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|
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
Just off the A205 South Circular Road in Kew, and signposted from Kew Bridge or the A316. There is free parking on site. If you travel by public transport 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).
Head in to the main entrance and 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. These are provided at a special desk on the first floor (near the stairs) where 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, but once you have one no other ID is needed.
Order documents through the online system (staff are plentiful if you need help) and collect them from the lockers in the main reading room. Seat numbers are allocated. Table 25 is by far the best location as every seat has its own camera stand. 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, either in the online index's 'browse' facility or in the red folders in the first floor reading room.