How to look for records of... Photographs

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1. Why use this guide?

The National Archives holds one of the largest and most significant collections of photographs in the United Kingdom. Running into millions of individual items, these photographs have been amassed during the working lives of central government departments and cover the historical time-span of the medium itself.

This guide will help you to find individual photographs among our vast holdings, some of them in discrete collections but many scattered more haphazardly among the documents of the scores of central government departments, past and present, that commissioned and collected them.

You can view and purchase high-quality copies of many thousands of our photographs through our Image Library. The Image Library is the easiest way to get a sense of the breadth and depth of what we hold but most of our photographs are not available to view online. To see anything that is not available from the Image Library you will need either to visit us or pay for copies to be sent to you.

The National Archives does not hold any cinematographic film.  Archived film of government origin is held at the British Film Institute.

2. The span of the collection

The National Archives holds central government and court records that have been selected for permanent preservation. Our photographs are among these records, all of which, broadly speaking, have played some part in the working life of their government department of origin, whether commissioned as part of a survey, collected by British diplomats overseas, inherited, donated or acquired in some other way. The subject matter, however, goes beyond the business of government, though that in itself encompasses an enormously wide range of material, from transport, housing and crime to war, heavy industry and British interests overseas. Many thousands of our photographs arrived in our repositories via the offices of copyright, depicting anything that any amateur or professional photographer chose to point a camera at and register the resulting image for copyright protection.

A sequence of ten photographs showing a man in a boating hat, with a cane and a bag, walking and turning. The first five show him side on; the second five show him from behind. They are part of a collection of 'motion pictures' from 1887, registered for copyright by Eadweard Muybridge (catalogue reference COPY 1/383/53).

This sequence of photographs are part of a collection of ‘motion pictures’ from 1887, registered for copyright by Eadweard Muybridge (catalogue reference COPY 1/383/53).

The earliest identified photographs in our collection date from the early 1850s and appear in significant numbers from the 1860s onwards, with tens of thousands of separate images dating from the 19th century alone.

Though many of the images depict scenes from the United Kingdom, large numbers of our photographs depict land, events and people from countries around the world.

This image of Samarra in Iraq, circa 1935 (catalogue reference OS 1/384), is among a collection of aerial photographs of sites of archaeological interest in the Middle East, dated 1925-1936, sent to The National Archives from the Ordnance Survey agency. The picture shows a temple in the foreground and a walled town in the background.

This image of Samarra in Iraq, circa 1935 (catalogue reference OS 1/384), is among a collection of aerial photographs of sites of archaeological interest in the Middle East, dated 1925-1936, sent to The National Archives from the Ordnance Survey agency.

It is almost certain that many photographs remain undiscovered in volumes, files and papers buried within our collection. We know for sure that countless photographs have not been formally identified or catalogued. If you come across any photographs in our records that are not listed in our catalogue, we’d be grateful if you could let us know. You can alert us to any photographs you find using the ‘Let us know’ link on the catalogue description page of any piece.

See Appendix 1 for an overview of the photographic collections we have so far identified.

You may find some of our photographs, such as those related to criminal court cases, distressing. Where we have identified potentially distressing photographs we have noted it in this guide and in the online descriptions in our catalogue but there may be other photographs of a distressing nature that we have not yet identified.

3. How to search for photographs

Sections 4 to 13 list some of our more significant collections of photographs by theme but there are many more photographs on the same themes that are not highlighted in these sections so it’s always worth trying a search in our Image Library or catalogue with keywords – this section of the guide provides advice on how to do this.

3.1 Use The National Archives’ Image Library

Our Image Library contains over 75,000 images available to download (£) immediately. Some of these images are of written documents or artwork but many thousands are digitised versions of original photographs. You can search the Image Library using keywords.

A photographic portrait of Charles Darwin, 1882. He is shown from the chest up, dressed in a waistcoated suit.

Charles Darwin, 1882 (catalogue reference COPY 1/57/225).

If you don’t find what you are looking for, you can search the full collection in our catalogue (see 3.2).

3.2 Use our catalogue to search the whole collection by keywords

Several million photographs are either wholly or partly described in our catalogue. To find them search our catalogue by keyword(s), using the following kinds of combinations:

  • ‘photograph’ AND subject such as ‘war’
  • ‘photograph’ AND key term such as ‘plantation’
  • ‘photograph’ AND name such as ‘ Alfred Tennyson’
  • ‘photograph’ AND type of photograph such as ‘aerial’
  • ‘photograph’ AND place such as ‘China’

Search results provide short descriptions and document references. A small proportion of these photographs have been digitised and you can download these direct from the catalogue (£) or from the Image Library (see above) but in most instances you will need either to visit us or pay for copies to be sent to you to see them.

You can use the filters on the left hand side of search results pages to refine your search by department code, such as FO for Foreign Office, and date. For more search advice, read catalogue search help.

3.3 Use ‘series searches’ to search specific parts of the collection

A rear view of a policeman stood in front of a wall of bill posters with his hands behind his back, apparently reading the posters.

Policeman, 1899 (catalogue reference COPY 1/441/109).

This is another way to use our catalogue. A large number of photographs are only identified in the record series descriptions of our catalogue. Each record series has its own ‘series search’. There are hundreds of series that contain photographs, many of them listed in Appendix 1 of this guide and in sections 4 to 13, where the same series are organised by theme. Once you have established that a series contains photographs you can use the series search, and the keyword tips in section 3.2, to try finding them. However, in some cases searches may have to be much more speculative as some series do not contain descriptions of individual photographs. You will need to look through the original documents within the series to discover where the photographs are located.

