How to look for records of... Architectural drawings
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
The National Archives holds substantial quantities of architectural drawings, dating mainly from the 18th to the 20th centuries. They include plans, elevations, sections and perspective drawings of individual buildings and parts, details and features of buildings and other built structures (including some major engineering projects) and site plans of varying levels of detail from elaborate depictions of houses and grounds, to simple outline block plans.
This research guide gives a general overview of our holdings of architectural drawings. It does not discuss other architectural and building records, such as contracts, building accounts or the variety of correspondence and papers which may be created or accumulated in the course of the planning, construction and maintenance of any building or built structure. Nor does it cover technical and engineering drawings relating to moveable structures such as ships, locomotives or aircraft.
The National Archives does not hold architectural models.
Architectural drawings, like the other records which The National Archives holds, have accrued in government departments and agencies or courts of law in the course of the normal activities of those bodies, and have subsequently been selected for permanent preservation. They are themselves part of the records – some held in discrete groupings, some scattered among the written records to which they relate – and are arranged in the order in which they were created, accumulated and transferred by the departments, agencies or courts.
Until the 20th century, however, the British government’s interest in architecture was largely confined to public and Crown buildings and to schemes for buildings and works by local authorities under various acts of Parliament. The majority of architectural drawings in The National Archives reflect that interest.
Broadly speaking, The National Archives’ holdings of architectural drawings used in the conduct of domestic government business relate mainly to England and Wales. They reflect the work not only of government departments, but also of some public transport undertakings and public utilities. The substantial landholdings of the Crown and government and the frequency of litigation in relation to privately-owned land, mean that The National Archives’ holdings include drawings relating to buildings and other structures on estates, large and small (although The National Archives is not normally the best place to start a search for such material, except for that which relates to the estates of the Crown).
Drawings of buildings and structures located outside the British Isles were created or accumulated in pursuit of both foreign relations and colonial activities, and in the work of the armed services, particularly fortifications: many such drawings are now held here, relating to a variety of areas of the world.
2. The scope of the records
The buildings and structures represented in plans and drawings among the records are immensely diverse. The most substantial holdings relate to buildings which form part of the Crown Estate or have been the responsibility of the Office of Works and its successor departments and agencies (WORK). Among these are royal palaces; the Houses of Parliament, government buildings in the United Kingdom and overseas; buildings constructed for or used by the armed services (navy, army and air force); ancient monuments; and works for ceremonial events such as coronations and state funerals.
Many drawings are in series among the records of the Crown Estate Commissioners (CRES) and the Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments and its predecessors and associated departments (LRRO). Others can be found among the records of the former service ministries: Admiralty and naval forces (ADM), Air Ministry, Royal Air Force and related bodies (AIR) and War Office (WO), or of the overseas departments: the Colonial Office (CO) Dominions Office (DO) and Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FO and FCO).
Also among the records are drawings and plans relating to individual buildings, including schools, hospitals, poor law buildings, Metropolitan police stations, and municipal buildings. The most substantial accumulations relating to local authority buildings and building schemes are in series of records of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and successor and related bodies (HLG).
Large quantities of plans and drawings of railway stations and hotels are among the records of pre-nationalisation railway, canal and related companies in the British Transport Historical Collection (RAIL) and those created or inherited by the British Transport Commission, British Railways Board and successors (AN). The records also contain various plans relating to substantial complexes, such as housing estates, naval dockyards, or the Festival of Britain site (records of the Festival of Britain Office are in WORK 25), and a wide diversity of other sites and buildings (see section 3 below).
It is important, however, to be aware of the limitations of The National Archives’ holdings. In no case do they represent the full range of drawings produced for any building project. In many cases, we hold only a handful of drawings for a particular structure or project, although there are a few cases where exceptionally large quantities of drawings have survived, notably for the Houses of Parliament (WORK 29) and the Royal Courts of Justice (WORK 30).
