2021: Capturing our Collections Art Competition

Capturing our Collections: The National Archives Education Service Art Competition

Explore the themes of equity, freedom and belonging within our collection and create your own artwork inspired by our documents.

Enter The National Archives’ first ever National Art Competition for school students at Key Stage 2, 3 and 4 (ages 7-16)! Use real historical sources to inspire your artwork, exploring the stories of people or social/political themes contained in original historical documents. Delve into different sources from the past such as letters, posters, photographs, newspapers, census records, maps, reports, wax seals, and oral testimonies.

Our judges will select three winning students to win a £30 Amazon gift card to spend on art equipment and a ‘goody bag’ from The National Archives’ shop.

Read on to learn what you need to do to enter.

Monochrome photograph of women standing still in front of the pillars of the House of Commons.

Extract from The Illustrated London News © Suffragettes shown outside the House of Commons ‘to persuade members to vote in favour of women’s suffrage’, 1 February 1913. Catalogue ref: ZPER 34/142

What do I have to do?

  • To enter this art competition you will need to create your own artwork inspired by any single document from our collection that can be found on our Education website.
  • Your artwork MUST be related in some way to one of the following themes:

                               EQUITY; FREEDOM; BELONGING

  • Fill in the entry form and don’t forget to list the document that inspired your artwork.
  • Remember that a source might cover more than one theme. This does not matter – just make sure your artwork connects to the particular theme that inspired you.
  • You may use a variety of mediums – any size is possible, as long as a digital photograph of the work is submitted. Please do not send in your work.
  • Entries can be either 2D or 3D.
  • One entry per person.
Text reading 'BATTLE FOR FREEDOM AT OLD BAILEY' with a graphic of a raised fist in the centre.

Image from a pamphlet printed in defence of the Mangrove Nine. 1971. Catalogue ref: HO 325/143

Hints to help with your entry

  • Original research is an important starting point for all art projects. It is important to build skills in the interpretation of documents to enable an authentic piece of work.
  • An entry should clearly show the development of ideas from the original source into a richly informed final piece.  
  • Your entry should show a high level of understanding of the use of materials to present ideas.
  • Make sure you understand the meaning of the words used for the themes of the competition. Discuss with your teachers, friends, family or carers – what do these words mean and what do they mean to you especially? 
  • Start looking at the sources in our educational resources for inspiration. You will find all sorts of historical records. The written and typed sources are transcribed to help you read the handwriting. Some sources also have audio files so you can listen to them. 
  • On the Education website we have letters, posters, photographs, census records, newspapers, maps, reports, wax seals, and oral testimonies. Alternatively, you may get your inspiration from a record found on the main website of The National Archives, for example in one of our blogs. 
  • Don’t forget that the records may reflect more than one theme. This does not matter – just make sure your artwork connects to your particular choice of theme. 
  • We have given some suggestions below for where you might find sources to explore, but these are only suggestions. There are many more you can choose from! 

‘The opportunity to introduce students to a wealth of historical sources at The National Archive will empower students to see the multitude of social and political history at their fingertips. This will be an amazing starting point for many successful outcomes, and I am so excited to see the results your students will produce’. Lynn Pomfret, Secondary School Art Teacher.

A collection of small objects including miniature portraits and spoons next to a pile of letters and a small wooden box.

Items belonging to Mary Smith, who lived at Christ’s Hospital in London and died in 1810. Catalogue ref: C 114/190

Who can enter?

  • There will be three winning students in each of the key stages 2, 3 and 4 who will receive a £30 Amazon gift card to spend on art equipment and a ‘goody bag’ from The National Archives’ shop. 

Our judges: 

  • Lynn Pomfrett, fine arts graduate and postgraduate in film, has had a highly successful career in costumes, working on many BAFTA- and Oscar-nominated and winning productions. She re-trained as an art teacher and has since worked extensively across state schools in south east London.  
  • Gilroy Brown has worked in education for over 40 years, including 10 years as head teacher of an inner city primary school, 11 years as a school advisor and 1 year as principal of an all-ages free school. He is a pastor and education consultant.
  • Sarah Dickinson trained at Camberwell College of the Arts in textile design and painting. Her main interest is landscape painting in oils on location. Abstraction and colour are her focus along with a special interest in drawing.

Terms & conditions

  • Entries must be made sent to education@nationalarchives.gov.uk with the completed entry form. Without this form, your entry will not be accepted.  
  • Entries must be received by January 14th 2022. 
  • Your entry has be submitted along with permission to share the work online.
  • For Key stage 4, make sure you are not submitting any examination/year 11-13 course work.
  • Entry is open to all students in Key stages 2, 3 and 4 for the school year 2021/22.
  • Name the document that inspired your artwork, along with its reference (which should be found next to the document online). The reference is a combination of letters and numbers, for example: RG 101/1268G 
  • Results of the competition will be published on The National Archives’ website.  
  • Winning entries will be showcased on the Education website alongside some of the documents that have inspired your writing. 
  • Prize winners will be emailed in January 2022 and will receive their prizes via post.
Text reading 'Dr Barnardo's Homes / Train boys & girls / For the Empire / Head Offices: 18 to 26, Stepney Causeway, London E.' The text sits alongside a round logo for 'Dr Barnardo's Homes' featuring a small illustration of a boy in a sailor costume, a monochrome photograph of 'A group of Barnardo emigrants', and an illustration of a ship.

Dr Barnardo’s Homes, 1911. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/315 B (223)


You can find resources on:

The National Archives looks after 1,000 years of iconic national documents created and collected by UK central government departments. These records include Domesday Book, Magna Carta, Guy Fawkes signed confession and Charles Dicken’s will for example.  More recent documents include the passenger lists for the Empire Windrush from 1948. We hold records from the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Central Criminal Court. The National Archives education service creates lessons, themed collections and runs workshops on site and virtually based on these types of documents on different periods of history.

  • The following links are only suggestions for finding sources from The National Archives online. There many other sources on the Education website!
Round wax seal depicting Queen Elizabeth I.

Second Great Seal of Elizabeth I. Catalogue ref: SC13/N3


Seal of Elizabeth I

Women and the English civil wars

Mangrove Nine protest

19th century criminal petitions

Attlee’s Britain 1945-1951

Early Modern witch trials


Georgian Britain

Civil Rights in America

Suffragettes on file

Britain and Empire

Sixties Britain

Partition of India


Foundling Hospital

Child migration to Canada in 19th century

Medieval Chertsey

Immigration to Britain after the Second World War

The Boxers of Whitechapel

Letters home from First World War soldiers

Downloadable pdfs:

Monochrome photograph of a group of Black men and women. They are dressed in Victorian clothing and posing as a group for the camera.

Photograph of group of Pennsylvania jubilee singers, 1888. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/391/354

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Histories Finding Aid

This resource contains a hyperlinked list of resources created by The National Archives on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic histories on The National Archives’ website. It includes our Education resources, but also lists online exhibitions, research guides, blog posts and podcasts by staff and external writers.

Women’s Histories Finding Aid

This resource contains a hyperlinked list of resources created by The National Archives on women’s histories on The National Archives’ website. It includes our Education resources, but also lists online exhibitions, research guides, blog posts and podcasts by staff and external writers.

NSEAD logo

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) is a proud supporter of The National Archives art competition

Submit your entry