3.4 Incomplete paper index for places and people

A paper index to photographs, with listings by place names and people/groups, is available at The National Archives building in Kew. Most of the references are included in our online catalogue, making the paper version largely redundant – but browsing in this way presents an alternative way of searching and may occasionally turn up something unfindable in the online catalogue.

One of the largest single collections of photographs held at The National Archives was originally accumulated by the Stationers’ Company, the government office responsible for copyright registration. Between 1842 and 1924, alongside paintings, drawings and written works, tens of thousands of photographs were registered for copyright, covering a multitude of subjects. Some photographs are artistic, others are purely documentary. Among the images depicted are people from all walks of life, from monarchs to paupers; landscapes, buildings and famous landmarks in Britain and around the world; military and war scenes; and innumerable other subjects.

A cropped version of a photograph of Aston Villa Football Club, showing the whole team in club colours and ten older men in suits, gathered around three trophies. The photo was registered for copyright in 1896 (catalogue reference COPY 1/424/87).

A cropped version of a photograph of Aston Villa Football Club, registered for copyright in 1896 (catalogue reference COPY 1/424/873).

You can search by keyword for these photographs in COPY 1 but for more detailed advice on searching see our guide to copyright records.

5. First and Second World Wars

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3). There are also photographs from the war years in the series listed in section 6.

5.1 First World War

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Admiralty Photographs showing various forms of harbour defence and the protection of ships against torpedoes. ADM 244 Discrete collection
Air Ministry An album of aerial photographs from the First World War among reports and photographs which otherwise date from 1939-1952. AIR 34 An album and scattered individual photographs
War Office Aerial and ground photographs taken in Flanders during the First World War. The majority, taken from aircraft, were used for intelligence, mapping and reconnaissance purposes, but the series also contains artillery panoramas which show views of the battlefield taken from artillery positions. WO 316 A discrete collection of 58 photographs
A picture of a group of men (a cropped version of the original), some in military uniform, others in civilian clothing, gathered around a destroyed 28cm gun, is among an album of 170 photographs taken during the Gallipoli Campaign (catalogue reference WO 317/1/30).

This picture (a cropped version of the original) is among an album of 170 photographs taken during the Gallipoli Campaign (catalogue reference WO 317/1/30).

War Office Photographs of the Gallipoli Campaign including aerial shots of captured equipment, ships and battle sites, replete with accompanying statements and sketch maps. WO 317 Discrete collection with accompanying material; a number of photographs have been formed into collages
War Office Photographs, sketches and accompanying maps from various theatres of operations including some from the Western Front in WO 153/1268-1275 and others of the Salonika Campaign in Greece in WO 153/1345 and WO 153/1346. Includes battlefield panoramas. WO 153 Photographs scattered among files
War Office Six photographs taken during the campaign in Palestine. They were taken from aircraft for survey purposes and show the terrain and towns being fought over, 1916-1918. WO 319 Discrete collection
War Office Twelve photographic panoramas of the fighting in the Alpine region near the Austrian border, during the Italian campaign, 1916-1918. WO 323 Discrete collection
Cross-section (around a third of the full length) of a monochrome panorama of Lens in June 1917 (catalogue reference WO 316/28). The photograph shows houses and fields and has been labelled to show the locations of various features.

Cross-section (around a third of the full length) of a panorama of Lens in June 1917 (catalogue reference WO 316/28).

5.2 Second World War

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Admiralty Admiralty papers assembled by official historians as background information for the ‘official history’ of the Second World War. There are photographs throughout these papers as well as five distinct volumes of photographs showing, among other things:
  • Boulogne (including aerial views)
  • artificial harbours used during Operation Neptune
  • silhouettes of the French coastline (three volumes)
ADM 199 Five volumes of photographs plus scattered individual items
Admiralty Photographs showing various forms of harbour defence and the protection of ships against torpedoes. ADM 244 Discrete collection
Admiralty Numerous photographs accompany reports and narratives of operations and incidents showing damage to naval craft, 1939-1959. ADM 267 Photographs scattered among files
Air Ministry Squadron operations record books. A number of volumes include or wholly comprise appendices, a number of which include photographs, most commonly of personnel. These may be groups or individuals, posing or carrying out tasks, or participating in a ceremonial (for example, medal decoration) or social (station sports day) activity. AIR 27 Photographs scattered among files
Air Ministry Air force stations operations record books. As with the squadron record books, a number of volumes include or wholly comprise appendices, a number of which include photographs, most commonly of personnel. AIR 28 Photographs scattered among files
Operation Neptune landing craft during the D-Day Landings in June 1944 (catalogue reference ADM 199/1660). In the foreground are troops and landing craft readying to leave a boat approaching the shore; int he background are tanks and other vehicles on a beach in front of several detached houses.

Operation Neptune landing craft during the D-Day Landings in June 1944 (catalogue reference ADM 199/1660).

