The manuscript collections held at the Museum are in two parts. The larger part consists of our own collection which has been assembled since 1952 by donation and purchase, or occasionally through transfer from other institutions. There are some notable collections relating to Portsmouth Dockyard, to HMS Victory and to Horatio Nelson, but in fact collecting has been much broader than this. The policy has been to gather unofficial collections that are a source for a social and operational history of the Navy. The archive is therefore mainly an aggregate of groups of personal papers and subjective accounts of service from all ranks and branches of the Navy. It is particularly strong in personal diaries, memoirs, journals and collections of letters, c.1780-2000.
Although there are some institutional collections and collections of stray official material, the archive does not include official naval records and is a manuscript library rather than an archive of records.
Full printed descriptions of the collection in 1997 are given in: M. Sheldon, Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Royal Naval Museum, 1997. Copies available at £7.50 + p&p. For a copy, please contact us.
The second part of the collections consists of the manuscript items from the Admiralty Library, which have gradually been moved to Portsmouth since the autumn of 1997, to be administered by the Museum. This now covers all the Library's historic manuscript items, including items judged to have interest for the history of exploration or hydrography, which were held at the UK Hydrographic Office from 1995 to 2002. The whole consists of c.700 volumes and c. 2,000 maps, plans and charts assembled in the Library at the Admiralty in Whitehall from 1809 onwards. This includes many small collections of historic interest principally from the 17th – early 20th century; Navy Board records, papers of Admiralty officials, ship and dockyard plans, logs, personal diaries, order books, letter books, accounts of exploration, and an excellent collection of largely 18th century maps and charts.
The Museum welcomes researchers, donors and their families to view items within the collections that are not currently on display in the galleries.
Appointments can be made Monday-Fridays between 10am-4pm
Artefacts, Photographs, WRNS, Oral History and Visual Art collections
If you would like to look at items and objects from these collections, please contact the curators to make an appointment. Please note that for some items you will be advised to view or listen to them in the Library’s Reading Room for which the Curator in charge of the item will book your appointment with the Library team. Please follow the directions for library access listed below. Other appointments will be within the Curatorial department housed in the Museum’s No 11 Store building above the Nelson and Sailing Navy Galleries. Please report to the Museum’s main reception for these appointments.
To make an appointment, please call us on 023 9272 7562 and ask for the curatorial department.
Library and Manuscripts
The Museum's library and manuscript collections can both be consulted within the Library Reading Room by prior appointment. Please call us to discuss your requirements.
To make an appointment, please call us on 023 9272 3795 or click here to email
Please check our News page (link to the internal News page) for planned Reading Room closures.
Due to the Library building being housed within the Naval Base rather than the public Historic Dockyard area, visitors are requested to comply with the current security regulations for entry. Ideally, members of the public should make an appointment 24 hours in advance to view the collection and will need to bring a form of official identification (a full passport or photographic driving licence or two pieces of evidence with your address (eg bank statement, council tax bill, utility bill etc). Before entering the Library, these should be presented to the Base Pass Office who will issue a temporary visitors pass. Please note, that the Pass Office is unstaffed on Friday afternoons and that entry after 12 noon may be restricted due to operational reasons beyond the Museum’s control.
Day visitors to the Heritage Dockyard may be able to arrange to come to the Reading Room on the day. Please contact the Museum's main reception desk for details when you visit.