How to look for Maps: further research
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
Maps, like the other records which The National Archives holds, have accrued in government departments and agencies or courts of law in the course of the normal activities of those bodies, and have subsequently been selected for permanent preservation. They are themselves part of the records – some held in discrete groupings, some scattered among the written records to which they relate – and are mostly arranged in the order in which they were created, accumulated and transferred by the departments, agencies or courts. Because of variations over the centuries in government business and interests, in Britain and overseas, some geographical areas and some periods of history are covered more fully than others.
Broadly speaking, The National Archives’ holdings of maps used in the conduct of domestic government business cover mainly England and Wales, with rather less coverage of Scotland and Northern Ireland (or, before 1922, the whole of Ireland). They reflect the work not only of government departments, but also of some public transport undertakings and public utilities. Moreover, the substantial landholdings of the Crown and government, the history of taxation of landed property, and the frequency of litigation in relation to privately-owned land, mean that The National Archives’ holdings include maps of estates, large and small (although, The National Archives is not normally the best place to start a search for such material, except for that which related to the estates of the Crown).
Maps of places outside the British Isles were created or accumulated in pursuit of both foreign relations and colonial activities, and in the planning and conduct of military, naval and air campaigns and operations. Many of these maps are now held here, covering most areas of the world – a significant exception being the records relating to those areas of the world covered by the former India Office. For these, and other mapping originating from the conduct of government business, domestic and overseas, now held elsewhere than The National Archives, see Section 8 below.
The National Archives holds archives. It is not a library and does not hold or seek to acquire series of published mapping – although many published maps are to be found among the records (see Section 6 below). This distinction can be illustrated in relation to the Ordnance Survey: The National Archives holds records of the work of the Ordnance Survey as a government agency, which include some Ordnance Survey mapping. It does not collect sets of OS maps; see our research guide on Ordnance Survey Records.
2. Maps in discrete record series
Record series consisting entirely of maps fall into two categories.
A few departments created collections of maps which have been transferred to The National Archives in discrete record series. These series are sometimes described as ‘artificial’ in archival terms, because the departments gathered them together specifically as maps, rather than as part of other records – although it is important to note that individual maps in these series are often closely related to textual material elsewhere among the department’s records.
Notable series of this type are among the records of the Foreign Office (FO 925) and the Colonial Office (CO 700, CO 1047 and CO 1054). For further detail about these series and other maps among records of these and related departments, see the research guide Maps and plans of lands abroad.
Another major collection was that amassed by the War Office (WO 78).
Departments also created particular series of maps in the exercise of their statutory functions. Such maps are usually related to specific series of textual records, and may be most informative when read in conjunction with them.
Important examples are among the records of the Tithe Commission (IR 30, IR 77, IR 90, IR 93 and IR 105) and the Valuation Office (124 series from IR 121/1 to IR 135/9). For further detail, see the research guides on Tithe records and Valuation Office Records.
Military mapping for particular wars and campaigns has also resulted in a number of series of maps, of which the most substantial accumulations relate to the First World War, 1914-1918. For further detail, see the research guides Military maps of the First World War and Military maps of the Second World War.
Transport undertakings have generated large quantities of maps. The records of pre-nationalisation (1948) railway and canal companies, now held in The National Archives, include several substantial series of maps and plans, some in artificial series, others reflecting particular business (RAIL 1029-1037, RAIL 1071). See also Section 8 below.
There are numerous other series of records, from a wide variety of departments, which consist entirely or largely of maps and plans.
Record series described as consisting of ‘maps and plans’ sometimes include material which is not, or not strictly, cartographic, such as topographical, architectural or technical drawings, or, less commonly, photographs, posters and other non-textual items. This is true of some of the series listed in this section, but more especially of the map extract reference series: see Section 4 below.
3. Maps not in discrete record series
Most of the maps in The National Archives have been transferred with the despatches, reports, registered files or other papers with which they were originally associated in the course of departmental business. Sometimes, maps are mentioned as part of the catalogue entry. But often our catalogue entries give no indication that maps are present in particular documents.
To find such maps, you will often need to think which department might have created or collected them, in what way, and for what purpose. This is especially true if you are searching for maps or plans of privately-owned landed estates, in which the Crown and government would have had little or no direct interest.
