Historic England Archive

The Historic England Archive is the public archive of Historic England, located in The Engine House on Fire Fly Avenue in Swindon, formerly part of the Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway.

It is a public archive of architectural and archaeological records and holds over 12 million historic photographs, plans, drawings, reports, records and publications covering England's archaeology, architecture, social and local history. It is a dynamic collection, with records being added to this day.[1][2] The PastScape website allows searching of over 420,000 records (as of 2016).[3]

English Heritage - National Monuments record centre - geograph.org.uk - 309655
The Historic England Archive building in Swindon


The roots of the archive go back to 1908 and the foundation of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) which was set up to compile and publish an inventory of all ancient and historical monuments up to the year 1700 by county and by parish.

Its more immediate forerunner, however, was the National Buildings Record (NBR), an independent body set up in 1940 under the inspiration of Walter Godfrey, its first Director, "to meet the dangers of war then threatening many buildings of national importance".[4] Between the declaration of war in 1939 and the first London air-raids in 1940 many moveable works of art, archives and antiquities were evacuated to the relative safety of the countryside. For example, the contents of the National Gallery were taken to country houses, slate mines and quarries in Wales [5] However, buildings could not be protected in this way, so steps were taken to collect architectural plans, drawings, photographs and other records. The RCHME worked closely with the NBR to carry out the extensive photographic recording of the towns in the eastern and southern counties at risk from enemy action.

Although there were other voluntary and academic bodies at the time that collected some architectural records (including the RCHME, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the London Survey Committee), they were apparently deemed to be too small or narrowly focused for the sort of comprehensive venture that seemed necessary in the chaos of wartime Britain.[6]

The initial core of the collection was formed by the Conway Library of architectural photographs held by the Courtauld Institute of Art; the negatives of the Victorian photographer Henry Taunt of Oxford; items from the University of London and by quickly setting photographers to work recording buildings in London and other vulnerable areas.[6] Over the next few years the NBR attracted donations from amateur photographers, people who possessed drawings and owners of collections of negatives.

By the end of the war the collection had grown to such size and importance that it was continued and was funded by the Treasury.[4] The 1944 and 1947 Town and Country Planning Acts were important for the NBR as they meant that lists of buildings of architectural and historic importance were started, and the NBR had to be informed before an historic building was demolished.[7]

The recession of the late 1940s and early 1950s presented a different challenge from bombing, but no less severe. This time the destruction of significant buildings was due to deliberate demolition because the owners (through new inheritance taxation and shortage of building materials) could no longer afford to maintain them.[6] In 1946 the RCHME work was extended to include the recording of 18th and 19th century architecture.[8]

In the 1950s the NBR archive acquisitions included the collections of Sydney Pitcher (medieval architecture and vernacular buildings); Helmut Gernsheim (photographs of tombs in St Pauls Cathedral and Westminster Abbey) as well as continued recording of architectural details such as glass, fixtures and fittings, woodwork and sculpture.[6] The 1950s also saw the start of aerial photography to discover and record ancient sites, as more intensive agriculture, forestry and gravel extraction threatened historic remains on "marginal land".[9]

The NBR was merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) in 1963. The name was then changed to the National Monuments Record (NMR) to denote the inclusion of archaeological and photographic records.[4] During the 1960s, the importance of photographic records grew, and the archive acquired the surviving negatives of architectural photographer Harry Bedford Lemere (1864–1944) of houses, public buildings and interior decoration. (The National Maritime Museum holds another large section of his work.) [10] The demolition of the Euston Arch [11] and City of London Coal Exchange demonstrated the lack of regard there was at the time for (then) unfashionable Victorian architecture and the importance of keeping records of their existence.

During the 1970s and 1980s the NMR increased its recording of industrial and commercial building records as well as country houses. The expanding breadth of the archive is shown by the acquisition of Rev Denys Rokeby's collection of railway photographs, and H. E. S. Simmons' negatives of water and wind-mills, and John Maltby's collection of photographs of Odeon cinemas.[6]

In 1983 the Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division was transferred to the NBR/RCHME which greatly expanded the records available.[9] These are now digitised and available through the PastScape website. In 1984 the NMR took over the responsibility for the National Library of Aerial Photographs from the Department of the Environment, together with two million RAF and Ordnance Survey oblique and vertical aerial photographs.[9][12]

A further acquisition was the Industrial Monuments Survey, transferred from the Department of the Environment (DoE) in 1981. This was followed by the RCHME taking on responsibility for the Survey of London following the abolition of the Greater London Council.[8]

In 1992 the Commission's terms of reference was extended to include responsibility for creating a central national record of historic wrecks and other archaeological sites within the 12-mile coastal limit.[8]

The RCHME, including the NMR, merged with English Heritage in April 1999.[13] In April 2012 the NMR was renamed the English Heritage Archive. In 2015 English Heritage was divided into two parts: those departments carrying out statutory and advisory functions became Historic England, and the archive, as part of the new body, was renamed the Historic England Archive.