Air Ministry Miscellaneous air force units operations record books. As with the squadron record books, a number of volumes include or wholly comprise appendices, a number of which include photographs, most commonly of personnel. There are also two files containing photographs taken during training courses held at the staff college, RAF Andover, 1922-1946, and the Central Gunnery School, 1940-1945. AIR 29 Photographs scattered among files
Air Ministry Reports and photographs from the Central Interpretation Unit. A large number of photographs and/or printed pictures are scattered among these files. The largest portion of this material comprises aerial photographs taken by reconnaissance aircraft. Additionally, there are numerous ground level shots obtained from a variety of sources. Most prominent of these are those taken by tourists, before the advent of war, and subsequently passed to the ministry. AIR 34 Photographs scattered among files
Ministry of Home Security Papers of the Research and Experiments Department containing observations of and research into allied and enemy bombs, bombing methods and effects, fire prevention and air raid damage both in the United Kingdom and in enemy occupied territories. Many are technical reports and surveys of air raid damage to towns, buildings and transport facilities, with photographs as supporting evidence. HO 192 Photographs scattered among files
Ministry of Information Allied military and civilian personnel, military and political leaders, including the King and Sir Winston Churchill, as well as events and scenes from the Home Front and liberated areas of Europe. INF 2/44 670 photographs
Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Includes a significant number of photographs depicting the work activities of the Women’s Land Army. MAF 59 Photographs scattered among files
National Savings Committee for England and Wales The photographs in this series were mainly taken in 1940 and 1943 in connection with the war savings campaign. Most of the photographs were originally used in window displays. There are a few post-war photographs of industrial and school savings groups. NSC 32 Discrete collection
War Office War Crimes Case Files from the Judge Advocate General’s Office consisting of daily transcripts of proceedings, prosecution and defence summations. Most files have photographs, most often of the defendant, but some also depict the scene of the crime – they were used as exhibits. WO 235 Photographs scattered among files
War Office A miscellaneous collection of 1,388 photographs of the Mulberry Harbour in various stages of construction and during transit across the Channel WO 240 Discrete collection
A shot of HMS Biter, a convoy escort carrier, at sea, taken from the back of an aeroplane which has apparently just taken off from the carrier, in 1944 (catalogue reference ADM 199/2061).

HMS Biter, a convoy escort carrier, in 1944 (catalogue reference ADM 199/2061).

6. Military establishments, hardware and transport

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3). See section 5 for more series of photographs of military establishments, hardware and transport.

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Admiralty Royal Navy ships afloat or in dry dock, 1854-1945, from the Naval Construction Department. Within each sequence photographs are arranged alphabetically by ship’s name. ADM 176 First 782 photographs are mounted on card; remaining 359 are not
Admiralty Naval dockyards and other establishments in the British Isles and abroad, 1857-1961, from the Architectural and Engineering Works Department, later the Civil Engineer in Chief’s Department. ADM 195 A discrete collection of 126 photograph albums
Admiralty Photographs showing various forms of harbour defence and the protection of ships against torpedoes. Includes boom defence equipment, 1916-1946, and at least one file of enemy defence booms (at the approaches to Kiel). ADM 244 A discrete photographic collection of 26 files
Admiralty and Air Ministry Airships, balloons and associated technical equipment and facilities in Britain, Germany, the United States, Canada, Egypt and India, 1911-1939. Photographs once held by the Naval Aircraft Works and later the Royal Airship Works. AIR 11 A subseries within this series, comprising 27 pieces, and several further files
Admiralty and Air Ministry Airship sheds, aeroplane hangers and seaplane bases, plus related buildings and equipment, 1914-1932, at stations in Bedford, Cardington, Howden, Pulham and Felixstowe, among others in Britain, and at Karachi, Pakistan. AIR 59 A discrete collection of ten volumes of photographs
Air Ministry Photographs of research into aircraft, airships, balloons, engines and equipment found in monthly reports from the Directorate of research, 1919-1925. AIR 60 Reports with original photographs (but most are printed copies of original photographs)
Air Ministry Aircraft engines and components in development 1935-1952, from the papers of Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle. AIR 62 Photographs within 37 files and volumes
Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Photographs taken during tests of models of sea-planes and flying boats carried out for the Air Ministry and private aircraft constructors, 1918-1929. DSIR 42 Photographs accompanying reports
Portsmouth Dockyard, 1914. This is HMS Hindustan entering Dock No.14 (catalogue reference ADM 195/84). Cranes are visible on either side of the canal into which the ship is docking.

Portsmouth Dockyard, 1914. This is HMS Hindustan entering Dock No.14 (catalogue reference ADM 195/84).

Ministry of Supply (Ordnance Board) British and American military and naval aircraft, 1941-1945. These photographs are attached to Aircraft Data Sheets but not all data sheets have a photograph attached. SUPP 9 Photographs attached to data sheeets
War Office and Ministry of Supply Photographs taken as part of research into chemical weapons and protective devices, 1916-1985, from the Chemical Defence Research Department and Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment. WO 188 Numerous photographs scattered among papers
War Office Mulberry Harbour in various stages of construction and during transit across the Channel. WO 240 A miscellaneous collection of 1,388 photographs
War Office Atomic trials at Maralinga, Australia, 1956-1966. WO 320 A discrete collection of 10 volumes of photographs

7. Landscapes, urban scenery and geographical surveys

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3). See section 5 for links to series containing aerial photographs taken during the First and Second World Wars.

A wide shot of Lincoln Cathedral from the front and the surrounding landscape, with houses in the foreground and flat countryside in the background. The photo is from the 1930s (catalogue reference INF 9/699).

Lincoln Cathedral and the surrounding landscape in the 1930s (catalogue reference INF 9/699).

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Admiralty and Ministry of Defence (Naval Intelligence Division and Defence Intelligence Staff) Coasts and inland waterways of the British Isles, 1945-1992, photographed for beach surveys and beach intelligence reports. They include Operation SANDSTONE reports, a comprehensive survey carried out between 1946 and 1966 by the Naval Intelligence Department (NID) and the Directorate of Intelligence (DI 19). The files are arranged geographically, covering the west coast of Scotland and outlying islands, then from north to south, the east coast of Scotland and the remainder of the British Isles in a clockwise direction; Northern Ireland, Eire and Jersey are also covered. ADM 326 Photographs among 1326  policy files
Town and Country Planning Division of the Welsh Office Photographs, 1949-1973, in support of applications for either residential development or mineral extraction. BD 28 18 files with photographs
Countryside Commission National parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, heritage coasts, uplands, lowlands and other landscapes illustrating conservation, countryside management, visitor services and access. They were produced by the Visual Resources Unit for use by the Countryside Commission for mainly public purposes, 1971 to 1992. COU 11 40 Colour slides (35mm) and photographs
Central Office of Information Photographs of the British Isles: The Dixon-Scott collection, 1926-1948. The great majority of these photographs depict places in the British Isles, arranged topographically. There are also photographs of a few people and some thematic subjects. Digital images from this collection can be downloaded from our website. INF 9 Around 13,000 photographs
Ministry of Transport Streets and amenity service vehicles in Liverpool and Manchester, 1919-1949. MT 162 18 photographs
War Office Places and areas in theatres of war in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Atlantic and the Pacific, 1913-1968. WO 252 Photographs among 1486 files and volumes

8. Former British colonies and other countries

The pyramids at Giza in Egypt, 1890s, with two tiny images of camels in the foreground (catalogue reference CO 1069/179).

