An overview of the archive, accessing the Archive, and how to order copies of Archive material
The UKHO Archive represents one of the most complete maritime collections of its type in the world. Below is an overview of how to access the archive and how to order copies of archive material.
About the Archive
The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) was founded in 1795 by an order in council under the auspices of King George the Third. Its first Hydrographer was Alexander Dalrymple F.R.S. who was based in the Admiralty in London.
Today, situated in Taunton, Somerset, the UKHO Archive contains hundreds of thousands of hydrographic and navigational documents, some dating from the 17th century. Some of our treasured items include a chart of Portsmouth UK from the 1620s, the first government sponsored hydrographic survey of Great Britain, surveys by Captain James Cook and records relating to HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin.
Accessing the UKHO Archive
To arrange a visit to the Archive for genuine research purposes, please contact the Archive Research Section with the appropriate amount of notice:
- British Nationals 1-2 weeks
- Foreign Nationals 4-6 weeks
As the Archive is situated on a Ministry of Defence site, failure to apply far enough in advance will mean a visit may be refused. Travel and hotel arrangements should not be made before a visit date and security clearances have been confirmed by the Archive.
Personal access to the archive is free. We do, however, charge for reproductions of documents, any research work and handling undertaken by our staff. For further details please see below.
Download the visit request form;
Researchers are entitled to the first hour free. Once the free hour has passed you will be asked if you wish to use the archive research service, at a charge £20 for each 15 minutes spent working on your request. If you need this service we will provide you with an estimated number of hours, which will require payment in advance. No work will be undertaken until the payment has been received.
Alternatively researchers can employ their own record agent to come in and undertake the work they require. A list of specialist record agents is available on request. The UKHO does not endorse the work of any persons whose details are on this list.
Obtaining copies of archive material
Our Archive houses a high quality studio camera and lighting system, which allows us to make reproduction copies of our historic documents without damaging them. Reproduction copies can then be provided as printed copies or as digital images. Please see the table below for all of our product/service costs. Please remember to add to your estimate:
- handling charge (minimum of £15 per order)
- postage and packing (minimum of £3 per order)
- VAT at the current rate (if applicable)
Please be aware that high quality colourfast prints are supplied on a satin (glossy) paper and unfortunately cannot be printed on standard matt chart paper.
When documents are digitally scanned, the colours do not always appear as per the original. Therefore, digital copies are supplied with a colour and scale bar alongside to enable customers to calibrate colours and correctly scale each image to the original size for printing. Customers requiring colour correction and/or re-sizing to be applied for them will incur a charge of £15 per image.
The sizes in the table below are based on the size of document to be copied (copies are not reduced unless asked for). We are able to provide A4 and A3 colour and black and white photocopies of original documents no larger than A3 size. Any requirement for an original document larger than A3 to be reduced, will need to be scanned, costing a minimum of £25 plus VAT. For documents larger than A0, an estimate will be provided by Research staff. These documents may also require digital stitching together; this service costs an additional £80 per hour. The reproduction will be supplied in parts unless stitching is requested.
We offer a priority service for documents that are to be supplied in digital softcopy format via WeTransfer, without colour correction applied. The £40 price is per order, in addition to the product and admin prices and is without VAT.
|Product||Size||Up to A4||Up to A3||Up to A2||Up to A1||Up to A0||Up to 2x A0||Up to 4x A0|
|Digital print on satin paper (colour corr/resizing inc.)||£15||£20||£25||£30||£40||£80||£160|
|Digital Scan on disc (no colour corr/resizing)||£25||£25||£25||£25||£25||£50||£100|
|Digital Scan on disc (colour corr/resizing inc.)||£40||£40||£40||£40||£40||£65||£115|
|Research fee per hour||£80|
|Handling/admin fee per hour||£60|
|Digital stitching per hour||£80|
|Priority service (per order)||£40|
To place an order, please consult the price list above, complete the order form and email it to email@example.com. We will then email you a quote and once paid for, your order can be processed. We now offer PayPal as our preferred method of payment. Transactions can also be made by Credit/debit card via PayPal without requiring a PayPal account. Please complete as many fields in the form as possible.
Please consult the price list above before filling in an order form. Please note that the minimum cost for an A2 print is £54.00 and for a digital image is £51.60 (delivered to a U.K. address). Please complete as many fields in the form as possible.