The records do not cover all buildings in any of the categories noted above: many older plans and drawings have not survived, and much such material is also elsewhere than The National Archives (see section 10 below). For example, the most likely source of plans or information about institutions of strongly local interest, such as hospitals and schools, will be the appropriate local record office. For hospital records, the best starting-point is the Hospital Records database, a joint project of the Wellcome Trust and The National Archives: nationalarchives.gov.uk/hospitalrecords/.
3. The arrangement of the records
Some departments, notably the former Office of Works, accumulated discrete series of maps and plans which consist wholly or largely of plans and drawings of individual buildings, groups of buildings, or of maps illustrating aspects of the built environment, usually in relation to planning and development.
Departments often treated drawings as maps, so that drawings of individual sites, buildings and structures are often found in series which consist principally of maps.
The following list indicates the most substantial series consisting entirely or almost entirely of maps, plans and drawings, which are known to include significant quantities of material relating to architecture and the built environment. It is divided into three broad categories:
- series relating to specific buildings, sites and planning
- series relating to major civil engineering projects and undertakings
- series relating to buildings and sites used by and for the armed services.
These categories are not, however, wholly clear-cut: some series may contain records which fall into more than one category.
3.1. Drawings and plans relating to specific buildings, sites and planning
|AT 13||Department of the Environment: Ancient Monuments Branch: Maps and Plans, 1971-1980|
|BD 101||Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and Welsh Office: Plans and Drawings relating to the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, 1969, 1968-1970|
|HLG 5||Local Government Board and successors: Housing and Town Planning Department and successors: Planning Schemes, Maps and Plans, 1905-1951|
|HLG 6||Ministry of Health and predecessors: Buildings and Works, Miscellaneous Maps and Plans, 1800-1919|
|HLG 23||Ministry of Health: Legal Branch: Sealed Plans, 1923-1937|
|HLG 24||Local Government Board and Ministry of Health: Legal Branch and predecessors: Rehousing Schemes of Statutory Undertakers, Sealed Plans and Schemes, 1890-1939|
|HLG 111||Ministry of Local Government and Planning and Ministry of Housing and Local Government: Legal and Parliamentary Branch: Miscellaneous Sealed Plans, 1951-1955|
|LRRO 1||Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments and predecessors: Associated Departments and successors: Maps and Plans, 1560-1981|
|MEPO 9||Metropolitan Police: Architectural Plans and Drawings, 1847-1965|
|MH 14||Poor Law Board and Local Government Board: Architect’s Department and Metropolitan Department: Poor Law Union Plans, 1861-1918|
|PRO 50||Public Record Office: Maps, Plans and Photographs of the Chancery Lane Building, 1896-1965|
|PRO 55||Public Record Office: Maps, Plans and Photographs of the Hayes Site, 1953-1973|
|PRO 62||Public Record Office: Maps, Plans and Photographs of the Kew Site, 1928-1978|
|PRO 65||Public Record Office: Former Repositories and Offices, Maps, Plans and Photographs, 1957-1977|
|T 179||Treasury: John F Kennedy Memorial Plan and Deed, 1964|
|WO 385||Board of Ordnance Office and successors: Royal Gunpowder Factory and successors, Waltham Abbey: Maps and Plans, 1783-1983|
|WORK 29||Office of Works and successors: Houses of Parliament: Plans and Drawings, 1698-1947|
|WORK 30||Office of Works and successors: Public Buildings in England: Plans and Drawings, 1656-1962|
|WORK 31||Office of Works and successors: Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings: Plans and Drawings, 1666-1977|
|WORK 32||Office of Works and successors: Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens: Plans and Drawings, 1653-1964|
|WORK 33||Office of Works and successors: Art and Science Buildings: Plans and Drawings, 1815-1952|
