Frequently asked questions

Short answers to frequently asked questions about using and understanding Historic England Archive.


Q: How does searching work?

For more information about how searching works, examples of searches and what you may find, see About Searching.

Q: What do my Summary Search Results mean?

This is a summary list of the results found describing the photographs or documents relevant to the search terms you used. To see the full record, or a larger version of any online image, click on the Reference Number shown.

Q: How can I see more details of a record?

To see the full record and a larger version of any online image, click on the Reference number shown.

The full record gives more details if available. This will vary from record to record, but may include an online image, a note of people or organisations linked to that item (e.g. the photographer’s name), the viewpoint (e.g. exterior or interior) and whether an image is colour or black and white.

Q: How are the results ordered?

The Summary search results are shown in reference number order. There is no weighting of results in terms of what is the most likely match to the search term(s)

Q: What does the Date refer to?

The Date refers to when the photograph or document was created. For example, a photograph taken in 1952 of a church built in 1350 would have the date of 1952.

Q: What does Format refer to?

The Format describes what is stored in the archive. For example, for a photograph it may be a photograph (negative) or a photograph (print). For a document it may be a report or a measured drawing. It may also refer to a File.

Q: What does Place refer to?

The Place may be the address of a building in a photograph, or the location of an archaeological site.

You'll find that some address information includes counties and parishes in use before 1985, so, for example, Avon and Humberside appear as counties.

Archaeological sites will usually have a National Grid Reference (e.g. TQ 123 456).

Some records have more than one geographical location attached.

Q: How can I use Favourites?

If, when you get results you think you may like to look at them again in the future you can save an individual result in Favourites by pressing the Add to favourites button.

To save Favourites you must be registered for a Heritage Passport and logged in.

Trouble logging in?

Q: Why won't my password work?
You may have mistyped your password. If you are not quite sure of your password, click on ‘Forgotten password?and follow the instructions from the login screen to get a new one.
Q: I have forgotten my password. Can I get a new one?
Yes, click on ‘Forgotten password? and follow the instructions from the login screen to get a new one.

General Questions

Q: What might be in a Building File?

Your results are may include records with a reference number prefixed BF e.g.: BF088118 Barratt Shoe Factory, Kingsthorpe Road, Northampton. The prefix BF stands for Building File.

Think of a building file as a folder or box which contains a number of items relating to an individual building. You'll usually find exterior and interior photographs, but there may also be reports about the history and development of the building, plans and other information. Sometimes the file can contain a number of sets of photographs taken at different times reflecting changes in the life of the building.

Q: Why register for a Heritage Passport?
By registering for a Heritage Passport you can take advantage of the special user services available on this and other English Heritage websites. On this site you can:-
  • save items in Favourites
  • save complete searches in Saved Searches and
  • order copies (Basket).
Once you've registered through English Heritage Archives, you don't need to register through the other websites. Your user name and password will allow you to login and use the services on sites such as PastScape, Heritage Explorer and Heritage Gateway.
Q: What can I find on Historic England Archive?

Historic England Archive displays catalogue entries describing mainly photographs, usually of historic buildings. Drawings and plans of buildings and archaeological sites, reports and estate sales particulars can also be found.

Records relating to Historic England (The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission) as an organisation are not included on the website, most are held in The National Archives.

If you can't find what you're looking for please Contact Us.

Q: What won't I find on Historic England Archive?

We don't hold birth/marriage/death certificates, baptism, census records or details of memorials. However, we often have photographs that can add depth to family history research, such as a photograph of the church where someone was christened or married, or the mill where they worked.

Although we do have photographs of people such as gardeners, servants or factory workers, we rarely know their names. We have photographs of large country houses, but we don't have household records such as the names of owners or their employees.

Q: How can I find out about Aerial Photographs?

We hold over 2.5 million aerial photographs covering most of England but you’re only able to see a few online.

Our Archive Services team will carry out searches for you. Contact us giving your name and address and the Ordnance Survey Grid reference or address of the site of interest and we will contact you with more information.

Q: I work for English Heritage/Historic England, how can I use Historic England Archive?
You can place orders through the website, but please make sure your contact details include your organisation name ('English Heritage' or 'Historic England'). If you've any queries, or you can't find what you're looking for, please Contact us

Ordering and Paying

Q: How do I order a copy?

You can order copies of individual photographs or documents online. You do this from Summary search results, Full record or Favourites by pressing the Add to Basket button. You must be logged in to Heritage Passport to order.

Q: How do I pay?

We'll let you know the cost of your order before processing it. We'll send an invoice for the cost which you can pay by VISA, Maestro, Mastercard, American Express or cheque.

Q: Why don't I pay when I order?

It’s not always possible to know what the total cost of an order will be until we’ve looked at the archive items you’ve ordered. Due to the fragile nature of some of the items in the archive we may not be able to copy it for you or there may copying restrictions. Or if the order relates to a group of items (see FAQ What might be in a file?) we don’t know how many items we’d need to copy. So we will always confirm with you exactly what an order will consist of and how much it will cost before processing it and sending you an invoice.