“ Address: Kew / Richmond / Surrey / TW9 4DU „
The National Archives (TNA) is located at Kew in south-west London. It holds records created by all branches of central Government from the earliest times to the present day and, subject to certain time delays, makes them available to the public.
TNA has reproduced its most commonly used records on microfilm or microfiche, or digitally, and copies of some can be bought online from TNA's website. Other records exist only as hard copy, original documents. If you need to visit TNA there are two categories of access. If you don't need to use original documents you don't need a membership card, but you might as well complete the simple registration process and get one. A membership card allows you to study original documents if you find you need them. In addition you can load it with money to pay for photocopies and printouts.
There are also two categories of research space. One, for which you do not need a membership card, contains computer terminals for viewing digitised documents and searching TNA catalogues, machines for reading records on film and fiche, and leaflets on how to find what you want. It also contains the TNA's excellent reference library, which includes long runs of almanacs and directories, plus specialist and local history. It's open, airy and relaxed.
The other research space comprises reading rooms where you consult original documents. Reading room rules include no pens and no loose sheets of paper (tip: use a spiral-bound A4 note pad and paste in any background notes you'll need). You can, however, use a digital camera, which will save you time and copying charges. There are power points for laptops, and you can request a seat near a window for natural light. Users are encouraged to take a minimum of personal possessions into the reading rooms. The ground floor cloakroom has free facilities for locking up large and small personal possessions, and free clear plastic bags for research essentials.
The challenge is to identify what you need from millions of documents created over many centuries. Although help is available at TNA, there's no substitute for preparing beforehand, reading the online research guides and working systematically through the hierarchy of document references in the online catalogue. Your membership card saves precious research time by enabling you to order documents in advance online so that they're waiting for you when you arrive at TNA.
Separate from the research areas, TNA has a museum, a refreshment area where you can eat your own food or buy snacks and hot meals, and a bookshop with too many temptations. The building is set in landscaped grounds. Out-of-towners can find modestly priced local B&B from the TNA website.
Although TNA's holding is limited to Government records, its website has two areas - 'Access to Archives' and 'National Register of Archives' - for locating other records.
Check the TNA website for current opening times and registration details.