The pyramids at Giza in Egypt, 1890s (catalogue reference CO 1069/179).

There are large numbers of photographs held here that were taken or collected by British diplomats and other government officials stationed overseas. Most are held among the records of the government departments responsible for handling foreign affairs and British interests abroad, including the Colonial Office, the Dominions Office, the Foreign Office and its successor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

There are also a great many photographs taken on foreign soil among the records of the various branches of the military and many such collections are listed in section 5 and section 6.

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3).

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Colonial Office, Dominions Office, Commonwealth Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library Photograph Collection, 1815 to 1990. Most of these photographs were originally collected by the Colonial Office, for many years somewhat haphazardly, beginning in 1869 when the Colonial Secretary asked governors to arrange for the taking of photographs of ‘noteworthy buildings and scenery…together with individuals of various races peculiar to the colony’. They were only relatively recently brought together into a more coherent collection, sorted into several broad categories, loosely described as:
  • topographical
  • miscellaneous conferences (most commonly visual accounts of diplomatic events and activities)
  • portraiture (these remain at the FCO archive in Hanslope Park)
  • architectural (retained by the FCO to support their building maintenance work)
CO 1069 Photographs and artistic and literary works collected by four of the five overseas departments of state, the exception being the India Office
Hilly landscape surrounding a bay in which many boats are anchored. One of several panoramic shots of Hong Kong in the 1890s held in CO 1069 (catalogue reference CO 1069/447).

One of several panoramic shots of Hong Kong in the 1890s held in CO 1069 (catalogue reference CO 1069/447).

Foreign Office Photographs taken in the Mediterranean, Turkey, Syria, Persia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East among the personal and official papers of the diplomat Sir Percy Loraine (1880-1961). FO 1011 Includes 19 photograph albums, and three family portrait photographs
Central Office of Information British Empire Collection of photographs, 1945-1965, illustrating the geography and way of life in British colonial and Commonwealth territories. The material is arranged topographically by colony or dominion. INF 10 A collection of about 8,000 photographs
Central Office of Information India by Cecil Beaton: over 170 photographs taken by Cecil Beaton whilst in India, 1944-1945 in INF 14/432 to INF 14/447, among a disparate collection of photographs from around the world and the UK used to illustrate publicity material issued by the department. INF 14 A discrete photographic collection in 447 files
Office of Works and successors British consulates in China, Japan, Korea and Thailand, as well as a few other buildings in Hong Kong and Indonesia, 1907-1947 WORK 55 Six volumes of photographs

9. People and personalities

HRH Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, in her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform, stood in front of a military car, in 1945 (catalogue reference INF 2/44/612).

HRH Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, in her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform in 1945 (catalogue reference INF 2/44/612).

Historically, official photographs of government employees, whether of the military, civil service or elsewhere in government have not been routinely taken, much less preserved permanently at The National Archives. It is therefore unlikely that you will be able to locate a photograph of a specific individual who served in the military or any branch of government within our collections. There is, however, one anomaly: merchant seamen who were discharged from the navy between 1913 and 1972 (see series BT 372 in table below).

On the other hand, photographs of renowned statesmen, royal figures and numerous other famous personalities both inside and outside government, from artists to engineers, are relatively easy to locate. You can search our catalogue with the name of the person and the word ‘photograph’.

 

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (Board of Trade) Photographs of individual merchant seamen held with papers in seamen’s ‘pouches’ (a file created for each seaman). Of the approximately 500,000 pouches, around half contain photographs. BT 372 Around 250,000 photographs
Copyright Office People, some famous, from all walks of life depicted in photographs registered for copyright protection at Stationers’ Hall, 1842-1912. There are many other subject matters among these photographs (see section 4). COPY 1 Tens of thousands of photographs among other items registered for copyright
Foreign Office Passport photographs in a collection illustrating the many different types of passports issued in Britain and in British colonies between 1802-1961. Passports issued after 1 January 1915 normally include a photograph of the holder. FO 655 Hundreds of passport photographs
Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Passport photographs among a representative sample of Passport Office case papers, 1916-1983 for British passports issued in Britain and overseas. Most cases include photographs of applicants as photographs on most forms of passport applications became compulsory from 1 January 1915. FO 737 Hundreds of passport photographs
Metropolitan Police, Aliens Registration Office A sample of around 1,000 Aliens’ Registration Cards for aliens resident in London since 1914 – some 75% include a photograph of the individual registered. MEPO 35 Around 750 passport-sized photographs
Home Office and Prison Commission Portraits of individual prisoners, taken between 1870 and 1885. PCOM 2 Ten photograph albums (photographs of Wandsworth prisoners are available online)
Home Office and Prison Commission Photographs of male prisoners, 1870s-1887 among Male Licenses 1853-1887. PCOM 3 770 boxes, each containing several files on individual prisoners – from the 1870s the majority of these files contain at least one, annotated photograph of the prisoner
Home Office and Prison Commission Photographs of female prisoners, 1870s-1887 among Female Licences, 1853-1887. PCOM 4 Around 200 files – from the 1870s the majority of these files contain at least one, annotated photograph of the prisoner
Claude Grahame White, a pioneer of aviation, in 1910 sat in an early aircraft (catalogue reference COPY 1/548/279).