4. Map extract references
For a relatively small, but significant, minority of maps, The National Archives has itself created separate ‘artificial’ series. In about 1926 a system was introduced whereby maps and plans were removed (‘extracted’) from their place in the storage sequence of departmental records and placed in a separate map room, where they were given special extracted map location references. Over time, these location references came to be used as document references.
Before 1959, some entire series of maps were thus extracted (see Section 5 below). More commonly, however, individual maps have been extracted from individual documents. This is done primarily as a preservation measure, usually if the item when opened exceeds the overall size of the document of which it formed part (usually referred to as the ‘parent’ document). A ‘dummy’ sheet is inserted in the parent document, briefly describing the extracted map and giving its new reference. The extracted map is endorsed with the reference of the parent document, to maintain a link between them.
The map extract references originally took the form of an alphabetic prefix followed by a serial number for each extract (which may contain one or more items). The prefixes were designed to show the provenance of the maps, their format and size (flat, rolled or other formats) and later (1977-1997) in which of the Public Record Offices’s buildings they were held. In 1998, as part of the move to on-line cataloguing, the map extract references were converted to standard National Archives document references: the prefixes became department codes, each containing one or more series, and the serial numbers became piece numbers.
There are 35 such department codes, containing 38 series (the dates in brackets indicate when the extractions were made).
|MF||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of various departments (since 1997)|
|MFC||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of various departments formerly held at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane (between 1989 and 1995)|
|MFQ||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of various departments held at the Public Record Office, Kew (between 1989 and 1995)|
|MPA and MPAA||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Chancery and Maps and plans extracted to extra large flat storage from records of the Chancery (before 1989)|
|MPB and MPBB||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Exchequer and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPC and MPCC||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Duchy of Lancaster and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPD and MPDD||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Treasury and Treasury Solicitor and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPE and MPEE||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPF and MPFF||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the State Paper Office and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPG and MPGG||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Colonial Office and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPH and MPHH||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the War Office and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPI and MPII||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of departments not assigned an individual map extract prefix and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPK and MPKK||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Foreign Office and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPL and MPLL||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Court of Common Pleas and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPN and MPNN||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Court of King’s Bench and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPO||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Forestry Commission (before 1989)|
|MPQ and MPQQ||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Privy Council and … extracted to extra large flat storage … (before 1989)|
|MPT||Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the British Transport Commission|
|MPZ||Maps and plans extracted from records of various departments (before 1989) – mainly atlases and maps of unusual form|
|MR||Maps and plans extracted to rolled storage from records of various departments – in four series: MR 1 for maps extracted before 1989 (all sizes), and MR 2 – MR 4 for maps extracted since 1997, by length of roll|
|MRC||Maps and plans extracted to rolled storage from records of various departments formerly held at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane (1989-1997)|
|MRQ||Maps and plans extracted to rolled storage from records of various departments held at the Public Record Office, Kew (1989-1997)|
It is normally worthwhile to consult the map in conjunction with the parent document, which often contains additional information as well as giving context to the map.
5. Map series held under map extract references
When the use of map extract references began, and for some decades thereafter, there were relatively few map series held in The National Archives. Down to 1959, documents in nine of these series were brought in to the Office under standard document references (department code, series number and piece number), but were then moved to map extract references. Both forms of reference could be used to order and cite the maps concerned.
|BT 9||Board of Trade: Maps.
This series was created initially for maps extracted from the series BT 1; only 13 maps were so extracted, and all were subsequently moved to MPI 1/136-148
|CRES 33||The Crown Estate Commissioners: Windsor Estate Map.
The single piece in this series was moved to MPZ 1/23
|DL 31||Duchy of Lancaster: Maps and Plans.
All pieces were moved to MPC 1, MPCC 1 and MR 1, with one subsequent further move to MFC 1
|F 2||Forestry Commission: New Forest Acts 1949 and 1964: Plans of Land entitled to Common Rights.
All pieces were moved to MPO 1
|LRRO 1||Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments and predecessors: Associated Departments and successors: Maps and Plans.
Most pieces from 1 to 3004 were moved to MPE 1, MPEE 1 and MR 1. Pieces subsequently transferred to The National Archives have been kept under their LRRO 1 references
|SP 112||State Paper Office: Domestic and Foreign: Maps.
Pieces from 1 to 65 were moved to MPF 1 and MR 1. Pieces subsequently transferred have been kept under their SP 112 references
|T 62||Treasury: Miscellaneous Maps and Plans (Series I).
