How to look for records of... Architectural history records held by other archives

1. Why use this guide?

This guide briefly describes:

  • how to search for records
  • the principal relevant repositories with strong collections relating to architectural history
  • general works of reference

2. How to search for records

2.1 Using Discovery, our catalogue

Search Discovery our catalogue to find records from The National Archives and over 2,500 archives across the UK.

Your search results will display details from a range of archives and you can then refine your results.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab.

Where the keywords you searched with appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab.

For further tips on searching see our catalogue help pages.

2.2 Printed index of papers relating to art and architecture

As well searching our catalogue, there are four typescript indexes to art (and architecture) papers mentioned in catalogues and reports received from repositories in the years 1969-1972. These are bound together and available in the reading rooms, Kew. They are useful in that they refer to individual items, whereas the computerised indexes only notice groups of papers.

3. Accessions to repositories

Each year The National Archives contacts approximately 250 of the principal record repositories in the British Isles in order to discover which major and unusual accessions have been received. This information is added to Discovery, our catalogue. It is also edited and used to produce thematic digests, including one relating to architecture. We make the digests available through this website and distribute them for publication in a number of learned journals and newsletters.

4. Artists Papers Register

The Artists Papers Register contains many references to architects’ papers in repositories around the country. Although information about architects’ papers was not specifically sought by the project officers, a number of details about plans etc were drawn from the NRA and supplemented with information on collections at local level. Users seeking information about architects and architectural history should consult it in addition to the NRA.

5. Relevant repositories

The following provides details of repositories and institutions that hold major collections relating to architectural history.

Lambeth Palace Library, London SE1 7JU

Holds 15,000 files and minute books of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS), established in 1818. Its records consist of plans, drawings, correspondence and photographs from 1818 until 1967. A database index to the collection allows searches to be made under the names of architects, churches, counties and dioceses.

Historic England

Holds England’s national collection of photographs, drawings and written records of historic buildings and archaeological sites including records produced as a result of survey work undertaken by the former Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, aerial photographs covering the whole of England, deposited collections, early Ordnance Survey maps and statutory lists of listed buildings. The main finding aids are the Listed Building System (LBS), a database containing details of all listed buildings in England, and MONARCH, the main database of information.

National Monuments Record of Scotland, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard, Edinburgh EH8 9NX

Maintained by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, which was established in 1908 to make an inventory of the surviving built heritage of Scotland. Performs similar functions to the English NMR. The principal finding aid to the NMRS is CANMORE, which can be searched online.

National Monuments Record of Wales, Crown Building, Plas Crug, Aberystwyth SY23 1NJ

Maintained by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, which was established in 1908 to make an inventory of the ancient and historical monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire. Performs similar functions to the English NMR.

The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU

Records of successive works departments are held at The National Archives under the series WORK. Also held here are the records of the architects departments of many government bodies, such as the Education Department, Local Government Board and the Poor Law Commission.

Maps, plans and architectural drawings are scattered throughout many different series of records; see Maps and Plans in The National Archives 1. British Isles c1410-1860 (HMSO 1967).

V&A + RIBA Architecture Partnership

Two major national and international resources based in London have entered into a joint initiative: the V&A + RIBA Architecture Partnership brings together in a single location the drawings and archives collections of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the architectural drawings and photographs in the collections of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. From November 2004 these collections have been accessible through the appropriate study rooms in the Henry Cole Wing of the V&A. The collections contain material likely to be of interest to researchers studying particular buildings or architects, whether in the public or private sector, from the Renaissance to the present day. Access is free, but you must make an appointment.

The location and postal address are:

V&A South Kensington
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL

For further information about the RIBA’s drawings and archives collections and the RIBA Study Room, visit the RIBA Library and Collections page .

For further information about the V&A’s collections of architectural drawings and photographs and the Prints and Drawings Study Room, see the V&A study rooms page.

RIBA’s library and photographic collections are at RIBA headquarters. You can access the Library catalogue online.

RIBA British Architectural Library
Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place
London W1B 1AD
United Kingdom

Main Switchboard
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7580 5533
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7255 1541
Public Information Line – Mon-Fri: 10:00-17:00 (GMT)
Tel: +44 (0) 906 302 0400
(Information line calls charged at 50p per minute in the UK. These lines cannot be accessed from outside the UK)
Library Information (24-hour recorded):
Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7307 3707
(administrations, loans, photographs, manuscripts)

Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincolns Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP

Holds Sir John Soane’s personal correspondence, and journals, account books and other papers connected with his professional practice. Also holds the manuscript Book of Architecture of John Thorpe.

6. Local record offices

Nearly all local repositories hold a wide range of estate, inclosure, tithe and Ordnance Survey maps for the area they cover, many of which may help in tracing the development of an estate, or the changing block plan of a building.

Licences, or faculties, for alterations to churches, which can include plans, may be among parish or diocesan collections; and plans for 19th century buildings will be among planning applications included in the records of district councils.

Records concerning specialist buildings such as schools, workhouses, prisons and non-conformist churches may be among locally held collections. Building accounts and plans can often be found in collections of family and estate papers.

In addition, these repositories usually have a good collection of prints, drawings, photographs and sale particulars, as well as the standard sources such as census and land tax returns. Contact details for local repositories can be found using the Find an archive tool.

The Archives Hub provides a single point of access to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges. At present these are primarily at collection-level, although where possible they are linked to complete catalogue descriptions.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over 50 higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area.

The Scottish Archive Network the project aims to revolutionise access to Scotland’s archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.

8. Further reading

Rebecca M Bailey, Scottish architects’ papers: a source book (1996)

H M Colvin, A biographical dictionary of British architects 1600-1840 (third edition, 1995)

H M Colvin (ed), The history of the King’s works (1973-)

H M Colvin, English architectural history: A guide to sources (second edition, 1976)

Roger Dixon and Stefan Muthesius, Victorian architecture (1978)

Alison Felstead, Jonathan Franklin, Leslie Pinfield, Directory of British architects 1834-1900 (1993)

A Stuart Gray, Edwardian architecture: A biographical dictionary (1985)

John Harvey, English mediaeval architects: A biographical dictionary down to 1550 (1987)

John H Harvey, Sources for the history of houses (British Records Association, Archives and the User Number 3, 1974)

Rolf Loeber, A biographical dictionary of architects in Ireland 1600-1720 (1981)

Nikolaus B Pevsner (et al), The buildings of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales (1951-)