Claude Grahame White, a pioneer of aviation, in 1910 (catalogue reference COPY 1/548/279).

10. Public inquiries and criminal trials

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3). For photographs of some 19th-century prisoners see section 9.

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Central Criminal Court The files in this record series, dating from 1835 to 1992, are a rich source of photographs maintained as exhibits in criminal trials.

WARNING: THESE PHOTOGRAPHS MAY CAUSE DISTRESS WHEN VIEWED

CRIM 1 Several thousand photographs from hundreds of cases.
Director of Public Prosecutions Departmental prosecution files from 1931 to 1992, many relating to murder cases but included in each year are other significant prosecutions representative of the department’s work.

WARNING: THESE PHOTOGRAPHS MAY CAUSE DISTRESS WHEN VIEWED

DPP 2 Many of these files contain photographs
Home Office Proceedings and report of the Widgery Tribunal of Inquiry into the events in Londonderry on Sunday 30 January 1972. HO 219 18 pieces have photographs enclosed, submitted in evidence to the Inquiry
Home Office Scarman Inquiry into Red Lion Square Disorders, 1974-1975. HO 233 Amongst the material given in evidence is a selection of photographs, gleaned from press photographers, the police and members of the public

11. Railways

A broad gauge 'Lightning' locomotive of the Great Western Railway, stationary in a yard, 17 July 1889 (catalogue reference RAIL 1014/19). A man and a child are shown stood on the side of the locomotive and another man is stood on the ground in front.

A broad gauge ‘Lightning’ locomotive of the Great Western Railway, 17 July 1889 (catalogue reference RAIL 1014/19).

As the bulk of the railway records at The National Archives are those of the private railway companies before they were nationalised in 1947, so most of the related photographs we hold are from the pre-nationalisation era too.

The collection runs into many thousands of images, capturing scenes from the Golden Age of Steam, and beyond, both in Britain and around the world. Locomotives, train stations and crashes all feature heavily.

The series listed below contain the greatest concentrations of railway photographs but there are many more scattered throughout the wider collection. Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3).

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
British Railways Publicity photographs and posters, 1948-1976. Subjects include locomotives, offices, posters, rolling stock and stations. Many of the posters were issued to publicise holiday resorts and places of interest to railway travellers. Most of the files, folders and volumes contain material from all four regional groups. However, a few comprise a selection covering just Eastern Region Services. AN 14 Discrete collection of photographs and posters
British Railways Eastern Region, Civil Engineer’s Records, 1949-1971.  Contains:
  • Architects photographs from the Eastern Region’s Civil Engineer’s Office, 1953-1956 – a subseries of four volumes.
  • Facilities, staff and training procedures at the railway workshops, Darlington, 1951-1958 – a subseries of five volumes

Several other records have selections of photographs showing damage and repairs to track and buildings, compiled for training new engineers.

AN 28 Two subseries of photograph collections
British Railways Stations in the London Midland Region, 1948-1966. AN 31 Five undated volumes of station photographs
British Railways British Railways publicity material relating to special events, 1948-1976.
  • Visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II to Eastern Region, 1962
  • Visit of Duke of Edinburgh to opening of Engine Research Laboratory, Derby, 1964 – 24 colour photographs
  • Visit of Sir Cyril Hurcomb, Chairman of the British Transport Commission, to Eastern Region headquarters, 1948
AN 91 Photographs among files
Ministry of Transport Railway equipment and crashed train, near Carlisle, 1934, but most of the photographs in this series show streets and amenity service vehicles in Liverpool and Manchester, 1919-1949. MT 162 A discrete collection of 18 photographs
Pre-nationalisation railway companies Great Western Railway photographs of staff (group shots or shots at work), buildings and facilities, locomotives and rolling stock, technical equipment, postal facilities, holiday ventures and a wide range of other subjects believed to date from the 1840s to the 1940s. RAIL 1014 Small collections and individual photographs scattered among volumes and files
A locomotive engine stationary at Ludgershall train station, on the Midland and South Western Junction Railway, in 1901 (catalogue reference RAIL 1014/36/16). Fourteen men pose for the camera, stood side by side across the platform, on the tracks and on the locomotive itself.

Ludgershall train station, on the Midland and South Western Junction Railway, in 1901 (catalogue reference RAIL 1014/36/16).

Pre-nationalisation railway companies London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company photographs collected principally from the records of the various companies merged to form this new company under the 1921 reorganization. Most photographs are undated but the vast majority are post-1900. RAIL 1015 Photographs filed among other records
Pre-nationalisation railway companies Retired Railway Officers’ Society members’ portraits dating from 1909 to 1960. RAIL 1156 15 volumes of photographs
Pre-nationalisation railway companies The Tomlinson Collection. Photographs used by WW Tomlinson in writing and illustrating his history of the North Eastern Railway, published in 1914. Subjects covered include tickets, medals, paintings owned by the company, railway stations, facilities and staff, locomotives and rolling stock, and ancillary industries. Most of the photographs are undated but were taken between the mid-19th century up to the First World War. RAIL 1157 Numerous photographs among papers
British Transport Historical Records Office Library WE Hayward Collection. Material compiled by WE Hayward of Weston-super-Mare on railways both in Britain and abroad. ZSPC 11 Numerous photographs, original and printed, scattered among papers, files and volumes

12. Buildings and housing

A four-storey, terraced building occupied by the 'Aerated Bread Company' at No. 216 Piccadilly, London, 1925 (catalogue reference CRES 43/151/8).