Download the order form:
Please allow a minimum of ten working days for an order to be despatched after making payment, depending on the complexity of the order.
Archive material may be subject to copyright. Please refer to our copyright section for details.
Purchasing copies of surveys
Copies of Royal Navy surveys can be supplied. Permission has to be obtained by Research staff for surveys that are less than 125 years old. All copies have to be paid for in advance before they are released.
The UKHO holds a large quantity of third party survey data, i.e. surveys not owned by the Royal Navy. They cannot be released without the permission of the data owner. If permission in writing is obtained from the data owner, and all the copy costs paid for in advance, then the UKHO can supply a copy.
Requests for copies of digital survey data should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Descriptions of archive material can be searched in the collections survey document. The collections survey document is a high level description of the types of data and records in the archive.
Download the collections survey document:
The Archive team will be happy to help with any questions on materials which have not yet been catalogued or with further historical information. Descriptions are also available on the National Archives Discovery catalogue. More descriptions will be added to Discovery over time.
Historical holdings and the UKHO archive
We receive a wide range of data from all corners of the world and were established as a Place of Deposit in 1962 (under the Public Records Act of 1958). This allows us to hold and maintain our own historical archive on site.
Today we receive about 400 hydrographic surveys a year, in various forms, including those by the Royal Navy Surveying Squadron, contract survey companies and other contractors and developers. Though the quality of these surveys varies, all are registered and copied before being evaluated by the relevant chart branch, then placed in the archive with their accompanying field data.
The UKHO has been collecting surveys since 1795 and we hold an estimated 60,000 sheets, mainly executed by the Royal Navy. Many have been published in their entirety, or included in part, in printed Admiralty charts. We predominantly hold survey information from 1830 to the present. Some surveys dated before 1830 have been transferred to The National Archives.
Record copies of Admiralty charts
Record copies of published Admiralty charts, produced since 1800, are an important part of the archive. However, we do not have a copy of every chart ever published by the Hydrographic Office, but we do have the most complete collection in the United Kingdom. We do not have a copy of every correction to every chart, but it is possible to follow the history of most charts from the 1830s to the present day.
Our record copies are arranged by chart number. This collection is known as the ‘old copy bundle’ system. There is no single catalogue of its contents, but access to the charts can be made through the published catalogues of charts. The earliest catalogue we hold dates from 1825 and electronic versions of catalogues can be downloaded from our archived legacy website by selecting the “Archive Contents” tab.
During World War One a great number of special charts were produced to support the war effort. At the end of the war a report was produced outlining all of the special charts produced from 1914 to 1918. This useful report is available in pdf format on request. Please ask for a copy of the World War One Technical History.
A view of the coast from the sea was an essential aid to navigation. Subsequently the Hydrographic Office accumulated many hundreds of views, some of them appeared in engraved form on the face of Admiralty Charts and in Admiralty Sailing Directions. A large collection of 18th, 19th and early 20th century coastal views, covering most areas of the world, are now deposited at The National Archives at Kew (TNA series ADM 344). An additional 20,000 uncatalogued views from the 19th and 20th centuries are still held in Taunton.
Correspondence, ships’ reports, minutes and data
To support the use of surveys and production of charts the Hydrographic Office has retained a number of letters (from 1815), minutes (from 1825) and supporting data. These were catalogued by Lt-Cdr A.C.F. David and issued as ‘A provisional catalogue of logs, journals, documents, letters, record copies of books and pamphlets published by the Hydrographic Department and held in its archives at the Hydrographic Department, Ministry of Defence, Taunton, Somerset’ in 1974. An unrevised electronic version of this catalogue can be obtained on request.
Notices to mariners, lights lists and tide tables
We hold a complete run of printed Notices to Mariners from 1834, Lights Lists from 1827 and Tide Tables from 1833. We also hold some correspondence and records concerning these publications but they are not in one discrete series and it can involve a lengthy search to identify them.
Admiralty charts of Scottish waters
Admiralty charts of Scottish waters, 1795-1963 are now online at the National Library of Scotland.
The UKHO Archive Information Asset Register
The UKHO Archive Information Asset Register (IAR) contributes to the government-wide IAR, available through the Office of Public Sector Information.
To find out more about the archive and researching its contents please contact the archive research section
Tel: +44 (0)1823 483341 / 483409