Its collections arose from a number of sources, including the work of national institutions concerned with the buildings and archaeology of England, and from collections acquired from others. The collections are not only used by historians, architects and designers seeking inspiration but also by family history researchers looking for photographs of where their ancestors lived and worked.[14]

The scope and content of the material is wide-ranging – modern and historic photography, including coverage of the whole of England in aerial photographs; information on most known archaeological sites and listed buildings; complete sets of Country Life magazine; Victoria County Histories; the Council of British Archaeology's Industrial Archaeology index; Professor Goodhart-Rendel’s personal index of late 19th century churches; the typescript report, photographs and drawings of Lt Col G W Meates's Lullingstone Roman villa excavation; and much more.[6] There is also a specialist reference library. Although photographs form the largest proportion of the Historic England Archive's holdings, collections also include plans of historic houses, reports, correspondence and digital files. All of this material is available for public viewing and a substantial number of images from the Historic England Archive are now available online and free to access.

Buildings, drawings and surveys

The Historic England Archive holds information on over 70,000 individual buildings, as photographs, drawings, notes, reports from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England (RCHME) and from English Heritage fieldwork.[15] In addition, it holds over 56,000 architectural drawings, including plans, elevations, sketches and watercolours from the RCHME and other sources as well as many plans of English Heritage's properties. The original research material (notes, sketches and photographs) for RCHME inventory volumes are also in the archives.[15]

There is a selection of brochures advertising the sales of estate and properties across England from the late 19th and 20th centuries.[15]

Historic photographs

The Historic England Archive contains photographic collections dating from the 1850s. These include country house albums by anonymous amateurs; famous photographers such as Roger Fenton and Bill Brandt; architectural photographers such as Bedford Lemere & Co; commercial photographers like Miller and Harris, John Gay, Helmut Gernsheim and Eric de Mare; and the Thames Valley views of Henry Taunt. The earliest image in the archive taken by a woman (1864) is held amongst those by the many males, and joined in the collection by works of Alice Marcon, Margaret Harker, Eileen 'Dusty' Deste, Margaret Tomlinson, Ethel Booty, Ursula Clark, Marjory L Wight, Katherine J Macfee, Mary Theodora Pollit, and Patricia Payne.[16]

There are also more esoteric collections acquired from, or donated by, individuals who were particularly interested in specialist topics such as medieval stained glass, public parks or windmills.[17]

Aerial photographs

The Historic England Archive holds the largest public archive of aerial photographs in England, organised as two distinct collections – oblique and vertical – each acquired from different sources. More than 680,000 oblique (taken at an angle to the ground) aerial photographs of locations throughout England are available on open access in the Historic England Archive search rooms. The archive also holds more than two million vertical (bird's-eye view) aerial photographs, covering the whole of England, including near-complete coverage taken by the RAF in 1946–48. These are available via a search request from the Archive Services Team.[17] The 'Britain from Above' project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, completed digitisation and cataloguing of 95,000 of the Aerofilms aerial image negatives from 1919–1953 and put them online.[18]

Survey photographs

The photographs taken by the RCHME and English Heritage survey teams, which range from workers' cottages to power stations, are also available.[17]


Online resources

Approximately 20% of the archive, i.e. over 2 million records, can be searched online.[19]

The main online resources are:

  • Historic England Archives – over a million free online catalogue descriptions of photographs and records of England's buildings and heritage sites.
  • England's Places – Discover photos of English cities, towns and villages using this online version of the Architectural Red Box Collection from the Historic England Archive.
  • Britain from Above – a unique archive of historical aerial photographs across Britain, from the Aerofilms collection (1919–2006)
  • Images of England – over 300,000 contemporary photographs of England's listed buildings and monuments; based on the statutory list as it was in 2001, no longer updated
  • PastScape – over 400,000 records on England's archaeological sites (including maritime sites) and architecture. With links to historic and modern maps and aerial photographs where available.
  • The National Heritage List for England – database of all 400,000 nationally designated heritage assets i.e. listed buildings; scheduled monuments; protected wreck sites; registered battlefields and registered parks and gardens.
  • Heritage Gateway – a partnership with the Association of Local Government Archaeology Officers (ALGAO) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) to share local records on listed buildings

Personal visitors

For access to the wider archive, not just the material available online, it is possible to call, write or visit the Historic England Archive in Swindon, Wiltshire. Although an appointment is not necessary, it is recommended to contact them in advance.