All pieces were moved to MPD, MPDD 1 and MR 1
|T 63||Treasury: Miscellaneous Maps and Plans (Series II).
All pieces which originally formed part of this series were moved to MPD 1, MPDD 1 and MR 1. One further piece was added to T 63 in the 1990s
|WO 78||War Office and predecessors: Maps and Plans.
Just under 2000 pieces in the range between 291 and 4996 were moved to MPH 1, MPHH 1 and MR 1. A few of these have since been returned to their original WO 78 references. Pieces subsequently transferred to The National Archives have been kept under their WO 78 references
The practice of moving whole series to map extract references ended in 1959, in recognition of the increasing number of map series being transferred to The National Archives. Thereafter, most maps added to the nine series, and all new series consisting wholly or largely of maps, have been stored, produced and cited by their standard document references only.
6. Published maps among the records
As noted above, The National Archives does not set out to collect sets of published mapping. For example, it does not hold sets of sheets of all successive editions and scales of Ordnance Survey maps, or a discrete collection of Admiralty charts. Nonetheless, as can be seen from the list at Section 3 above, several series of records consist of substantial quantities of OS mapping, often with manuscript annotations or overprinting reflecting their use in the conduct of business. Similarly, individual sheets of published OS mapping can be found within files and other written records, as can many sheets of Admiralty charts. A card index to Admiralty charts which have been identified among the records is available for consultation in the Map and Large Document Reading Room at The National Archives: it is, however, not comprehensive.
Readers requiring specific sheets of known editions and scales of OS mapping or Admiralty charts would be better advised to enquire of the British Library Map Library or another copyright library. For more information, including useful addresses, see the Research Guides Ordnance Survey Records and Admiralty Charts (Maps), and Section 8 below.
In addition, there are two accumulations of published mapping which are held and made available as records, under the department codes ZMAP Maps and Plans formerly held by The National Archives Library, and ZOS Publications of the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain.
7. Catalogues and other finding aids
The starting point for any search for material among the public records is our catalogue, which contains listings of all our holdings, and which is updated on a daily basis, to enhance existing descriptions and to add new descriptions as records are transferred to The National Archives. Many pre-existing finding aids were converted to electronic format and entered into our catalogue in 2001 and are accessible both on site at The National Archives and remotely. Others, however, are still available in paper form only.
The public records are estimated to include some millions of maps and plans, only a small proportion of which have been identified and described in detail. Others are listed with minimal description, or remain unidentified within the records in which they were transferred.
Detailed descriptions are mostly still available only in the various paper-based catalogues and finding-aids listed below, although entries for maps held under map extract references converted to electronic format and added to our catalogue. The fullest descriptions are in the published and supplementary catalogues, which between them cover something under a quarter of a million maps.
7.1. Published catalogues
Four volumes were published as ‘Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office’
- British Isles c1410-1860 (HMSO, 1967)
- America and West Indies (HMSO, 1974)
- Africa (HMSO, 1983)
- Europe and Turkey (TSO, 1998)
Their contents are arranged topographically under country names in use at the date of publication, and then chronologically within each region, country or place. They contain indexes of draughtsmen, surveyors and cartographers, but not of subjects.
These catalogues describe only a fraction of the maps in The National Archives, whether in map extract series or other document series. They were compiled from research into series known or presumed to contain maps, and do not represent an exhaustive trawl of the records in The National Archives even at the date of publication. Much of the cartobibliographic information is incomplete. In addition, maps in the principal Colonial Office (CO 700) and Foreign Office (FO 925) accumulations which were presumed to be duplicated in the holdings of the British Library were excluded from the first three volumes.
Copies of these catalogues, annotated with corrections and updates, are available for consultation in the Map and Large Document Reading Room at The National Archives. Copies are also available in many libraries.
7.2. Supplementary catalogues
These consist of a card catalogue and draft typescript and manuscript catalogue entries for maps of South-east Asia and Japan.
The card catalogue is arranged topographically, under the names of countries in use at the date of cataloguing. A separate drawer contains a card index to names of draughtsmen, surveyors and cartographers. There is no subject index.
The card catalogue contains information about maps which have come to light since the appearance of the published catalogues and about maps of areas not covered by the published catalogues. The catalogues include entries describing maps small enough to remain in their parent documents. Please note, however, that cards relating to map extract references (see Section 4 and Section 5 above) have been removed and the descriptions entered into our catalogue.
