How to look for records of... Board of Ordnance

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are looking for British Army or Royal Navy records from the 17th to the 19th century on:

  • the building and upkeep of fortifications and barracks
  • the supply of military equipment
  • the supply of heavy arms
  • military maps
  • the commissioning, payment, fitting and arming of warships
  • payments for military goods and services, salaries and allowances
  • daily operations of the Ordnance Board
  • personnel of the Ordnance Board

These are records of the Board of Ordnance, responsible for the supply of arms, ammunition and other equipment to the British Army and Royal Navy until the late 19th century.

2. How to search for records

A search for documents at The National Archives usually begins in our online catalogue. Our records are grouped by ‘departments’, each with its own unique catalogue reference (a letter code). Each department is made up of multiple record series, all with their own unique references based on the department reference. Board of Ordnance records are held among War Office files. The department reference for the War Office is WO. The following sections of this guide provide links to the key Board of Ordnance record series within the WO department, helping you to target your catalogue searches more precisely.

By clicking on the series links (such as WO 47) you will arrive on the respective ‘series description’ pages from where you can search the series or browse through record descriptions one by one. However, many of these records are not described in any useful detail in our catalogue which makes keyword-searching trickier and browsing more necessary. Even browsing may reveal very little in some instances and we have created lists of records with more detail than can be found in the catalogue to compensate for this shortfall. These lists are in sections 3 and 4 of this guide.

Some records may have their own internal indexes which will help you locate information.

3. List of ordnance records relating to the Royal Navy

In the absence of consistent and comprehensive record descriptions in our catalogue for Board of Ordnance records we have created the following list of Royal Navy records.


  • lists of all guns, ammunition and other equipment issued, see WO 55/1625-1775
  • detailed reports from Nelson’s flotilla bombarding Boulogne, see WO 55/1272
  • details of armaments of ships preparing for sea, see WO 44/314
  • Naval gunnery, chiefly inventions, see WO 44/498-499
  • inventories of guns and naval stores at various dockyards, see WO 44/648 
  • correspondence on proportions of ordnance stores for various classes of ship, see WO 44/649
  • details of armament of ships preparing for sea, see WO 44/652
  • an alphabetical list of ordnance tenders, giving masters’ names, armaments, ships attached to and dates, see WO 54/673 
  • a survey of all guns at sea or in forts (known as the ‘Bedwell’s remains’,1589), see WO 55/1659
  • issues and remains of Spain, Ile de Rhe and Rochelle fleets, see WO 55/1681-1685
  • receipts, remains and issues for sea service and forts, Portsmouth, 1679, see WO 55/1715
  • general instructions and duties of ordnance officers, 1716, see WO 55/1739
  • establishment books, see WO 55/1743, WO 55/1745 and WO 55/1749
  • a very detailed survey of all naval guns, available and required, 1688, see WO 55/1762
  • a survey of expenditure, ship by ship, including their dates in commission, 1688-1692, see WO 55/1793
  • a list of the whole Navy, including auxiliaries, giving tonnages and details of armament after two alternative establishments, 1703, see WO 55/1803
  • alphabetical registers of ships commissioning, paying-off or altering established armament, 1793-1826, see WO 55/1830-1835
  • inventories of gunner’s stores on board captured Dutch ships and on land at Colombo and Pte de Galle, 1796, see WO 55/1839
  • Portsmouth ordnance office records, see WO 55/1985-2268
  • an entry book of orders and warrants, Parliamentary Ordnance Office, 1645-1647, see PRO 30/37/4

4. List of ordnance records relating to the British Army

In the absence of consistent and comprehensive record descriptions in our catalogue for Board of Ordnance records we have created the following list of British Army records.


  • a miscellaneous collection of account, delivery, receipt and contract books and of warrants, correspondence and papers relating to the reign of Charles II, see PRO 30/37
  • reports from officers and employees at home or aboard about their actions, 1753-1855, see WO 55/1-329
  • a report by Major Montresor, on the campaign in Bombay with a collection of miscellaneous accounts of the artillery, see WO 55/283
  • warrants, 1568-1855, see WO 55/330-538
  • orders, chiefly relating to the military and the internal affairs of the office, see WO 55/539-639
  • general and other orders for the artillery, see WO 55/640-713
  • engineers’ papers and letter books, see WO 55/714-1063
  • artillery papers, see WO 55/1064-1547
  • reports on schemes of fortification, see WO 55/1548-1563
  • records of lands, rents and buildings, see WO 55/1564-1622
  • receipts, issues, remains and stores for the 17th and 18th centuries, see WO 55/1625-1775
  • records of the King’s Works at Purfleet, 1793-1834, see WO 55/1941-1982
  • plans and statements of ordnance lands and buildings, see WO 55/2269-3037

5. Personnel records of the Board of Ordnance, 1594-1871

The personnel records of the Board of Ordnance are scattered and inconsistent. They are in WO 54 but you cannot search this series by a person’s name in our online catalogue. Instead you can search either by year only (it is usually easier to browse when locating records by year as the records are arranged in year ranges) or by one of the following terms plus a year or range of years:

  • Artillery
  • Artillery Officers
  • Artillery Battalion + Battalion number (for example, ‘Artillery Battalion 7’)
  • Engineers
  • Sappers and Miners
  • Military Artificers and Labourers
  • Pensions

6. Minute books, 1644-1856

These minute books include orders given to, discussed and carried out by the Board of Ordnance, including details of Board decisions and resulting action.

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.

7. 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. Key records include:
    • 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
  • 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

For Reference books to correspondence (1783-1870), browse WO 45, It contains:

  • 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

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

These records contain details of:

  • 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.

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

9. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.