|WORK 34||Office of Works and successors: Royal Palaces: Plans and Drawings, 1662-1994|
|WORK 35||Office of Works and successors: Statues and Memorials: Plans and Drawings, 1821-1958|
|WORK 36||Office of Works and successors: Ceremonial: Plans and Drawings, 1685-1936|
|WORK 37||Office of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings and successors: Osborne House: Plans and Drawings, 1843-1952|
|WORK 38||Office of Works and successors: Miscellaneous Plans and Drawings, 1662-1951|
|WORK 40||Office of Works and successors: Public Buildings, Overseas: Plans and Drawings, 1852-1952|
3.2. Drawings and plans relating to major civil engineering projects and undertakings
|AB 5||Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and successor: Directorate of Tube Alloys and successor: Chalk River Project, Engineering Drawings, 1943-1976|
|AN 23||British Railway: Eastern Region: Signalling Plans and Track Diagrams, 1883-1968|
|AN 31||British Railways: London Midland Region: Station Plans and Drawings, 1948-1966|
|AN 42||British Railways: Southern Region: Signalling Plans and Track Diagrams, 1948-1962|
|AN 48||British Railways: Western Region: Station plans and Drawings, 1850-1960|
|AN 93||British Railways: London Midland Region: Signalling Plans and Track Diagrams, 1939-1979|
|BK 7||National Dock Labour Board: Premises Plans, 1949-1984|
|BK 25||National Dock Labour Board: Maps and Plans of Docks and Harbours, 1904-1983|
|MT 8||Railway Commissioners Returns and Plans of Iron Bridges, 1847|
|MT 21||Ramsgate Harbour: Deeds, Evidences and Plans, 1613-1939|
|MT 54||Light Railway Plans, 1896-1946|
|MT 57||Highways Maps and Plans, 1920-1964|
|MT 91||Board of Trade Railway Department: Drawings and Plans, 1840 – c1886|
|RAIL 796||Great Northern Railway Company: Working Plans and Sections, 1846-1914|
|RAIL 1029||British Transport Historical Records: Maps, Plans & Surveys of Canals and Inland Waterways, 1761-1974|
|RAIL 1030||British Transport Historical Records: Maps, Plans and Surveys of Individual Railway companies, 1824-1963|
|RAIL 1031||British Transport Historical Records: Maps, Plans and Surveys of British Railways, Canals and Inland Waterways, 1808-1964|
|RAIL 1032||Maps, Plans & Surveys: Railway Clearing House, 1870-1960|
|RAIL 1033||Maps, Plans & Surveys: Towns, Ports and Local Areas, 1834-1960|
|RAIL 1034||Maps, Plans & Surveys: London, & London Transport, 1870-1960|
|RAIL 1035||Maps, Plans & Surveys: General & Atlases, 1843-1961|
|RAIL 1036||Maps, Plans and Surveys: British Empire and Foreign, 1863-1956|
|RAIL 1037||Maps, Plans and Surveys: York Collection 1737-1958|
|RAIL 1071||Parliamentary: Deposited Plans|
3.3. Drawings and plans relating to buildings and sites used by and for the armed services
|ADM 140||Navy Board and Admiralty: Civil Engineer in Chief’s Department and predecessor: Maps and Plans, 1786-1956|
|AVIA 62||Air Ministry and successors: Estates Branch: Civil and Military Airfields: Maps, Plans and Papers, 1935-1968|
|BD 54||Welsh Office and predecessors: Plans of Airfields in Wales, 1937-1946|
|WO 78||War Office and predecessors: Maps and Plans, 1627-1953|
|WORK 41||Admiralty, Navy Works Department and predecessors: Naval Establishments: Plans and Drawings, c1760-1970|
|WORK 43||War Office, Directorate of Works and predecessors: Army Establishments: Plans and Drawings, 1713-1963|
|WORK 44||Air Ministry, Directorate of Works: Air Force Establishments: Plans and Drawings, 1914-1956|
It is essential to remember that many, indeed probably most, of the drawings among the records are bound up with correspondence on registered files, or otherwise filed among the records with which they were originally associated in the course of business. Even those departments which have created and transferred distinct series of maps and plans to The National Archives have probably transferred at least as many drawings among textual records, for example registered files. Sometimes, plans or drawings are mentioned as part of the catalogue entry in Discovery, our catalogue. But often the catalogue entries give no indication that drawings are present in particular documents.