No. 216 Piccadilly, London, 1925 (catalogue reference CRES 43/151/8).

Many of these collections depict public buildings used by branches of government and other public bodies and agencies, though there are plenty of images of architectural works of every other ilk, including ordinary housing. Among them are images of hospitals, police stations, museums, post offices and the buildings of The National Archives itself, and its predecessor the Public Record Office.

There are also photographs of historic buildings, some off them commissioned for preservation projects.

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3).

For pictures of buildings from outside the UK, from the pyramids to embassies, see section 8.

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Department of the Environment Photographs from Historic Buildings Council for England, 1953-1984, used to assist consideration of grant-aided renovation and preservation schemes. AT 16 A large number of photographs among  files
Department of the Environment Photographs, 1968-1973, of properties and their interiors from around the country which had been modernised with the help of home improvement grants. AT 62 Photographs within files
Resettlement Agency Photographs of resettlement units and facilities in the British Isles, 1977-1994 AST 33 24 photographs
Local government divisions of the Welsh Office Buildings clearance in Caernarvon (a volume of photographs accompanying a report) and photographs relating to improvements in housing stock during the 1950s and 1960s. BD 11 Photographs within files
National Dock Labour Board The headquarters of the NDLB, including the official opening, and local offices, call stands, medical centres, sports and welfare facilities, both under construction and after completion, throughout the country. There are also photographs used during a touring exhibition on dock labourers, organised by the Central Office of Information, 1953-1963. BK 12 14 photographs
Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues Photographs and prints of Crown properties taken since 1878. Nearly all the properties are in London, but photographs of Eltham Palace, Lindisfarne Priory and some at Windsor are included. CRES 43 Over 2,000 black and white photographs, mostly loose but many mounted onto card; several albums too
General Nursing Council Properties owned or used by the General Nursing Council for administrative purposes, 1900-1983. DT 21 104 files and photographs
Central Office of Information British Council Collection
Photographs taken during the 1930s and 1940s, including pictures of London Metropolitan Police buildings, other buildings and sites around London, Windsor Castle and the Staffordshire potteries.
INF 11 32 photographs
Metropolitan Police Police Stations, 1857-1983, within the Metropolitan Police area. One set was taken between 1980 and 1983 by the Photographic Branch to provide a complete record of police station buildings; the other contains earlier photographs, with brief histories of the stations attached. For other Metropolitan police buildings try MEPO 13. MEPO 14 Discrete photographic collection
Post Office Savings Department Post Office Savings Bank buildings (exteriors and interiors) and locations in a collection of photographs illustrating aspects of the work and history of the savings departments from 1880 to 1961. NSC 27
Ordnance Survey Exterior and interior of buildings occupied by Ordnance Survey, 1950-1969, as well as equipment used in surveying and the printing of maps. OS 51 1477 glass lantern slides among other records
Public Record Office Exterior and interior images of buildings of the Public Record Office, the predecessor of The National Archives. Included are the Chancery Lane building, 1896-1965, the Hayes  repository, the site at Kew and the British Transport Historical Records building at Porchester Road in London. PRO 50
PRO 55
PRO 62
PRO 65
Volumes of photographs among other records
General Register Office and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys Staff sorting and indexing at the Central National Registration Office in England in 1940 and at the census office in Acton, London in 1931. RG 54 5 photographs
Ministry of Supply Buildings, bookshops, machines, central and regional staff from throughout the history of HMSO, 1875-1991. SUPP 9 A discrete collection of 448 photographs
Office of Works Interiors and exteriors of public buildings used by Government departments and staff in England and Wales. WORK 69 Books of photographs
Office of Works Photographs of models showing proposals for development of Whitehall, 1869-1870, 1972 and 1979. WORK 96 Digital copies of photographs

13. National infrastructure and industry

A giant metal cylinder covered in scaffolding supporting two workmen. This is the construction of the 'Conun' drum in 1943, used to lay pipe under the English Channel for the Pipe Line Under The Ocean (PLUTO) project (catalogue reference POWE 45/61).

Construction of the ‘Conun’ drum in 1943, used to lay pipe under the English Channel for the Pipe Line Under The Ocean (PLUTO) project (catalogue reference POWE 45/61).

Among our holdings are photographs of factories, power stations, mines, roads, harbours, reservoirs, airports, train stations and almost every other element of the national infrastructure.

For most photographs of military infrastructure, including Royal Naval dockyards, British Army establishments and Royal Air Force bases see section 5 and section 6. However, photographs of Operation Pluto in the Second World War are below as they are held among the records of the Ministry of Power, a non-military department.

For railway infrastructure see section 11.

Click on the record series references in the tables to search the respective series by keywords (for tips on how to do this see sections 3.2 and 3.3).

Originating department Description of subject matter Record series Description of collection
Town and Country Planning Division of the Welsh Office Photographs, 1949-1973, in support of applications for either residential development or mineral extraction. BD 28 18 files with photographs
Transport, Highways and Planning Group, Welsh Office Photographs taken during the construction of major roads in Wales, 1976-1988, including the Welsh extension of the M4 and the Heads of the Valley Road (A470). They were presented to the Welsh Office as part of the road building contract, and show scenes prior to the commencement of work and then showing each stage of construction. BD 39 A discrete photographic collection
National Dock Labour Board The headquarters of the NDLB, including the official opening, and local offices, call stands, medical centres, sports and welfare facilities, both under construction and after completion, throughout the country. There are also photographs used during a touring exhibition on dock labourers, organised by the Central Office of Information, 1953-1963. BK 12 14 photographs
Board of Trade and successors Foreshore structures and establishments. BT 355
BT 356
Photographs among marine maps and plans
National Coal Board The collieries of the former Barber Walker and Co (mostly at Moorgreen and Brinsley) around Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, 1907-1917. The collection is entitled ‘From Pit to Fireplace’ and would appear to have been used to illustrate a talk on the history of coal mining. COAL 13 116 slides, taken by the Rev FW Cobb, Rector of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire
National Coal Board All aspects of the British coal mining industry, including personnel, equipment, buildings and special events, 1890 to 1990. COAL 80 2063 photograph prints and negatives, some arranged in albums
Miners squeezed into an underground lift in an underground chamber. This image is from a collection of photographs, inherited by the National Coal Board, taken by Reverend FW Cobb, Rector of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire between 1907 and 1914 (catalogue reference COAL 13/24).

