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Guide reference: Military Records Information 66
Last updated: 27 August 2010

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are looking for records on the supply of arms and ammunition to the British Army and Navy from the 17th to the 19th century.

This guide will direct you to record series for the military or naval records, particularly when the descriptions in Discovery, our catalogue may be limited.

2. What information do Board of Ordnance records contain?

The records of the Board of Ordnance are a rich source for army, naval and maritime historians.

The records provide information on:

  • the building and upkeep of fortifications and barracks
  • the supplies of heavy arms
  • (early) maps for military purposes
  • the fitting and arming of warships
  • defence
  • payments for goods and services, salaries or allowances
  • daily operations of the Ordnance Board
  • commissioning and paying-off of warships
  • large number of issues and remains for the Spanish, Ile de Rhe and Rochelle fleets of 1626-1628
  • personnel of the Ordnance Board

3. How to search for records at The National Archives?

The best way to start is to browse our catalogue within the key series listed below. All the records of the Board of Ordnance originated in the War Office, which have the letter code WO. They are grouped into a Division within the WO Department.

Some records may have their own internal indexes which will help you locate document files. With others, you may have to browse and refine your search by date as catalogue descriptions are limited.

4. Key records

Board minute books (1644-1856)

Browse WO 47 for the Board minute books as well as entry books of orders, letters and reports. WO 47 is divided into various volumes.

Most of the early Board minutes are not indexed. Browse and narrow down your search by date.

Locate some documents by consulting:

You may also wish to browse WO 45 for correspondence as a point of reference which may refer to the Board minute books by date. See below.

Reference books to correspondence (1783-1870)

Browse WO 45 for information on: 

  • brief summaries of the in-letters to the Board
  • the Board's action
  • the disposal of the paper (if any)

In some ways they may be regarded as brief summaries of Board minutes and used as a quick reference to the minutes, but WO 45 is not strictly an index to WO 47.

The reference books in WO 45 notes for each in-letter are in the following columns:

  • reference number (early volumes only)
  • date of in-letter
  • date of receipt (not at first)
  • correspondent
  • subject
  • officer referred to, and when or any other action taken
  • Board's decision

Records of correspondence (1682-1873)

Locate documents by using indexes within WO 44 for the original in-letters.

There are three typescript indexes to WO 44 bound up with the WO 44 series list at The National Archives. They cover the entire class, under three headings:

  • officers' and men's services
  • inventions
  • miscellaneous

These indexes cover both names and subjects.

Browse for other correspondence in:

  • WO 55 for in-letters including those from artillery and engineer officers
  • WO 46/111-169 for letters kept by various offices and officers of the Ordnance during the 19th century
  • WO 46 for out-letters correspondence between the Board, the Master-General and the Lieutenant-General

Ledgers, contracts, quarter books, denture books and bill books

What information do they provide?

All these volumes record:

  • payments for goods and services
  • salaries and allowances
  • inventories of stores or captured munitions

Each item is entered in some detail. Payments for stores delivered by contractors, or for captured munitions returned into store, provide a detailed inventory of the items. These entries provide a wealth of information on the daily operations of the Ordnance Board and on the commercial life of the period.

How to find records

Use internal indexes to locate relevant documents listed below. Otherwise, browse WO 54 and some earlier volumes which do not have internal indexes to locate documents.

Document type Catalogue references
Contracts WO 49/1-16 for original contracts (1783-1835) chiefly for fortifications, WO 49/110-206B for estimates, mostly for fortifications and works (1639 to 1850), WO 49/207-293 for a large number of miscellaneous accounts and financial papers
Quarter books E 407/13, WO 54 (see below)
Debenture books WO 49/17-109
 Bill books WO 50-53
 Ledgers WO 48 

Personnel records of the Board of Ordnance (1594-1871)

Browse WO 54 by date to locate personnel records of the Ordnance Board.

Other records

For military activities records consult:

  • PRO 30/37 for a miscellaneous collection of consisting of account, delivery, receipt and contract books and of warrants, correspondence and papers (relating to the reign of Charles II)
  • WO 55/1-329 for reports from officers and employees at home or aboard about their actions (1753-1855)
  • WO 55/283 for a report by Major Montresor, on the recent campaign with a collection of miscellaneous accounts of the artillery in Bombay
  • WO 55/330-538 for warrants (1568-1855)
  • WO 55/539-639 for orders, chiefly relating to the military and the internal affairs of the office
  • WO 55/640-713 for general and other orders for the artillery
  • WO 55/714-1063 for engineers' papers and letter books
  • WO 55/1064-1547 for the artillery papers
  • WO 55/1548-1563 for reports on schemes of fortification
  • WO 55/1564-1622 for records of lands, rents and buildings
  • WO 25/1625-1775 for receipts, issues, remains and stores for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
  • WO 25/1941-1982 for records of the King's Works at Purfleet (1793-1834)WO 25/2269-3037 for plans and statements of ordnance lands and buildings

For Naval activities consult:

  • WO 55/1625-1775 and some in PRO 30/27 for lists was prepared of all guns, ammunition and ordnance stores issued and other equipment
  • WO 55/1272, for detailed reports from Nelson's flotilla bombarding Boulogne
  • WO 44/314 for armaments of ships preparing for sea
  • WO 44/498-499 for Naval gunnery, chiefly inventions
  • WO 44/648 for inventories of guns and naval stores at various dockyards
  • WO 44/649 for correspondence on proportions of ordnance stores for various classes of ship
  • WO 44/652 for armament of ships preparing for sea
  • WO 46/165 for correspondence with DGNO
  • WO 54/673 for an alphabetical list of ordnance tenders, giving masters' names, armaments, ships attached to and dates
  • WO 55/1625-1645, WO 55/1650, WO 55/1706 and WO 55/1692 for various dates on remains and issues
  • WO 55/1659 for a survey of all guns at sea or in forts (known as the 'Bedwell's remains',1589)
  • WO 55/1681-1685 issues and remains of Spain, Ile de Rhe and Rochelle fleets
  • WO 55/1715 for receipts, remains and issues for sea service and forts, Portsmouth (1679)
  • WO 55/1739 general instructions and duties of ordnance officers, 1716
  • WO 55/1743, WO 55/1745 and WO 55/1749 for establishment books
  • WO 55/1762 for a very detailed survey of all naval guns, available and required (1688)
  • WO 55/1793 for a survey of expenditure, ship by ship. Notes every ship, including auxiliaries, with their dates in commission (1688-1692)
  • WO 55/1803 for list of the whole Navy, including auxiliaries, giving tonnages and details of armament after two alternative establishments (1703)
  • WO 55/1830-1835 for alphabetical registers of ships commissioning, paying-off or altering established armament (1793-1826)
  • WO 55/1839 for inventories of gunner's stores on board captured Dutch ships and on land at Colombo and Pte de Galle (1796)
  • WO 55/1985-2268 for Portsmouth ordnance office records
  • PRO 30/37/4 for an entry book of orders and warrants, Parliamentary Ordnance Office (1645-7)

For records of Royal Ordnance Office consult:

  • WO 55/423 for warrants and orders in council from the King and other commanders
  • WO 55/459 for warrants from the Master-General to the Lieutenant-General
  • WO 55/1661 for receipts and issues of stores (1642-1646)

5. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.

Guide reference: Military Records Information 66

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