How to look for Treasury Board letters and papers 1557-1920

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1. Why use this guide?

This is a guide to locating letters received by the Treasury and other papers, such as reports and minutes, created in the business of the Treasury Board between 1557 and 1920. The Treasury Board was the main decision-making body in the Treasury.

As the government’s economic and finance ministry, responsible for maintaining control over public spending, virtually every area of government action involves the Treasury at some stage and the records, therefore, cover a very wide range of subjects.

For advice on post-1920 records, see our guide to records of Economic policy and government spending in the 20th century.

2. How to search for letters and papers: an overview

Most of the advice in this guide is for records in series T 1, the main record series for letters received by the Treasury (known as ‘in-letters’). T 1 does not contain letters sent from the Treasury to other government departments until the late 19th century (these are in out-letter books held in series T 5-T 29).

Locating records can be very time consuming. The process differs depending on the time period you are interested in but when searching for a letter it is usually useful to know the date of the letter and who sent the letter. For most records before 1920 you cannot search T 1 by keyword on our catalogue. Instead you need to start by consulting finding aids, explained in more detail in the subsequent sections of this guide.

The following flow chart provides an overview of the necessary finding aids for locating 19th century letters and papers in T 1:

Finding aids for 19th century Treasury papers

Finding aids for 19th century Treasury papers

3. How to find letters and papers, 1557-1745

3.1 Calendars

There are several published calendars for finding Treasury records from these years. They are well indexed and are freely available in the reading rooms and library at The National Archives. The calendars and the dates they cover are as follows:

 1555-1728  Calendar of Treasury Papers
 1660-1718  Calendar of Treasury Books
 1729-1745  Calendar of Treasury Books and Papers

3.2 How to convert calendar references

Each entry in the calendars comes with a corresponding volume or book number, expressed in Roman numerals (for example, CCCXVII) and an item or page/paper number, expressed in standard decimal numbers (for example, no.8 or p.52).

  • Convert the Roman numerals into decimal numbers (for example, CCCXVII becomes 317). This gives you a T1 document reference (in this example, T 1/317).
  • Request the letters/papers by searching for the reference in our catalogue
  • Find the item or page/paper number within the box of letters and papers

4. How to find letters and papers, 1746-1782

Use the T 1 series search in our catalogue to look for letters and papers using keywords. Letters and papers from 1746-1758 and 1764 are easiest to find as they have been described in more detail in our catalogue. Entries for other years are described in less detail.

When choosing which keywords to search with you should think laterally and consider possible broader subject matters within which your subject may be found. For example, to find Boston Tea Party papers look under ‘North America’ and the relevant date; searching for ‘Boston Tea Party’ will not work.

5. How to find letters and papers, 1777-1817

For this period you will need to first consult the Treasury registers. For each year there is an alphabetical and a numerical register. The alphabetical register is organised by name of sender. The numerical register is organised by date. The registers are held in series T 2. Follow the steps below to move from the registers in T 2 to the skeleton registers in T 3 and finally the letter or paper itself.

Example: you are looking for a letter from the Surveyor General of Woods about Hyde Park sent in August 1807.

Step 1: Order the appropriate T 2 registers by searching T 2 by year.  For 1807 the appropriate registers are T 2/48 and T 2/49.

Step 2: Find a reference to the letter in the T 2 registers – you may need to check both.

  • In the T2/48 alphabetical index you might look under ‘Surveyor General’
  • In the T2/49 numerical index you would look under ‘August’ – if you know the date of the letter but can’t find a reference to it for that date, try other dates close by

In our example, there is a reference to the letter on 8 August.

Step 3: Note the number next to the reference to the letter. In our example, the number is 6022.

Step 4: Search T 3 by year to find and order the corresponding skeleton register. For 1807 the skeleton register is T 3/3.

Step 5: Find your number from step 3 within the skeleton register. In our example you would look for 6022 within T3/3. A black tick indicates the document has survived, a red symbol means it has been destroyed and you will not find the letter.

Step 6: If there is a black tick search T 1 for the right year and paper range. In our example, T 1/1009 is the reference for 1807 covering paper numbers 5890-6261, within which paper 6022 falls. Order T 1/1009 to see the letter or paper.

6. How to find letters and papers, 1817-1852

Follow the steps in section 5 but, at Step 1, allow for the fact that T 2 alphabetical registers are, for this period, split into ‘alphabetical: individuals’ and ‘alphabetical: public offices’. Keeping these separate lists in mind, you may need to think laterally about the kind of reference you search for. For example, a letter from the Duke of Clarence in 1823 is filed under Royal Family within the alphabetical index of letters received from public offices for that year (held in T 2/101).

7. How to find letters and papers, 1852-1920

For this period the T 108 register, a register organised by subject, makes searching easier. The T 108 register can be used alongside, or instead of, the T2 registers. Not every letter corresponded to an obvious subject category and some correspondence was therefore filed as ‘miscellaneous.’

Follow the steps below, or the steps outlined in section 5, to find a letter or paper.

Example: you are looking for incoming letters relating to a flood at Holmfirth in 1852.

Step 1: Search T 108 by year to find the appropriate subject register for that year. For 1852, the subject register (covering 1852-1856) is T 108/1.

Step 2: Find a reference to the letter relating to the flood. In our example, the subject appears under ‘Miscellaneous: F’.

Step 3: Note the paper number next to the reference. In our example, the number is 7217.

Step 4: Search T 3 by year to find and order the corresponding skeleton register. For 1852, the skeleton register is T 3/41.

Step 5: Find your number from step 3 in the skeleton register. In our example, you are looking for 7217.

Step 6: If another number is written to the right of it, look for this number in the skeleton register. In our example, 17275 appears to the right of 7217.

Step 7: Continue this process until you find a number with no number to the right of it. In our example, to the right of 17275 the number 20366 appears and to the right of that 24989. There is no number to the right of 24989 so that is the paper number we look for. If a black tick is next to this number the file has been kept. If a red symbol exists the file has been destroyed.

Step 8: If you see a black tick,  search T 1 for the right year and paper range. In our example, the T 1 reference for 1852 and paper range 24940-24992, within which 24989 falls, is T 1/5778A. Order T 1/5778A to see the letter or paper.

Short video guide

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For further help searching our catalogue please read our Discovery help pages.

8. Troubleshooting and alternative sources

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, the following tips may help:

  • Try looking at nearby dates within the register. Sometimes letters were registered a few days after they were received.
  • Think laterally. Topics may be filed under various subject headings. If the correspondence covers another government department try consulting their records.
  • Check ‘miscellaneous’ within the T 108 subject registers. Letters were frequently filed under this heading.
  • Check the long bundles (T 1/3411-T 1/4404). These are not covered by the registers. They contain correspondence on subjects which generated large quantities of important correspondence from 1777-1840. Subjects include: slavery, distress in the Highlands and the Charles Babbage calculator.
  • From 1849 only important decisions of the Treasury Board were recorded. Find them in T 29.

You can also try other Treasury sources:

  • Look for the corresponding out-letter. Browse the 25 out-letter series from T 5-T 29 (letters from the Treasury to other government departments).
  • Look for Leeds Papers, mainly journals and minute books. For records from February 1668/9 until Michaelmas 1689 look in PRO 30/32. For Leeds Papers from 1690 onwards, contact the British Library.
  • From June 1920 look in series T 160-T 164 and T 268 for personnel records, if they survived. However, some of the records were wrongly incorporated into these series.

9. Further reading

Thomas L Heath, The Treasury (The Whitehall Series, 1927, GP Putnam’s Sons Ltd, London and New York)