Architecture manuscripts: 1600 to present

Drawing of St Mary's Tower Spire, Oxford

We hold a range of material documenting architecture's visual and theoretical history and study, as well as personal and professional papers relating to a number of notable British architects and their work.

About the collection

The Western Manuscript collections contain a range of material primarily relating to British architecture and architects,  including ecclesiastic and domestic architecture, as well as landscape and monument design. Many architects were also skilled artists, as the material in the collection demonstrates. Highly visual in nature, it includes plans and elevations as well as detailed pencil and watercolour studies and topographical illustrations, many of which constitute both work of art and architectural record.

17th and 18th Century British Architects

Papers relating to Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), considered by many the greatest British architect of the 17th century, include correspondence and accounts regarding the building of Marlborough House, papers relating to his work as a Surveyor for the Rebuilding of Churches following the Great Fire of London, and a report on designs for the Monument in London. Also represented in the collection is the 17th century architect and scenic designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652), who held the post of Surveyor-General of the King's Works from 1615 until his death.

Material relating to British country estates can be found throughout the collection, often within named family archives. For example, the Althorp Papers contain correspondence between Lord Spencer and architect Henry Holland (1745 -1806) regarding Wimbledon House, and the Hardwick Papers includes plans by Sir John Soane(1753-1837) for Lord Hardwick’s house in St James’ Square. Other papers and correspondence relating to Sir John Soane and Henry Holland can be found throughout the collection as well. In addition we hold notebooks, correspondence, and manuscripts by a number of other notable 18th century architects including John Aheron (d.1761) and James Wyatt (1746-1813).

19th and Early 20th Century British Architects

Add MS 60745 and Add MS 60756 hold letters to architect brothers Sydney (1797-1877) and Robert Smirke (1787—1867), chiefly from artists and fellow architects including Jeffrey Wyatt (1766-1840, later Wyatville), Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), Owen Jones (1809-1874), and Philip Hardwick (1797-1870). We also hold correspondence between Sydney Smirke and former British Prime Minister Robert Peel, regarding building work at Drayton Manor, Peel's country seat.  

Papers relating to gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott RA (1811-1878) include correspondence with politician and archaeologist Sir Austen Layard related to the erection of the Albert Memorial, and with Jospeh Frederick Wickenden in regard to Pershaw Abbey Church. You can also find in the collection a selection of notebooks, architectural drawings, and writing on gothic architecture by 18th-century builder and architect James Essex (1722-1784), as well as material realting to other 19th century architects including Charles Bacon (1784-1818), and Phillip Speakman Webb (1831-1915).

The Buckler Bequest and Buckler Drawings, containing the personal papers, drawings and architectural notes, John Buckler (1770-1851), John Chessell Buckler (1793 – 1894), and Charles Alban Buckler (1824 – 1905), illustrating the architectural and artistic skill of three generations of the Buckler family spanning the late 18th and 19th century.

Topographic and Architectural Drawings

The Library holds studies and illustrations in various mediums of British architecture by artist and architect Edward Blore (1787 – 1879), of British and Italian architecture by architect Henry Flitcroft (1697 – 1769), and original illustrations for The Ancient Architecture of England by John Carter (1748-1817). The Library’s extensive collection of landscape and topographical drawings by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794), also offer a remarkable visual reference of the British landscape and built environment. We also hold studies of British and Egyptian architecture by Georgian property developer James Burton (1761-1837),  as well as papers relating to his son Decimus Burton (1800-1881), himself an eminent architect tutored by John Nash and Sir John Soane. Visual representations of the landscape, built environment, and architecture, in Britain and beyond can be found throughout the collection, and further information can be found in Picturing Places

British Landscape Architecture

British landscape architects and their work can also be found represented widely in the collection. We hold correspondence and papers relating to Britain’s most renowned landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-1783), as well as details of his work at Blenheim Palace . Architect and garden designer Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) is represented in papers relating to the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851Humphrey Repton’s Journal (1752-1818) documents his extensive career as a landscape gardener, and the Trumbull Papers include reference to George London (1640-1714), who consulted on work on the gardens of Easthampstead in the 1690s.

Related British Library Collections

Visual materials relating to East India Company buildings and Indian architecture can be found throughout the India Office Photograph Collections and the India Office Prints Drawings and Paintings, including the Archaeological Survey of India material, an important photographic resource for researching Indian architecture and landscape. For the serial publications of the Survey, and for official documents relating to public works during British rule in India, see theIndia Office Records.

The Library’s Sound Archive holds many interviews with 20th- and 21st-century architects and designers including the long-running Architects' Lives project, which can be accessed online through British Library Sounds. For more details see the Oral Histories of Architecture and Landscape Design guide.


What is available online?

Further information on these collections can be found in the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

Selected images of drawings and studies by Blore, the Bucklers, and Grimm, as well as a number of articles relevant to architecture and the built environment can be found in our Picturing Places and Topographical Drawings online exhibitions.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Archives and manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading RoomIn some cases you may need to provide a letter of introduction or further information in order to access manuscripts and archives. Use the online catalogue to find out whether access conditions apply. It is advisable to contact the Manuscripts Reference Team before travelling to the Library. Up to 5 working days notice is required to process applications to consult restricted collection items.

What is available in other organisations?

The British Architectural Library, held by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), contains material from the 15th century onward, and is available to access through the V&A reading rooms.

The Artist's Papers Register also contains details of archival resources for a number of Architects.