The draft catalogue entries for South-East Asia and Japan are also arranged topographically. They do not contain indexes for either map-makers or subjects.
These catalogues are available for consultation in the Map and Large Document Reading Room.
7.3. Series lists
Most series consisting entirely of maps have been listed in the standard National Archives manner, although often to a fairly minimal level of detail. In addition, descriptions of some series of records indicate the presence of maps, either generally at series level or more specifically at piece level. In these series, the arrangement of the maps or other records reflects the order in which they were accumulated or used by the creating department: sometimes this may be topographical, but this is not always the case.
The contents of the series lists are in our catalogue, and paper copies are also available in the reading rooms at The National Archives.
The series created as map extract references were not listed in this way, although their contents were described in the various topographically-arranged catalogues. Brief series lists were drawn up in the late 1990s for entry into our catalogue; these have now been enhanced by the conversion of the entries from the published and supplementary catalogues, as noted above.
7.4. Summary calendar of unextracted maps
For a few years in the late 1980s to early 1990s, maps, plans and drawings found in (but not extracted from) documents in series not consisting wholly of maps, were recorded in a summary calendar. This provides a brief notice of these maps, but does not attempt to provide a full catalogue description. A single description may relate to a large number of maps, and the amount of detail recorded varies.
As with other map-specific finding aids, the calendar is arranged topographically. It is in two parts. The first, arranged topographically, fills 13 binders. The second part, arranged by subject headings, is in three binders, forming three separate alphabetical sequences, A-Z. These subject headings may occasionally assist in answering subject-based enquiries.
The summary calendar is available in the Map and Large Document Reading Room at The National Archives.
8. Significant related map holdings elsewhere
Numerous archival institutions and libraries in the UK and around the world hold collections of maps. This section aims to identify those which hold significant accumulations of material which are related, either by provenance or content, to maps held in The National Archives.
The British Library holds vast collections of both manuscript and printed/published mapping, including (as indicated above) major holdings of UK Ordnance Survey maps and printed Admiralty charts. It also holds the archives and library of the former India Office.
In Ireland, some records relating to British government prior to 1922 are held at both the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and the National Archives of Ireland (NAI). From 1922 onwards, holdings of official records are those of the respective governments of Northern Ireland and of the Irish Free State (1922-1949) and Republic of Ireland (since 1949).
|Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue
Belfast BT9 6NY
Tel +44 (0) 28 9025 5905
Fax: +44 (0) 28 9023 5999
|The National Archives of Ireland
Tel: + 353 (1) 407-2300
Fax: + 353 (1) 407-2333
Large quantities of maps and plans created by local government and other bodies, often in the course of discharging statutory duties, are held in local authority record offices. Depending on the locality and the administrative area covered by the particular record office, holdings may include diocesan and parish copies of tithe maps and Valuation Office working plans created under the 1910 Finance Act (see Section 2 above).
For current addresses and contact details for local record offices, researchers should consult Find an archive, the online directory, or Janet Foster and Julia Sheppard, British Archives: A Guide to Archive Resources in the UK (4th edn, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).
9. Further reading and information sources
There is no comprehensive published survey of maps among the records of The National Archives. However, some of The National Archives publications offer advice on specific records or research topics which include maps.
Geraldine Beech and Rose Mitchell, Maps for family and local history (2004)
Ian F W Beckett, First World War: The essential guide to sources in The National Archives (2002)
JD Cantwell, Second World War: A guide to sources in the PRO (rev edn, 1998)
Cliff Edwards, Railway records: a guide to sources (2001)
Mary Ellis, Using manorial records (1997)
Nick Barratt, Tracing the history of your house. The National Archives, (2nd edition, 2006)
Publications concerning the history of maps and mapping and the use of maps by governments and private individuals are too numerous to list. Some are mentioned in the various The National Archives research guides cited above. Three of general background interest are:
W A Seymour, ed, A history of the Ordnance Survey (Dawson, 1980)
Catherine Delano-Smith and Roger JP Kain, English maps: a history (British Library, 1999)
Paul Hindle, Maps for local history (Phillimore, 1998)
Online, a valuable guide to map holdings in both libraries and archives in the United Kingdom is the Directory of UK Map Collections, maintained by the British Cartographic Society.
A major online gateway to information on the history of cartography, including details about many map collections held in institutions worldwide, is the site ‘Map History/History of Cartography’ maintained by Tony Campbell, formerly Map Librarian of the British Library: maphistory.info/