Manuscripts and Special Collections

Where are archives held?

  • Records of central government and courts of law are held at The National Archives (for England, Wales and the UK as a whole), the National Archives of Scotland , the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland , and The National Archives of Ireland
  • County and local record offices collect records of local government, Quarter Sessions, churches, schools, businesses, families and people in their areas
  • The British Library holds books and manuscript material of national importance
  • The National Library of Wales does the same for Wales
  • Some universities have archive or manuscript departments. In some cases, archives were often deposited there before local record offices were set up. Some universities hold rich local collections. Others have specialised in particular subject areas such as Trade Union archives
  • Big museums such as the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum often hold manuscripts in their libraries, as well as artefacts
  • Many businesses and organisations maintain their own archives


Hints for where to look

Archives relating to your research could be scattered across a number of these different archive offices.

  • Personal letters received by a particular person may have been given by their descendents to the local record office
  • Letters sent by them would have been kept by the recipients, each of whom could have kept them, given them away, or destroyed them
  • Records relating to their business concerns would have been kept with the archive of that business
  • Records of their birth, marriage and death would be found either in the local record office (for church ceremonies) or can be ordered through (for civil registrations)
  • Any organisations with which they was involved, e.g. schools, universities, clubs and societies, would have maintained their own archives


How to find information about archives held in the United Kingdom

The web pages of The National Archives (TNA) are a good first place to find out about archival sources in the United Kingdom. The research guides available on its website give a great deal of useful information about archives held at TNA and elsewhere. The National Archives' catalogue is called Discovery. As well as describing material held at TNA itself, Discovery contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history, held in other UK record offices. It is probably the most comprehensive point of information about holdings of archives in the UK. Indexes of personal, family and corporate names, and also places in can be searched online. Search results are linked to TNA's Find an Archive service, an up-to-date register of all UK archive repositories, which provides contact details and web addresses. Discovery is the quickest and easiest way to find out where relevant archive collections are held, but it does not always link through to detailed online catalogues.

Archives Hub The Hub contains collection level descriptions for archives held by many UK educational institutions, including The University of Nottingham. It does not describe individual documents but gives information about the scope and content of collections, and details about access to the original material.

Aim 25 Similar to the Archives Hub, Aim 25 provides collection level descriptions of the archives held by over fifty higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area. Again this is not a comprehensive coverage of all the holdings but is extensive and includes collections relating to subjects far beyond the London area.

Archives Wales allows easy searching of collections held by record offices, universities, museums and libraries in Wales

The Scottish Archive Network provides links to record offices in Scotland, and collection level descriptions of records held by 52 Scottish archive offices [has not been updated since 2005]


How to find information about collections held abroad

There are a number of web sites providing varying levels of information about holdings in archives around the world. These can be useful for tracking down archives relating to British history which have been taken overseas, in particular to holdings in the United States where there are many historical and literary archives relating to the United Kingdom.

National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)

This is a gateway, provided by the Library of Congress, to the OCLC Catalog of archival and manuscript collections in libraries, principally in North America but from all around the world


What archives are available online?

Digitised versions of archives are increasingly available, but coverage is patchy and it can be difficult to find out what is available. Many of the digitisation projects of the early 2000s did not factor in on-going maintenance costs, and have been closed down.

Many of the major archive repositories have online exhibitions, e-learning resources, and searchable banks of digitised material available through their websites. For example, the British Library's Images Online , and Online Gallery ; and The National Archives' Exhibitions pages.

Students and staff at the University of Nottingham can access a number of important research resources, free of charge, through Nusearch Databases. The resources include the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; The Times Digital archive, 1785-1985; British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries ; Early English Books Online, and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online; The Gerritsen Collection: Women's History Online, 1543-1945; 19th century House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP); The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (PROME); and many more.


Next page: How do I start my research?


Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651