Miners on an underground lift. This image is from a collection of photographs, inherited by the National Coal Board, taken by Reverend FW Cobb, Rector of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire between 1907 and 1914 (catalogue reference COAL 13/24).

Civil Aviation Authority Air traffic control facilities at airports, air traffic centres and navigational aids, 1959-1975. Photographs brought together by the Records and Archives Branch of the Civil Aviation Authority. DR 81 38 files and photographs
Ministry of Transport Photographs of motorway and trunk road schemes in Britain, 1929-1981, most commonly depicting structural foundations, especially of bridges. MT 95 Photographs scattered among files
Ministry of Transport Photographs accompanying reports and assessments made by the Vehicle Safety Divisions, 1931-1978 concerning technical aspects of road safety and practical safety measures. MT 98 Photographs scattered among files
Ministry of Power Photographs of the development and deployment of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), 1942-1946 POWE 45 Photographs scattered among files

14. Collections from multiple departments

In the 1970s the Public Record Office (the predecessor of The National Archives) began to create discrete series of photographic material, mostly prints and negatives, organised by department. Selections of photographs from the Ministry of Defence, the War Office, the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Home Office and 25 other departments have been collected together within a department created specifically for these extractions: CN. Split into 30 separate CN series, you can search each series by keywords or browse the material.

15. Collections held elsewhere

There  are numerous other photographic collections held by public institutions around the United Kingdom. To find out what is available locally, contact a local archive. They include:

Museum, gallery and royal society collections

DC 13 has been been deposited at the Museum of London – London Museum: Photographs of interior and exterior views.

DH 27 has been deposited at the British Library – British Library and the British Museum Library: Document Supply Centre and its predecessors: Photographs of the lending division facilities.

Library collections

Aerial photography collections

Military and maritime collections

Appendix 1: Alphabetical list by series of photographic material

The list below provides a quick reference, ordered by series reference, of many of the significant collections of photographs held at The National Archives but it is by no means an exhaustive list. The series listed are described in more detail in sections 4 to 13 of the guide. As the table indicates, there are some record series that are discrete photographic collections in themselves, consisting entirely of photographs, whilst other sets of photographs are scattered among files, folders and volumes.

