Imaginings from the image library

Looking for a picture of Santa in a kayak or cats taking part in a wheelbarrow race? Well, you may be surprised to learn you have come to the right place. If you have more serious pursuits, you can also get your hands on manuscripts such as a copy of the earliest printed document, pages from the Magna Carta or 18th century plans for parliament.

Cats by artist Louis Wain

Cats by artist Louis Wain, 1904 (catalogue reference: COPY 1/221 (204))

The National Archives’ image library is made up of thousands of unique photos, illustrations and documents from our record collections. Our online image galleries were designed to show the range of pictures available to buy, whether this is commercial users wishing to publish or license our images, or simply members of the public interested in buying our photos to decorate their walls.

18th-century plan of the Horse Guards building

18th century plan of the Horse Guards building (catalogue reference: WORK 30/168)

Our categories pages represent our most prolific and popular collections of images such as the First and Second World Wars, maps from around the world, designs and inventions, and Victoriana.

The showcases illustrate topical events – we joined in the celebratory atmosphere of the Jubilee with a Royal celebrations showcase, revealed some rare documents in time for the 100th anniversary of Titanic and got into in the festive spirit with our Christmas themed pictures. In honour of last summer’s Olympics, we presented a collection of historical sporting images, which aptly represented the fever of ‘Keep fit Britain’.

Victoria and Albert's wedding procession illustration

Victoria and Albert's wedding procession illustration, 1840 (catalogue reference: EXT 11/82)

As an editor on The National Archives’ website, I conceive of and create these image galleries each month. I have also found it fascinating to delve into our archives and look up just about any topic that takes my fancy – there is always something interesting to be found, even if it isn’t precisely what I went in for… Hours can be spent going off on tangents, in the name of research!

Last month, for instance, I was inspired by a recent visit to Wilton’s, the world’s oldest music hall, and decided to see what images we held relating to this genre. It took some rooting around, but once I’d moved away from searching exclusively for the venues themselves, I found we held numerous images of music hall entertainers, including Marie Lloyd (below), George Robey and Dan Leno, and other paraphernalia such as progammes and posters for performances. See more in our music hall showcase.

Marie Lloyd, 1892 (catalogue reference: COPY 1/410 (257))

Marie Lloyd, 1892 (catalogue reference: COPY 1/410 (257))

After two years’ worth of showcases, we are now opening this up to suggestions from our audience, to find out what inspires you – is there anything you’d like us to delve into our collections to find? Any topics of interest that you think we could cover that we haven’t already featured? Do let us know. We hope to answer the challenge!

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