There are two further limitations worth noting:
- First, it is relatively rare for the descriptions to indicate the physical format of the drawing (the material on which it is recorded and the medium in which it is drawn). However, some information on material and medium is available for large parts of the series of drawings in the various WORK series listed in category (a) above, in the form of photostatic copies of a card index originally maintained by the Ministry of Works and successors; these copies can be consulted in the Map and Large Document Reading Room at The National Archives, Kew
- Second, it is also uncommon for descriptions to record the stage in the building project at which a particular drawing or set of drawings was produced (for example, presentation drawings, contract drawings, working drawings, record/as built drawings). In some cases, this can be determined from the drawings themselves, but in others it is not easy to establish
4. Map extract references
The National Archives has also treated many drawings in the same way as it has treated maps. This affects how some of them are now referenced.
For a relatively small, but significant, minority of maps and plans, including architectural and other drawings, The National Archives has created separate series of ‘map extract references’. In about 1926 a system was introduced whereby maps and plans were removed (‘extracted’) from their place in the storage sequence of departmental records and placed in a separate map room, where they were given special extracted map location references. Over time, these location references came to be used as document references.
Before 1959, some entire series of maps and drawings were thus extracted. More commonly, however, individual maps and drawings have been extracted from individual documents. This is done primarily as a preservation measure, usually if the item when opened exceeds the overall size of the document of which it formed part (usually referred to as the ‘parent’ document). A ‘dummy’ sheet is inserted in the parent document, briefly describing the extracted item and giving its new reference. The extracted item is endorsed with the reference of the parent document, to maintain a link between them.
The map extract references originally took the form of an alphabetic prefix followed by a serial number for each for each extract (which may contain one or more items). The prefixes were designed to show the provenance of the extracted items, their format and size (flat, rolled or other formats) and later (1977-1997) in which of the Public Record Office’s buildings they were held. In 1998, as part of the move to online cataloguing, the map extract references were converted to standard National Archives document references: the prefixes became department codes, each containing one or more series, and the serial numbers became piece numbers.
There are 35 such department codes, containing 38 series. Those series which contain architectural plans and drawings can be identified by searching our catalogue using key words such as ‘architectural drawings’.
It is normally worthwhile to consult the extracted drawings in conjunction with the parent document, which often contains additional information as well as giving context to the drawing.
5. Catalogues and other finding aids
The starting-point for any search for material among the public records is the our catalogue, which contains listings of all our holdings, and which is updated on a daily basis, to enhance existing descriptions and to add new descriptions as records are transferred to The National Archives. Many pre-existing finding aids were converted to electronic format and entered into our catalogue in 2001 and are thus accessible both on site at The National Archives and remotely. Others, however, are still available in paper form only.
The public records include many thousands of architectural drawings, only some of which have been identified and described in detail. Others are listed, often with only minimal description, or remain unidentified within the records in which they were transferred.
5.1. Series lists
Most series of drawings have been listed in the standard manner, although often to a fairly minimal level of detail. In addition, descriptions of some series of records indicate the presence of drawings (usually described as ‘plans’), either generally at series level or more specifically at piece level. In these series, the arrangement of the drawings or other records reflects the order in which they were accumulated or used by the creating department.
The contents of the series lists are in our catalogue, and paper copies are also available in the reading rooms at The National Archives, Kew.
The series created as map extract references were not listed in this way, although their contents were described in the various topographically-arranged catalogues. Brief series lists were drawn up in the late 1990s for entry into our catalogue; these have been enhanced by the conversion of the entries from the published and supplementary catalogues (see below).
5.2. Published catalogues
The fullest descriptions of drawings are those which appear in the published and supplementary catalogues (see below). Many of these descriptions are still available only in paper form, but entries for drawings held under map extract references have now been converted to electronic format and added to our catalogue.
Some maps, plans and drawings are described in four published catalogues, under the general title: Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office:
- British Isles c.1410-1860 (HMSO, 1967)
- America and West Indies (HMSO, 1974)
- Africa (HMSO, 1983)
- Europe and Turkey (TSO, 1998)
Their contents are arranged topographically under country names in use at the date of publication, and then chronologically within each region, country or place. They contain indexes of draughtsmen, surveyors and cartographers, but not of subjects.