In addition to accessing the collections, visitors to the Historic England Archive can also make use of the reference library. This includes the entire collection of Country Life and Architects Journal magazines going back to the 19th century, both of which feature plans and photographs of thousands of homes, country estates, commercial and civic buildings.

Archive services

The Historic England Archive offers a remote enquiry service providing a comprehensive search for information on areas of interest. Search requests are handled free of charge provided they fall within standard search criteria (for example, a single building per enquiry). To request a wider search, contact the Archive Services team for details of services and relevant fees.

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Historic England Archive". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  2. ^ "New photography acquisition – capturing local and family history". 13 June 2011. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  3. ^ "PastScape – information on England's archaeology and architecture". pastscape.org.uk. Historic England. Archived from the original on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c The National Monuments Record (England) (HMSO 1973).
  5. ^ Bosman, Suzanne (21 September 2008). "How Winston Churchill saved the National Gallery". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Summerson, Sir John, ed. (1991). 50 Years of the National Building Record 1941–1991. Beckenham: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. ISBN 0-904929-27-2.
  7. ^ Michael Pearce. "Saving Time:A review of the conservation movement in Britain in the 20th century". Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  8. ^ a b c 'RCHM England Annual Report 1998/9 A history and final report'; RCHME Crown copyright; ISSN 1350-407X
  9. ^ a b c *Sargent, Andrew (2001). ""RCHME" 1908–1998: a history of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England". Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society. 45: 57–80.
  10. ^ "Bedford Lemere photographs". Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  11. ^ "John Betjeman's battle for the Euston Arch". Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  12. ^ "HE Archive Aerial Photography". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  13. ^ "The Preservation Of The Built Environment 1970–1999 section 3.4.3" (PDF). National Archives. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  14. ^ 'English Heritage Archives', Your Family History magazine, Christmas 2010, Wharncliffe Publishing Limited
  15. ^ a b c "Drawings, plans and documents". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  16. ^ Women Photographers in the Historic England Archive
  17. ^ a b c "Photographs". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  18. ^ D Wiles (4 May 2011). "Picturing our past". Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  19. ^ "Historic England Archive". Retrieved 23 April 2015.

Aerofilms Ltd was the UK's first commercial aerial photography company, founded in 1919 by Francis Wills and Claude Graham White. Wills had served as an Observer with the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I, and was the driving force behind the expansion of the company from an office and a bathroom (for developing films) in Hendon to a business with major contracts in Africa and Asia as well as in the UK. Co-founder Graham-White was a pioneer aviator who had achieved fame by making the first night flight in 1910.

Alderley Edge

Alderley Edge is a village and civil parish in Cheshire, England. In 2011, it had a population of 4,780.

Alderley Edge is 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Macclesfield and 15 miles (24 km) south of Manchester, at the base of a steep and thickly wooded sandstone escarpment, Alderley Edge, which is the area's chief topographical feature and overlooks the Cheshire Plain.

Alderley Edge is known for its affluence and expensive houses, falling inside Cheshire's Golden Triangle. Alderley Edge has a selection of cafes and designer shops and has attracted numerous Premier League footballers, actors and multi-millionaire businesspeople. It is one of the most expensive and sought-after places to live in the UK outside central London.

Angel Recording Studios

Angel Recording Studios Limited (also referred to as Angel Studios) is a British recording studio based in the eponymous recording and mixing complex in Islington, London. The company was incorporated by James Warren Sylvester de Wolfe on 5 December 1978.The building was originally constructed as a Congregational chapel in 1888, and is now Grade II listed. The premises were acquired by library music specialists De Wolfe Music in the late 1970s and opened in 1982. Since then, the studio has been used to record both commercially successful work such as Adele's 2011 album 21 and numerous classical recordings


Derbyshire () is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire, containing the southern extremity of the Pennine range of hills which extend into the north of the county. The county contains part of the National Forest, and borders on Greater Manchester to the northwest, West Yorkshire to the north, South Yorkshire to the northeast, Nottinghamshire to the east, Leicestershire to the southeast, Staffordshire to the west and southwest and Cheshire also to the west.

Kinder Scout, at 636 metres (2,087 ft), is the highest point in the county, whilst Trent Meadows, where the River Trent leaves Derbyshire, is its lowest point at 27 metres (89 ft).:1 The River Derwent is the county's longest river at 66 miles (106 km), and runs roughly north to south through the county. In 2003 the Ordnance Survey placed Church Flatts Farm at Coton in the Elms (near Swadlincote) as the furthest point from the sea in Great Britain.The city of Derby is a unitary authority area, but remains part of the ceremonial county of Derbyshire. The non-metropolitan county contains 30 towns with between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. There is a large amount of sparsely populated agricultural upland: 75% of the population live in 25% of the area.

