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

1. Why use this guide?

This guide briefly describes:

  • how to search for records of gardens held in archives across the UK
  • the principal relevant repositories with strong collections relating to garden history
  • other useful links and general works of reference

This guide predominantly focuses on records not held by The National Archives.

2. How to search for records

Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from over 2,500 archives across the UK, as well as from The National Archives itself. Your search results will include details of which archives currently hold the records.

Click on the title of a result for the contact details of the archive which holds the record – you will need to contact this archive for further information about the collection or the record itself.

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 for 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 Discovery help pages.

3. Major collections

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

Linnean Society of London

Holds the archives of the Linnean Society, founded in 1788, the papers of Carolus Linnaeus and manuscripts from contemporary naturalists such as William Swainson. The archive is therefore rich in 18th and early 19th century material and includes prints, watercolours and sketches. See the Catalogues of the manuscripts in the library of the Linnean Society of London (1934-1948).

English Heritage Archives

Formerly the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England (RCHME), now absorbed within English Heritage. Maintains the National Archaeological Record, including written reports, measured surveys, drawings and reports, as well as the record files of the RCHME dating from 1908. Also maintained by the RCHME are the National Library of Air Photos and a number of special collections of papers, including copies of a collection of Gertrude Jekyll’s papers. See RCHME The National Monuments Record: a guide to the archive (1992).

Natural History Museum

Holds a collection of manuscripts associated with scientists such as Sir Joseph Banks. Non-manuscript material includes watercolour paintings and sketches of natural history subjects and a collection of portraits of naturalists. See also Catalogue of the books, manuscripts, maps and drawings in the British Museum (Natural History) (8 volumes, 1903-1949).

The National Archives,

Holds records of gardens in central government and royal custody, generated especially in the Office of Works; for example, WORK 16 contains files on the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens. For a description of the history and records of works departments see department and series level information for WORK on Discovery, our catalogue.

Textual records, maps and plans are scattered throughout many different series of records. Consult our catalogue and the research guides Maps: further research and Architectural drawings.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh,

Originally established in 1670 as a physic garden for growing and studying medicinal plants, it has developed as a distinctive focus within Scotland for world-wide botanical research and horticulture. Holds much historical published and unpublished material, the latter including the correspondence of George Forrest, Joseph Rock and others.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives

Holds letters, diaries, files and field notebooks of those botanists and horticulturists involved in the creation of Kew’s plant collection, as well as the registered files of the garden itself.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 

Maintains the National Monuments Record of Scotland, with similar archaeological responsibilities as English Heritage.

National Monuments Record of Wales

Maintains the National Monuments Record of Wales, with similar archaeological responsibilities as English Heritage.

Royal Horticultural Society

Founded in 1804 to encourage the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches. It is now the world’s leading horticultural organisation, with extremely active science and educational departments based at RHS Garden, Wisley. The Society is responsible for organising a number of shows, of which the Chelsea Flower Show is the most famous.

Besides the archives of the RHS, the Lindley Library holds the English Heritage Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest, and sets of gardening magazines, including The gardener’s magazine and The gardener’s chronicle.

Local record offices

These repositories have a fairly standard collection of estate, enclosure, tithe and Ordnance Survey maps for the area they cover, all of which may help in tracing the development of parks and gardens. They also 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 can be found using the Find an archive tool.

4. Other useful resources

The Archives Hub – provides descriptions of collections held at archives in UK universities and colleges. At present the descriptions are primarily of the broad themes and subject matters of the collections, although where possible they are linked to more detailed descriptions of the records that make up each collection.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) – AIM25 provides online descriptions of collections held at the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and other academic and cultural organizations 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.

Parks and Gardens UK – provides a searchable directory of historic gardens and parks with biographies of the garden creators.

5. Further reading

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

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

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

HM 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 No 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-)