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.
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 LibraryLink opens in a new window : 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 ScotlandLink opens in a new window : The Scottish national archives - holdings include the archives of the Scottish government.
The National Library of WalesLink opens in a new window : The NLW holds a wide variety of archive collections, as well as published sources.
Public Record Office of Northern IrelandLink opens in a new window : 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 OfficeLink opens in a new window, Coventry ArchivesLink opens in a new window and Birmingham ArchivesLink opens in a new window.
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 archive collections can be very varied. Some - like the Modern Records Centre - will only collect material relating to certain specific topicsLink opens in a new window; 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 ArchivesLink opens in a new window (including the Frederick Lanchester papers relating to aeronautics and motor engineering) and the Cadbury Research Library at the University of BirminghamLink opens in a new window (including the archives of the YMCA, the Chamberlain family, the Church Missionary Society, Noel Coward and the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts).
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 ArchiveLink opens in a new window (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).
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 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 searchLink opens in a new window section, click on 'search for record creators' and search for the name.
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 featuresLink opens in a new window which highlight collections on a large number of varied themes (from British women's emigration to forensic science) and advice for researchersLink opens in a new window on using and locating sources.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
UK Philanthropy ArchiveLink opens in a new window, University of Kent
Conflict and peace
Army Museums DirectoryLink opens in a new window (information about regional army museums, including information about the location of regimental archives)
Liddell Hart Centre for Military ArchivesLink opens in a new window, Kings College, London
Empire and imperialism
Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British EmpireLink opens in a new window (database of films of the British Empire, 150 of which are available online)
British Empire and Commonwealth CollectionLink opens in a new window, Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
India Office RecordsLink opens in a new window, British Library, London
Bishopsgate InstituteLink opens in a new window, London (includes LGBTQ History and Alternative Sexuality Collections)
Glasgow Women's LibraryLink opens in a new window (includes the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre collection)
Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and LettersLink opens in a new window (register of modern literary manuscripts in over 400 British and Irish repositories)
The British Film Institute (BFI) National ArchiveLink opens in a new window, London (and regional partners, including the Media Archive for Central EnglandLink opens in a new window)
CeciliaLink opens in a new window, online guide to music collections in archives, libraries and museums in UK and Ireland
National Resource Centre for Dance ArchiveLink opens in a new window, University of Surrey
Conservative Party ArchiveLink opens in a new window, Bodleian Library, Oxford
Labour History Archive & Study CentreLink opens in a new window, People's History Museum, Manchester (includes archives of the Labour Party and Communist Party)
London School of Economics (LSE) LibraryLink opens in a new window (includes archives of the Liberal Party and Independent Labour Party)
Searchlight ArchivesLink opens in a new window, University of Northampton (archives on fascism and anti-fascism)
Race relations and migration
Science, engineering and medicine
Women / feminism
The Women's LibraryLink opens in a new window, London School of Economics (LSE)
Liverpool John Moore's Femorabilia collectionLink opens in a new window (girls' comics and women's magazines)
A short Modern Record Centre guide to putting archives into context.
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'.
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).
Guide produced by Archives Wales. Includes definition of 'archives' and guidance on locating sources, visiting archive repositories, using online catalogues and searchroom rules.
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.
Tutorial developed by Kathryn James, Yale University.