These catalogues describe only a fraction of the drawings in The National Archives, whether in map extract series or other document series. They were compiled from research into series known or presumed to contain maps, plans and drawings and do not represent an exhaustive trawl of the records in The National Archives even at the date of publication.
Copies of these catalogues, annotated with corrections and updates, are available for consultation at The National Archives, Kew. Copies are also available in many libraries.
5.3. Supplementary catalogues
These consist of a card catalogue and draft manuscript catalogue entries for drawings in records relating to Japan.
The card catalogue is arranged topographically, under the names of countries in use at the date of cataloguing. A separate drawer contains a card index to names of draughtsmen, surveyors and cartographers. There is no subject index.
The card catalogue contains information about drawings which have come to light since the appearance of the published catalogues and in places not covered by the published catalogues. The catalogues include entries describing drawings small enough to remain in their parent documents. Please note, however, that cards relating to map extract references have been removed, as these descriptions are available in our catalogue.
The draft catalogue entries for Japan are also arranged topographically. They are not accompanied by indexes for either map-makers or subjects.
These catalogues are available for consultation at The National Archives.
5.4. Summary calendar of unextracted maps
For a few years in the late 1980s to early 1990s, maps, plans and drawings found in (but not extracted from) documents in series not consisting wholly of graphic material, were recorded in a summary calendar. This provides a brief notice of these drawings, but does not attempt to provide a full catalogue description. A single description may relate to a large number of drawings, and the amount of detail recorded varies.
As with other map-specific finding aids, the calendar is arranged topographically. It is in two parts. The first, arranged topographically, fills 13 binders. The second part, arranged by subject headings, is in three binders, forming three separate alphabetical sequences, A-Z. These subject headings may occasionally assist in answering subject-based enquiries. Both parts provide direct references to documents containing architectural drawings and building plans (the latter sometimes no more than outline ground plans), as well as more detailed scale drawings.
The summary calendar is available at The National Archives, Kew.
6. How to search for drawings in our catalogue
Our catalogue contains references to many architectural drawings, site plans and related maps, which can be identified using both the simple and the more sophisticated search facilities. However, not all such documents in The National Archives are described in our catalogue.
Some detailed descriptions can still be found only in the paper-based catalogues: it will be some years before these are fully entered into our catalogue. Some are simply not described in detail in any existing catalogue, and you will only be able to look for them by looking at records in series which are, or appear likely to be, relevant to your enquiry.
If you looking at a fairly general level to see what drawings exist and where they may be found among the records, two different search facilities in our catalogue may be helpful.
- Drawings are often noted (usually as ‘plans’) in research guides on particular records or research topics: to explore these, search by keywords such as ‘drawings’ or ‘plans’.
- Plans and drawings are also noted in the descriptions in our catalogue, particularly at levels from series to item.
You need to be aware, however, that any search term including ‘plan’ will inevitably give hits for references to ‘plans’ and ‘planning’ which have nothing to do with architecture or the built environment.
7. Plans drawn by named architects
Some drawings signed or otherwise known to be drawn by named individuals may be identified from:
- a search in our catalogue
- the indexes of draughtsmen and surveyors in the published catalogues
- the index to draughtsmen and surveyors accompanying the supplementary card catalogue
- the subject heading for architects and surveyors which forms part of the summary catalogue of unextracted maps
- a typescript index of signed drawings among the records of the Office of Works and successors
The last three are available at The National Archives, Kew, only.
None of these is comprehensive. The typescript index is not wholly reliable, although it provides some useful pointers.
