Archive Collections


With over 12 million items in our public archive, we hold many major collections of national importance covering archaeology, architecture, social and local history.

The archive collections include photographs, drawings, plans and documents.
We give you free access to view millions of images and records online and you can also contact Archive Services if you can't find what you're looking for. As it is a public archive you can always visit and carry out your own research.

Holland House library after an air raid

Holland House library after an air raid, 1940 Ref: BB83/04456
© English Heritage



The roots of the English Heritage Archive go back to 1908 and the foundation of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME).

The Commission was set up to compile and publish an inventory of all ancient and historical monuments by county and by parish. It created not only important publications, but a growing archive of research notes, plans and photographs.

The National Buildings Record

By 1941 the threat to historic buildings across Britain from enemy action was dramatically clear. This led to the creation of an independent body, the National Buildings Record (NBR), with a remit to collect photographic and other records.

The NBR worked increasingly closely with RCHME, and in 1963 it became part of the Commission. Its records are at the heart of English Heritage's documentation of historic architecture and the built environment.

RAF aerial photograph from 1944

The RAF photo covers East India Dock and part of Royal Victoria Dock. It was flown on 07 August 1944. Ref: raf_106g_la_29_rs_4338
© English Heritage RAF photography

Aerial Photographs and the Ordnance Survey

In 1983 the RCHME took on a major new responsibility, with the transfer from the Ordnance Survey of the national record of archaeological sites. This inventory was computerised and expanded, and is now available through our PastScape website.
A year later the RCHME also took responsibility from the Department of the Environment for the National Library of Aerial Photographs, and the two million RAF and Ordnance Survey aerial photographs contained in it. These are a key foundation stone of our current holdings, constituting the largest public archive of aerial photographs of England.

The RCHME made all these resources available alongside its existing collections as part of the National Monuments Record -  a national archive of the historic environment.

The archive building in Swindon

The archive building in Swindon

English Heritage

In 1999 the RCHME merged with English Heritage to form a new lead body for the historic environment. Within a context transformed by the rise of digital media and the internet, English Heritage carries out its historic role of creating a record of the historic environment;  making that record available to all those interested in the history around them; and preserving the record for future generations.