Series reference Originating department Dates Discrete photographic collection or photographs among files
AB 7 United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and predecessors 1944-1990 Photographs among files
AB 11 United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and predecessors 1946-1965 Photographs among files
AB 13 Ministry of Supply: Atomic Energy Research Establishment 1946-1954 Photographs among files
AB 18 United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority 1946-1954 Discrete photographic collection
ADM 176 Admiralty: Naval Construction Department 1854-1945 Discrete photographic collection
ADM 195 Admiralty 1857-1961 Discrete photographic collection
ADM 199 Admiralty: War History Cases and Papers, Second World War 1922-1968 Photographs among files
ADM 244 Admiralty: Records of the Surveyor of the Navy and successors 1916-1946 Discrete photographic collection
ADM 267 Admiralty: Department of the Director of Naval Construction 1939-1959 Photographs among files
ADM 326 Admiralty and Ministry of Defence: Naval Intelligence Division and Defence Intelligence Staff 1945-1992 Photographs among files
AIR 11 Admiralty and Air Ministry: Naval Aircraft Works, later Royal Airship Works 1911-1939 Photographs among files
AIR 27 Air Ministry 1911-1917 Photographs among files
AIR 28 Air Ministry 1913-1977 Photographs among files
AIR 29 Air Ministry 1912-1977 Photographs among files
AIR 34 Air Ministry: Central Interpretation Unit 1916-1952 Photographs among files
AIR 59 Admiralty, Directorate of Works, and Air Ministry, Directorate of Works and Buildings 1914-1932 Discrete photographic collection
AIR 60 Air Ministry: Directorate of Research, later Directorate of Research and Technical Development 1919-1925 Photographs among files
AIR 62 Papers of Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle 1935-1952 Photographs among files
AN 14 British Railways 1948-1976 Photographs among files
AN 28 British Railways: Eastern Region 1949-1971 Photographs among files
AN 31 British Railways: London Midland Region 1948-1966 Photographs among files
AN 91 British Railways 1948-1976 Photographs among files
AST 33 Resettlement Agency 1977-1994 Discrete photographic collection
AT 16 Department of the Environment 1953-1984 Photographs among files
AT 62 Department of the Environment 1968-1973 Photographs among files
AVIA 30 Ministry of Aircraft Production 1936-1947 Photographs among files
AY 7 Department of Scientific and Industrial Research 1933-1965 Photographs among files
BD 11 Welsh Office 1950s and 1960s Photographs among files
BD 28 Welsh Office 1949-1973 Photographs among files
BD 29 Ministry of Housing and Local Government: Wales Office 1943-1975 Photographs among files
BD 39 Welsh Office: Transport, Highways and Planning Group 1976-1988 Discrete photographic collection
BK 12 National Dock Labour Board 1953-1963 Discrete photographic collection
BT 220 Ministry of Civil Aviation and Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation 1946-1971 Photographs among files
BT 372 Board of Trade: Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen 1913-1972 Photographs among files
CO 1069 Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1815-1990 Discrete photographic collection
COAL 13 National Coal Board 1907-1917 Discrete photographic collection
COAL 80 National Coal Board 1890-1990 Discrete photographic collection
COPY 1 Stationers’ Hall 1842-1912 Photographs among files
COU 11 Countryside Commission 1971-1992 Discrete photographic collection
CRES 43 Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues 1878-1967 Discrete photographic collection
CRIM 1 Central Criminal Court WARNING: THESE PHOTOGRAPHS MAY CAUSE DISTRESS WHEN VIEWED 1800s-1992 Photographs among files
DPP 2 Director of Public Prosecutions WARNING: THESE PHOTOGRAPHS MAY CAUSE DISTRESS WHEN VIEWED 1931-1992 Photographs among files
DR 81 Civil Aviation Authority 1959-1975 Discrete photographic collection
DSIR 42 Department of Scientific and Industrial Research: National Physical Laboratory 1918-1929 Photographs among files
DT 21 General Nursing Council 1900-1983 Photographs among files
FO 655 Foreign Office: Chief Clerk’s Department and Passport Office 1802-1961 Photographs among files
FO 737 Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Passport Office 1916-1983 Photographs among files
FO 1011 Foreign Office: Loraine Papers 1836-1973 Photographs among files
HO 192 Home Office: Ministry of Home Security: Research and Experiments Department 1939-1948 Photographs among files
HO 219 Home Office: Ministry of Home Security 1972 Photographs among files
HO 233 Home Office: Ministry of Home Security 1974-1975 Photographs among files
INF 9 Central Office of Information 1926-1948 Discrete photographic collection
INF 10 Central Office of Information 1945-1965 Discrete photographic collection
INF 11 British Council 1930s- 1940s Discrete photographic collection
INF 14 Ministry of Information and Central Office of Information 1939-1979 Discrete photographic collection
MAF 59 Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1916-1985 Photographs among files
MEPO 13 Metropolitan Police: Public Information Department 19th-20th c. Discrete photographic collection
MEPO 14 Metropolitan Police 1857-1983 Discrete photographic collection
MEPO 35 Metropolitan Police: Aliens Registration Office 1857-1983 Photographs among files
MT 95 Ministry of Transport: Highways Engineering Division 1929-1981 Photographs among files
MT 98 Ministry of Transport: Vehicle Safety Divisions 1931-1978 Photographs among files
MT 162 Ministry of Transport 1919-1949 Discrete photographic collection
NSC 27 Post Office Savings Bank 1880-1961 Discrete photographic collection
NSC 32 National Savings Committee for England and Wales 1950-1960 Discrete photographic collection
OS 51 Ordnance Survey 1950-1969 Photographs among files
PCOM 2 Home Office and Prison Commission 1870-1885 Photographs among files
PCOM 3 Home Office and Prison Commission 1853-1887 Photographs among files
PCOM 4 Home Office and Prison Commission 1853-1887 Photographs among files
POWE 45 Ministry of Power 1942-1946 Photographs among files
PRO 24 Public Record Office Photographs among files
PRO 30/69 Public Record Office 1793-1937 Photographs among files
PRO 30/89 Public Record Office 1858-1977 Photographs among files
PRO 50 Public Record Office 1896-1965 Photographs among files
PRO 55 Public Record Office 1953-1973 Photographs among files
PRO 62 Public Record Office 1928-1996 Photographs among files
PRO 65 Public Record Office 1957-1977 Photographs among files
RAIL 1014 Railways: Great Western Railway 1740-1967 Photographs among files
RAIL 1015 Railways: London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company 1825-1970 Photographs among files
RAIL 1156 Railways: Retired Railway Officers’ Society 1900-1963 Photographs among files
RAIL 1157 Railways: Tomilinson Collection 1728-1917 Photographs among files
RG 54 General Register Office and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys 1931 – 1940 Photographs among files
STAT 20 Stationery Office and HMSO 1875-1991 Discrete photographic collection
SUPP 9 Ministry of Supply and successors: Ordnance Board 1941-1945 Discrete photographic collection
WO 188 War Office and Ministry of Supply: Chemical Defence Research Department and Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment 1916-1997 Photographs among files
WO 235 War Office: Judge Advocate General’s Office 1940-1970 Photographs among files
WO 240 War Office 1855-1964 Photographs among files
WO 252 War Office: Inter-service Topographical Department 1913-1966 Photographs among files
WO 316 War Office 1914-1918 Photographs among files
WO 317 War Office 1915-1919 Photographs among files
WO 318 War Office 1914-1918 Discrete photographic collection
WO 319 War Office 1916-1918 Discrete photographic collection
WO 320 War Office: Directorate of Weapons and Development 1956-1966 Discrete photographic collection
WO 323 War Office 1914-1918 Discrete photographic collection
WORK 55 Office of Works and successors
1898-1962
Discrete photographic collection
WORK 69 Office of Works and successors 1892-1958 Discrete photographic collection
WORK 96 Office of Works and successors 2002 Discrete photographic collection
ZSPC 11 British Transport Historical Transport Records Office Library 1831-1977 Photographs among files

Appendix 2: Photographic publications held in our library

The National Archives library holds a number of publications that may be of interest.

Family Photographs, 1860-1945

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library Collection Catalogue

Directory of British photographic collections

Our Photographic Legacy: Treasures of the National Photographic Collections 1839-1989

The RAF in Camera, 1946-1995: Archive Photographs from the Public Record Office and the Ministry of Defence

RAF in Action 1939-1945: Images from Air Cameras and War Artists

Railways in Camera: Archive Photographs of the Great Age of Steam from the Public Record Office, 1860-1913