The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) holds everything that has been through the mangle of Central Government and seemed worth keeping. It is the central and most important public archive facility in the UK.
|Location||Bessant Drive, Kew, London TW9 4DU. See map|
|Membership/ID||Location-specific membership card; see below|
|Photocopy policy||Permissive; pay-per-copy|
|Camera policy||Permissive; no charge|
What is held here
Virtually everything any government department has done since the dawn of time is within the remit of The National Archives. As a result the road enthusiast will find plenty to keep them amused, and indeed most of this wiki is about cataloguing their vast road-related file base.
What it doesn't have is very much detail on local authority schemes. Consequently it tends to be better for major, national and trunk road projects or history. However, often the Ministry will have been involved at some stage and there will usually be some scrap of information here on just about anything.
How to use it
As of 2021, it is highly recommended to book your visit in advance. This is because many documents are now stored off site and have a three-day lead time on orders. Until about 2020 it was possible to turn up on the day and see anything at all - now, however, this approach is likely to lead to disappointment if not a wasted trip. Research the items you want to see using the online catalogue, and order them as early as you can.
You'll find TNA just off the A205 South Circular Road in Kew, and signposted from Kew Bridge or the A316. It's a five minute walk from Kew Gardens station (District Line Underground and London Overground services), or the R68 bus calls there, a ten minute ride from Richmond station (South West Trains between London Waterloo, Reading and elsewhere). If you're driving the car park costs about £8 a day.
Head in to the main entrance. If you have a laptop, a man in a suit will ask you to open it up so he can check you're not carrying an explosive device instead. Turn left, ignoring the reception desk which doesn't seem to do much. Turn right before you reach the stairs to the lockers. Take paper and pencil, camera etc. and leave everything else here. Clear plastic bags are provided free of charge to carry your belongings.
Upstairs on the first floor is the reading room. You can search the catalogue, use online facilities etc. without ever signing in, but to see original documents, get a membership card. The easiest way to get this is go to the desk marked "START HERE" at the front entrance to the reading room. You will be photographed and provided with a card on the spot, free of charge again. You will require two forms of ID, one with photograph, to get a card. You can register online in advance and obtain a temporary reading card for the purpose of ordering documents; staff will then convert this to a proper one when you arrive in person.
Order documents through the online system (if you haven't placed an advance order) and collect them from the lockers in the main reading room. Seat numbers are allocated. Some seats have inbuilt camera stands, for people using proper cameras to photograph documents, though at the time of writing the advance ordering system doesn't provide a way to choose a seat for yourself, so your seat may be randomly allocated and whether or not you get a camera stand, a seat next to a window or whatever else you might prefer, is a lottery. For large documents there is a dedicated large map and plan room on the second floor.
The online index is an excellent place to start, but if you find a good file, try rummaging around near to that reference in the online index's 'browse' facility.
As of March 2011 there is wifi service available. Sites are monitored by Websense, but following a polite request to the IT deparment, ArchiveWiki is allowed, so you can now add to this wiki while directly looking at the documents in question!
The National Archives is closed on Sunday and Monday, and opens late (until 7pm) on Tuesday and Thursday, and until 5pm on all other days. If you can do, visit on a weekday, as weekends can be quite busy with people searching through war and family history records.
Items found here
See the full list for this establishment.