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Oral history: architecture and landscape design

The British Library holds oral history interviews with many professionals involved in the design of the built environment, including interviews with prominent architects and horticulturalists.

Architecture

Oral history collections relating to architecture include:

  • Architects' Lives (C467), a National Life Stories collection, documents the lives of British architects and those in associated professions. The project has so far interviewed, amongst others: Richard Siefert, Geoffrey Jellicoe, Jane Drew, Ralph Erskine, Sir Denys Lasdun, Cecil Elsom, Lord Esher, Erno Goldfinger and Colin St John Wilson. Interviews from Architects' Lives can be accessed via the British Library Sounds website in the Architecture collection.
  • The Twentieth Century Society recordings (catalogue no: C775) consist of architects' reminiscences including Lord Esher (Lionel Brett) who worked on new towns; Edward Mills, known for his eclectic work in the 1930s; David Medd of the Hertfordshire Schools; Ralph Tubbs of the MARS Group and Festival of Britain; and David Brady. We have recordings with representatives from the MARS Group including H.T.Cadbury-Brown, Trevor Dannat, John Gold and Louise Campbell.
  • The Ove Arup architecture interviews (catalogue no: C765).
  • The Andrew Saint Architecture Recordings (catalogue no: C447).
  • Interviews with the architects Hugh Casson and Peter Moro are included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408).

Horticulture

  • Down to Earth: An Oral History of British Horticulture (catalogue no: C1029), began in 2001 to document the life story interviews of British gardeners, plantsmen and women, garden designers, landscape architects, seed growers, market and organic gardeners, and horticulturists; and to chart the changes that occurred in gardens, gardening and landscape design in the twentieth century.
  • Other material relating to Horticulture can be found in the NSA: General collection (catalogue no: C465), which includes interviews with Valerie Finnis and Nancy Tennant.
  • The National Trust Sound Archive (catalogue no: C1168) includes interviews with many gardeners and landscape designers connected to the Trust’s properties across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Related recordings

Further information about architecture, planning and horticulture will also feature in many life story recordings, particularly in those that offer surveys of British life. See:

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk