How to look for records of... Political history in the 20th century

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to help you find records of 20th century political history. The National Archives holds many records for this period, including the correspondence and minutes of major government departments, such as the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister’s Office. We also hold the papers of successive Prime Ministers from 1916.

The transfer of records from government departments to The National Archives is governed by the 30 year rule (Public Records Act 1958, s3.4). Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000, most records are open for research from the time they are transferred here. The rest are closed because FOI exemptions apply, but will be reviewed on request. You can request a review using a link from our catalogue. More information about FOI is available on our website.

Online records

Cabinet Papers (1915-1980)

Search the Cabinet Papers 1915-1980 on The National Archives’ website to view and search a wide range of Cabinet Papers chosen for their historical significance.

Parliamentary Papers (1715-present)

Search Parliamentary Papers (institutional subscription required) for digitised copies of official papers published by the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Records of the Stormont administration in Northern Ireland (1921-1972)

Search Northern Ireland: A Divided Community, 1921-1972 (institutional subscription required).

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Home Office records (1700-2006)

Browse or use a keyword search of Discovery, our catalogue, in record series HO for records from the Home Office. These records cover a wide range of subjects including the criminal justice and penal systems, immigration, education, public improvement works, electoral administration, trade union relations and registered charities.

Treasury records (1547-1996)

Browse our catalogue in T for Treasury correspondence, reports and minutes, about economic planning for public institutions and services.

Records of the Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1567-2005)

Browse our catalogue in FO for records of the Foreign Office and FCO for records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1968. These include correspondence about British government relations with foreign states.

Records of the Prime Minister’s Office (1844-2001)

Browse our catalogue in PREM for records of the Prime Minister’s Office including correspondence and papers, recommendations for honours and awards, and papers relating to ministerial, civil and ecclesiastical appointments.

The office of the Prime Minister did not exist officially until 1905. The title was not mentioned in the text of any Act of Parliament until the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937.

Records in other archives and organisations

Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


Consult the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (institutional subscription required) for biographies of prominent people.

Visit The National Archives’ online exhibition on Britain 1906-1918, which focuses on welfare reforms, women’s suffrage and the impact of war.