Eileen Olive Deste

Eileen Olive Deste (16 June 1908 – 2 March 1986) was a New Zealand photographer. Deste was heavily involved in photographing the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition.

Flaxman Charles John Spurrell

Flaxman Charles John Spurrell (8 September 1842 – 25 February 1915), the archaeologist, geologist and photographer, was born in Mile End, Stepney, London, the eldest son of Dr. Flaxman Spurrell, M.D., F.R.C.S., and Ann Spurrell (who were also first cousins). Shortly after his birth, his father moved to Bexley, Kent; later, Flaxman (junior) lived at The Priory, Picardy Road, Belvedere, now home to the Priory Conservative Club. Spurrell Avenue in Bexley was named after Flaxman (junior).In the 1860s he began to examine flint implements in and around Crayford in Kent, and over the following decades published a large number of articles for the Kent Archaeological Society (of which his father was a founding member), the Essex Archaeological Society and Royal Archaeological Society, as well as other societies and groups. In 1895 he presented a number of pre-historic remains to the Natural History Museum, and later donated material to the Norwich Castle Museum.

He was a close friend of the egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he helped to record discoveries made in, for example, Naqada and Tell el-Amarna in Egypt.

Flaxman Spurrell was also interested in photography, and some of his photographs are currently held by the Historic England Archive.Some years before his death, he retired to Bessingham Manor House in Norfolk, one of the seats of the Spurrell family, and was no longer active in the archaeological world. He died at The Den, Bessingham, in 1915, having married his cousin, Katherine Anne Spurrell, on 27 March 1912.

Flaxman Spurrell was educated at Epsom College; he was a Fellow of Geological Society from 1868 to 1905 and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries from 1899 to 1910.

He was a nephew of Rev. Frederick Spurrell and an uncle of the biologist and author Herbert George Flaxman Spurrell.

Henry Wills (writer)

Henry Wills (born 1930) was a British journalist and photographer with a passion for local history and archaeology. He is best remembered for his writings on British anti-invasion preparations of the Second World War, his most often cited work being Pillboxes — A Study of UK Defences 1940.

Henry Wills worked for some years as a photographer for the Salisbury Times newspaper. Like many boys growing up in England, pillboxes dating World War II were objects of curiosity. However, his serious interest in the topic was triggered when, in 1968, he was sent on a journalistic assignment to photograph the demolition of a pill box. His inquiries led him to conclude that there were few official records of Britain’s wartime defences.

After some further investigation and some publicity on radio and in newspapers, he planned and organised the first nationwide survey of Britain’s WW2 defences. With the help of many volunteers, more than 5,000 defence sites were recorded.The value of Henry Wills' work was acknowledged by the British Archaeological Trust and the British Broadcasting Corporation which awarded him the Chronicle Award in 1979. After 15 years of work, he published Pillboxes in 1985.

Wills' work stimulated the interest of many enthusiasts and academics including local historians and former soldiers. Their interest was given further impetus by the realisation that these under-appreciated remains were disappearing at an alarming rate — mostly because of demolition to make way for new developments. A project to make a comprehensive survey of all 20th-century defence works throughout the UK was formed. Between April 1995 and December 2001 the Defence of Britain Project, with funds from the national Heritage Lottery Fund, compiled thousands of records. The project also resulted in the discovery of many previously unsuspected contemporary records.Wills' papers now comprise the Henry Wills Collection at the Historic England Archive in Swindon.

Historic England

Historic England (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It is tasked with protecting the historical environment of England by preserving and listing historic buildings, ancient monuments and advising central and local government.

The body was officially created by the National Heritage Act 1983, and operated from April 1984 to April 2015 under the name of English Heritage. In 2015, following the changes to English Heritage's structure that moved the protection of the National Heritage Collection into the voluntary sector in the English Heritage Trust, the body that remained was rebranded as Historic England. Historic England has a similar remit to and complements the work of Natural England, which aims to protect the natural environment.

The body also inherited the Historic England Archive from the old English Heritage, and projects linked to the archive such as Britain from Above, which saw the archive work with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland to digitise, catalogue and put online 96,000 of the oldest Aerofilms images. The archive also holds various nationally important collections and the results of older projects such as the work of the National Buildings Record, later absorbed by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the Images of England project which set out to create a freely accessible online database of the 370,000 listed properties in England as a snapshot in time at the turn of the millennium.