8. Architectural furnishings and fittings
Drawings of architectural details, fittings and furnishings may appear in records in many of the series listed above (section 3), often relating to the contents of specific buildings. Other sources of such information among the records, both site-specific and more general, include:
BT 183 Board of Trade: Utility Furniture Scheme: Files, 1943-1949 – this series contains large numbers of drawings
WORK 25 Festival of Britain Office records – including many drawings relating to furnishings, fixtures and fittings in buildings on the Festival site
DSIR 4 Department of Scientific and Industrial Research: Building Research Station: Correspondence and Papers
9. Architectural drawings held elsewhere
Numerous archival institutions and libraries in the United Kingdom and around the world hold collections of architectural records, including drawings. This section aims to identify those which hold significant accumulations of material which are related, either by provenance or content, to records held in The National Archives.
Substantial collections of drawings created or collected by government departments are also held by the National Monuments Record, which is English Heritage’s public archive. It is based at the National Monuments Record Centre in Swindon, and has public search rooms in Swindon and London. Researchers interested in the history of specific buildings built for or occupied by government departments are advised to consult the NMR’s holdings as well as those of The National Archives.
National Monuments Record Centre
Great Western Village
Swindon SN2 2GZ
Tel: +44 (0) 1793 414600
Many government records, including those relating to public works, and some records of former or present public utilities in Wales, Scotland and Ireland are held in their respective national archives.
In Ireland, some records relating to British government prior to 1922 are held at both the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and The National Archives of Ireland (NAI). From 1922 onwards, holdings of official records are those of the respective governments of Northern Ireland and of the Irish Free State (1922-1949) and Republic of Ireland (since 1949).
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue
Belfast BT9 6NY
Tel +44 (0) 28 9025 5905
Drawings, photographs and other records relating to the built heritage, in both public and private hands, are held by the three national monuments records of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Again, these may both supplement and complement material held by The National Archives.
National Monuments Record of Wales
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales
Ceredigion SY23 1NJ
Tel: +44 (0)1970 621200
National Monuments Record of Scotland
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland
John Sinclair House
16 Bernard Terrace
Edinburgh EH8 9NX
Tel: +44 (0)131 662 1456
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 Museum. From November 2004 these collections are accessible through the appropriate study rooms in the Henry Cole Wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum. 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 appointments are required.
The location and postal address are:
V&A South Kensington
London SW7 2RL
For further information about the RIBA’s drawings and archives collections and the RIBA Study Room, visit the RIBA’s main website, http://www.architecture.com/ ,and follow the links to the Architecture Gallery and the V&A + RIBA Architecture Partnership.
Telephone +44 (0) 207 307 3708
For further information about the V&A’s collections of architectural drawings and photographs and the Prints and Drawings Study Room, visit the links to Architecture.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7942 2563
The RIBA’s library and photographic collections are at RIBA headquarters. The library catalogue is also accessible on-line.
RIBA British Architectural Library
Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place
London W1B 1AD
http://www.architecture.com/, and follow the links to Library and Catalogue.
Large quantities of plans drawings created by local government and other bodies, often in the course of discharging statutory duties, are held in local authority record offices. For current addresses and contact details for local record offices, researchers can use the Find an archive tool or British Archives A Guide to Archive Resources in the UK, Janet Foster and Julia Sheppard (4th edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
10. Further reading and information sources
There is no comprehensive published survey of architectural records in general, or drawings in particular, among the holdings of The National Archives. However, two publications offer advice on specific research topics or records, with some information about plans and drawings among the records.
Nick Barratt, Tracing the history of your house (2nd edition, 2006)
Cliff Edwards, Railway records: a guide to sources (2001)
There are few general studies of the history of architectural drawings, but the following provide information on particular aspects of the creation and arrangement and drawings on paper and in other hard-copy formats:
Jill Lever and Margaret Richardson, The art of the architect: treasures from the RIBA’s collections (RIBA, 1984)
Eleonore Kissel and Erin Vigneau, Architectural photo-reproductions: a manual for identification and care (Oak Knoll Press, 1999)
A guide to the archival care of architectural records, 19th-20th centuries (International Council on Archives, 2000)
‘Architecture Links’, maintained by the RIBA‘s British Architectural Library, and accessible from the RIBA’s home page, is a gateway to internet resources concerning architecture, including architectural history and libraries and archives with significant architectural collections.