contains several thousand archive repositories with rich and varied collections - from large national institutions, such as the National Archives, to small private specialist repositories.

National collections

Several archives in the UK hold major national collections. These include (but are not limited to):

The National Archives : The UK government's official archive, with collections ranging from the Domesday Book to Downing Street tweets.

The British Library : The BL has a huge archive and manuscript collection, ranging from the archives of the East India Company to drafts of books by Jane Austen.

National Records of Scotland : The Scottish national archives - holdings include the archives of the Scottish government.

The National Library of Wales : The NLW holds a wide variety of archive collections, as well as published sources.

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland : The official archive of Northern Ireland.

Local authority archives

Local authority archives specialise in documents relating to a particular geographical area - this could be the county, city or municipal borough. Their collections can include archives relating to local government, crime and punishment, education, health, ecclesiastical administration, the poor law, local businesses, property, and prominent local families. Local authority archives near the University of Warwick include Warwickshire County Record Office, Coventry Archives and Birmingham Archives.

Although the focus is local, county and city record offices can also hold material of national and international importance - for example through the archives of businesses with an international reputation or within papers collected by individuals involved in international trade or Empire, or prominent in politics, science, literature or the arts.

University archives

University archive collections can be very varied. Some - like the Modern Records Centre - will only collect material relating to certain specific topics; others may take a more eclectic approach, building up collections on a variety of subjects. Other university archives in the local area include Coventry University Archives (including the Frederick Lanchester papers relating to aeronautics and motor engineering) and the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham (including the archives of the YMCA, the Chamberlain family, the Church Missionary Society, Noel Coward and the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts).

Business archives

Commercial companies with efficient record keeping systems may have both a records management system (where current and semi-current records are maintained) and an archive (where the older 'dead' documents are kept). Business archives are more likely to include restrictions on access, so researchers may need to obtain permission from the organisation in order to see the company holdings. The University of Warwick campus includes the BP Archive (researchers should contact BP prior to a visit).

Other specialist archives

Archives can be maintained by a wide range of organisations and groups, including cultural / arts institutions, charities, religious organisations and sports clubs. To get an idea of the quantity and variety of specialist archives, have a look at the regional lists under 'Find an archive' (linked below).

How can I find where archives are held?

Find an archive

A site run by the National Archives. This database contains contact details of the vast majority of archive repositories in the UK (as well as many abroad), and can be searched by name and region.

Discovery

Discovery is an online database maintained by the National Archives (TNA). It combines TNA's own catalogue, the National Register of Archives (which contains data about the locations of significant archive collections), the Manorial Documents Register and selected catalogues from other UK archives.

Want to know where the archives of a particular organisation or individual are held? Choose the advanced search section, click on 'search for record creators' and search for the name.

The Archives Hub

The Archives Hub contains information about archive collections held at more than 300 UK repositories (particularly university and specialist archives). The Hub can be searched by key words, but also includes regular features which highlight collections on a large number of varied themes (from British women's emigration to forensic science) and advice for researchers on using and locating sources.

Scottish Archive Network (SCAN)

SCAN is an electronic database which contains information about historical records in more than fifty Scottish archives. It includes the options to search for key words and to browse descriptions of collections held by individual archive repositories.

Irish Archives Resource

Irish Archives Resource enables researchers to use key words (subjects, and names of people and places) to search for archive records held by different archive repositories in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Archives Portal Europe

Interested in European archives outside the UK? The Archives Portal Europe contains information about archive collections held by more than 7,000 European archive repositories (and includes data on UK archives harvested from the Archives Hub).

AIM25

AIM25 is a database of archives and manuscript collections within the area enclosed by the M25 motorway (London and the surrounding area). It includes information about collections from many of London's higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and City livery companies.

Early Modern Letters Online

Database of correspondence from the 16th - 18th centuries maintained by the University of Oxford. Provides brief catalogue descriptions searchable and browsable by location, people, organisations and repository.

Where can I find archives on key themes?

The information below is by no means comprehensive (many archives will contain relevant material) but identifies a small number of the archive repositories which have strong collections relating to these themes.

Art and architecture

The Artists' Papers Register (register of the papers of artists, designers and craftspeople in collections in the UK and Ireland)

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Library and Special Collections, London

The V&A Archive of Art and Design, London

The National Gallery Archive, London

The Tate Archive, London

Charity

UK Philanthropy Archive, University of Kent

Conflict and peace

Army Museums Directory (information about regional army museums, including information about the location of regimental archives)

Imperial War Museum, London

Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, Kings College, London

Bradford University Special Collections on Peace, Politics and Social Change

Empire and imperialism

Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire (database of films of the British Empire, 150 of which are available online)

British Empire and Commonwealth Collection, Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

India Office Records, British Library, London

SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) Archives and Special Collections, London

LGBTQ+

Bishopsgate Institute, London (includes LGBTQ History and Alternative Sexuality Collections)

Glasgow Women's Library (includes the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre collection)

London School of Economics (LSE) Hall-Carpenter Archives

Literature

Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and Letters (register of modern literary manuscripts in over 400 British and Irish repositories)

The British Library, London

University of Manchester Collection of Modern Literary Archives

Performing arts

The British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive, London (and regional partners, including the Media Archive for Central England)

The V&A Theatre & Performance Archives, London

The University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Cecilia, online guide to music collections in archives, libraries and museums in UK and Ireland

National Resource Centre for Dance Archive, University of Surrey

Politics

Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Labour History Archive & Study Centre, People's History Museum, Manchester (includes archives of the Labour Party and Communist Party)

London School of Economics (LSE) Library (includes archives of the Liberal Party and Independent Labour Party)

Marx Memorial Library, London

Searchlight Archives, University of Northampton (archives on fascism and anti-fascism)

Race relations and migration

Black Cultural Archives, London

The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, Manchester

The Institute of Race Relations Black History Collection, London

Science, engineering and medicine

Science Museum Library and Archives

Wellcome Library Archives and Special Collections, London

Royal Society of Medicine Archives, London

Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Library and Archives, London

Institute of Civil Engineers Archive, London

Women / feminism

The Women's Library, London School of Economics (LSE)

Glasgow Women's Library

Feminist Archive North, University of Leeds, and Feminist Archive South, University of Bristol

Liverpool John Moore's Femorabilia collection (girls' comics and women's magazines)

Where can I find online advice about using archives?

Interpreting archives

A short Modern Record Centre guide to putting archives into context.

Using archives: a guide for the inexperienced

Series of guides compiled by the Archives Hub. Includes definition of archives and sections on 'Archives in context', 'Working with archives', 'Visits to archive repositories' and 'Descriptions'.

General research guidance

Series of guides produced by University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections. Includes guidance on 'Using archives' (with sections on 'What are archives?', 'Where are archives held?', 'How do I start my research?', 'Catalogues and finding aids', 'At the Record Office' and 'What to expect from archives'); advice on collections care and document handling, dating documents, and weights and measures; and guides to particular categories of records (e.g. accounts, deeds, manorial records, maps and plans, and Medieval books and documents).

What are archives?

Guide produced by Archives Wales. Includes definition of 'archives' and guidance on locating sources, visiting archive repositories, using online catalogues and searchroom rules.

Reading old documents

National Archives online tutorials on palaeography (reading old handwriting) and medieval Latin. The documents used as examples date from the medieval and early modern period.

English palaeography: Learn to read secretary hand

Tutorial developed by Kathryn James, Yale University.