Archives: Collections of original images and manuscripts
This section covers all types of collection that may be of use in your research, whether they are topographical paintings in an art gallery or manuscripts in a record office or library. Archon gives locations in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Isles and Isle of Man with some web sites. Here's a checklist for beginners to help you make the most of your research time.
Before visiting an archive, check whether it contains relevant material. The right preparation at this stage will save you much time and effort. The major archives have published catalogues or calendars which can be consulted in an academic library, and increasingly online. Some image databases are available online. (Details and links are in the guide to collections.) Note the catalogue references of the material you are interested in. You can often order several documents in advance.
There are several unified online catalogues:
- A2A combines hundreds of local and specialist archive catalogues in England and Wales.
- Archives Hub provides searchable descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges. For details of some major collections of use for building historians see university libraries and institutes.
- Archives NetworkWales combines catalogues of collections held by record offices and other repositories in Wales.
- Artists' Papers Register includes the
papers of architects in repositories in the UK. Selecting
artist typesearch and then
architectural practiceswill bring up an alphabetical list.
- National Archives Global Search simultaneously brings up results from its own catalogue and website, A2A, NRA and Archon.
- The National Register of Archives indexes the papers of many corporate bodies, persons and families relating to British history, held in national and local record offices, university libraries and specialist repositories in the UK and abroad. You can search its online catalogue by personal, family, corporate or place name.
- The Manorial Documents Register is available online for manors in all Wales, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cumberland, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Lancashire North of the Sands (the Furness area, now part of Cumbria), Middlesex, Norfolk, Surrey, Westmorland, and the three Ridings of Yorkshire.
- RASCAL is an electronic gateway to research resources throughout Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
- Scottish Archives Network is a combined online catalogue, containing summary information on over 20,000 collections of historical records held in 52 archives in Scotland.
- See also the online catalogues listed for museums, some of which include material from libraries and archives.
Check which language the records are written in. Even if you can read early scripts, you may need a dictionary. Medieval records throughout the British Isles are mainly in Latin. Norman French being the language of the English court after the Norman conquest, it was used in correspondence and legal proceedings until the 15th century, though Latin was used for official records. English legal records remained in Latin until 1733. Post-medieval documents were more often in the spoken language of the area - French or Jčrriais (Channel Isles), Gaelic (Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland), Scots or Welsh - until English became dominant. Cornish is an exception. Although it was spoken until the 18th century in Cornwall, it scarcely appears in records.
Check whether the archive is open to the general public, or whether there are restrictions. In some cases you may need to fill in an application form in advance, or make an appointment. The major national archives and some local ones give opening hours and other useful information online.
Once you enter an archive, you will need to abide by the archive code. Be prepared!