How to look for records of... Economic history in the 20th century

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you search for records of 20th century economic history.

If you are researching letters and papers of the Treasury Board 1909-1910, please read our guide to Treasury Board letters and papers 1557-1920.

2. Before you start

The National Archives holds many 20th century economic records, including those created by the Treasury, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Treasury was reorganised in 1919, 1948, 1962 and 1975. This means that the arrangement of Treasury records changed considerably during the 20th century. See section 4 for information on how the records are arranged in Discovery, our catalogue. This will help you decide where to search.

3. What can I view online?

3.1 Cabinet Papers (1915 – 1986)

Search the Cabinet Papers on our website to view and download the Cabinet minutes and memoranda.

3.2 UK Government Web Archive (1990 – present day)

Search the UK Government Web Archive for archived versions of over 2000 UK government websites and social media accounts. Websites for HM Treasury, Office for Budget Responsibility, and Number 10 are among those which may be useful for researching contemporary economic history.

The UK Government Web Archive includes social media such as Twitter, and archived videos.

3.3 Parliamentary Papers (1715-2005)

Search the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers website (institutional subscription required) for sessional papers of the House of Commons (1715-2005) or additional material for both houses dating back to 1660. Search by keyword, date and paper number.

4. Where to start

The majority of 20th century economic records are searchable in Discovery, our catalogue. Search by keywords such as:

  • name of minister
  • a country
  • type of record (for example a bill or report)

Alternatively, you can browse within the following departments for an overview of relevant records:

  • Treasury (T) – correspondence and reports on the control of public revenue and expenditure
  • Cabinet Office (CAB) – records of the supreme decision-making body in government
  • Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) – includes correspondence to and from the Prime Minister’s Office, briefing papers and policy papers
  • Foreign Office (FO) – correspondence, policy and negotiation with other states

For advice on searching effectively, read Discovery help.

Due to the many reorganisations it can be difficult to match record series with the Treasury’s different functions. To find records of a particular sector, group or division of the Treasury you can search our catalogue within Treasury (T). From this you should be able to identify useful records for your research.

Alternatively, you can browse the Treasury material by hierarchy. Browsing will help you identify the area of the Treasury responsible for each of the department’s functions. For further guidance see section 6.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

5. Useful series

Some useful series are:

  • T 171 – Budget and Finance Bill Papers (1859-1980). This series records the Chancellor’s meetings with advisers and includes papers relating to debates in Parliament and the Chancellor’s budget speeches. Budget papers post-1980 can be found in the series T 366.
  • T 267 – Treasury Historical Memoranda (1957-1976). This series contains memoranda on recurring issues or episodes of long-term significance. For example there are papers on negotiations with the European Economic Community (1961-1963) in T 267/14.
  • CAB 134 – Miscellaneous Committees: Minutes and Papers (General Series) (1945-1987). This series contains records of standing Cabinet committees including the Economic Policy Committee. See section 12 of our guide Cabinet and its committees for more information.
  • T 639 – Private Office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Geoffrey Howe’s records (1979-1983). This series contains high level policy work and correspondence at a ministerial level. For example, files concerning budget preparations, economic strategy and European and international issues are included.

There are also a number of smaller record series related to economic policy:

  • a collection of papers from Lord John Maynard Keynes’ private office in T 247
  • minutes and papers of the Economic Policy Committee and various other committees and sub-committees on economic policy in CAB 72)
  • CAB 147 – consisting primarily of economic advice and briefings provided by Dr Thomas (later Lord) Balogh to the Prime Minister and other ministers

6. More about Treasury functions (1982-1983)

Due to its many reorganisations it can be difficult to match records series with different Treasury functions. To give you an idea of the topics covered by the Treasury records, and how they are arranged, view the PDF list of Treasury functions for the year 1982-1983.

Please bear in mind that this list is only an indicator of the themes covered to help you when making keyword searches in our catalogue.

7. Records in other archives

7.1 The Bank of England Archive

Visit the Bank of England Archive website for information on their holdings and how to view material.

7.2 The Parliamentary Archives

Visit the Parliamentary Archives website for information on their holdings and how to view material. The Parliamentary Archives hold many documents relevant to the study of 20th century economic history including the papers of Andrew Bonar Law.

7.3 Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue with the names of politicians to find out where their papers are held. You may need to refine your results using the filters.

8. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list. The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.

You can also listen to the podcast on 20th century Treasury records.