Images of England

Images of England is an online photographic record of all the listed buildings in England at the date of February 2002. The archive gives access to over 323,000 colour images, each of which is matched with the item’s listed designation architectural description.This ‘snapshot’ is not an up-to-date record as it does not include all listed buildings, only those that were designated as at February 2001 and it is not updated as listing details change.

Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly () is an archipelago off the southwestern tip of Cornwall. One of the islands, St Agnes, is the most southerly point in England, being over 4 miles (6.4 km) further south than the most southerly point of the British mainland at Lizard Point.

The population of all the islands at the 2011 census was 2,203. Scilly forms part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall, and some services are combined with those of Cornwall. However, since 1890, the islands have had a separate local authority. Since the passing of the Isles of Scilly Order 1930, this authority has had the status of a county council and today is known as the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

The adjective "Scillonian" is sometimes used for people or things related to the archipelago. The Duchy of Cornwall owns most of the freehold land on the islands. Tourism is a major part of the local economy, along with agriculture—particularly the production of cut flowers.

John Gay (photographer)

John Gay (born Hans Göhler: 1909 in Karlsruhe, Germany – 1999 in Highgate, London) was a photographer.

Listed building

A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, Cadw in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.

The term has also been used in Ireland, where buildings are surveyed for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in accordance with the country's obligations under the Granada Convention. However, the preferred term in Ireland is protected structure.A listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority, which typically consults the relevant central government agency, particularly for significant alterations to the more notable listed buildings. In England and Wales, a national amenity society must be notified of any work to a listed building which involves any element of demolition.Exemption from secular listed building control is provided for some buildings in current use for worship, but only in cases where the relevant religious organisation operates its own equivalent permissions procedure. Owners of listed buildings are, in some circumstances, compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so or if they perform unauthorised alterations. When alterations are permitted, or when listed buildings are repaired or maintained, the owners are often required to use specific materials or techniques.Although most sites appearing on the lists are buildings, other structures such as bridges, monuments, sculptures, war memorials, and even milestones and mileposts and The Beatles' Abbey Road pedestrian crossing are also listed. Ancient, military, and uninhabited structures, such as Stonehenge, are sometimes instead classified as scheduled monuments and protected by much older legislation, whilst cultural landscapes such as parks and gardens are currently "listed" on a non-statutory basis.

Margaret Harker

Margaret Florence Harker (17 January 1920 – 16 February 2013), was a British photographer and historian of photography. She was the UK's first woman professor of photography, founded the country's first photography degree course, and was the first woman to be president of the Royal Photographic Society.

Milecastle 8

Milecastle 8 (West Denton) was a milecastle of the Roman Hadrian's Wall. Its remains are located in what is now West Denton, Newcastle upon Tyne. The milecastle has two associated turret structures which are known as turret 8A and turret 8B. The turrets and milecastle were excavated in the 1920s, yielding some pottery and stone carvings, but have since been overlain by modern roads. The exact locations of the structures is disputed, with the road now hiding any surface traces. The Milecastle now forms part of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site.

National Monuments Record

National Monuments Record (NMR) may refer to one or more of the following:

the former National Monuments Record (England): then English Heritage Archive (EHA), now Historic England Archive (HEA)

National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS)

National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW)

Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England

The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was a government advisory body responsible for documenting buildings and monuments of archaeological, architectural and historical importance in England. It was established in 1908 (shortly after the parallel commissions for Scotland and Wales); and was merged with English Heritage in 1999. The research section is now Historic England.


Thynghowe was an important Viking Era open-air assembly place or thing, located at Sherwood Forest, in Nottinghamshire, England. It was lost to history until its rediscovery in 2005 by the husband and wife team Lynda Mallett and Stuart Reddish, who are local history enthusiasts. As a result of continued research, Thynghowe is now included on the English Historic England Archive.

Walter Godfrey

Walter Hindes Godfrey, CBE, FSA, FRIBA (1881–1961), was an English architect, antiquary, and architectural and topographical historian. He was also a landscape architect and designer, and an accomplished draftsman and illustrator. He was (1941–60) the first director and the inspiration behind the foundation of the National Buildings Record, the basis of today's Historic England Archive, and edited or contributed to numerous volumes of the Survey of London. He devised a system of Service Heraldry for recording service in the European War.

He was appointed a CBE in 1950.

He was the eldest son of Walter Scott Godfrey, a wine merchant, and Gertrude Annie Rendall; he married Gertrude Mary (d 1955), second daughter of Alexander Grayston Warren, and had three daughters and a son, Emil Godfrey, also an architect who founded the practice of Carden and Godfrey.

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