Royal College of Art Archive

Scope and Content

Records of the Royal College of Art, 1896-ongoing, comprising administrative records, including governing body minutes, 1896-ongoing; staff records, 1930s-ongoing and student records, 1898-ongoing; annual reports, 1937-1959 (incomplete) and 1968-ongoing (complete); prospectuses, 1926-ongoing; press cuttings, 1940s-1999; exhibition catalogues, 1930s-ongoing, including degree-show catalogues, 1972-ongoing; student magazines, 1896-ongoing, including the RCA Students' Magazine, 1911-1915 (first series), 1921-1924 (second series), and ARK magazine, 1950-1977; publications including the books of the Graphic Design department's Lion and Unicorn Press, 1952-c1984, the Illustration department's Inklings imprint, 1971-1995, and miscellaneous departmental publications, 1950s-ongoing. Manuscript material includes correspondence, minutes and accounts relating to the operations of ARK magazine and the Lion and Unicorn Press. A photographic collection contains images relating to the history of the College and examples of students' work, 1910s-ongoing, including over 5,000 prints; a separately administered photographic record of student work contains c25,000 slides of installation shots of student work exhibited in the degree shows, 1961-1978 (incomplete), 1979-2002 (complete), and upwards of 25,000 born-digital images, 2003-ongoing (complete).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Royal College of Art was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design. In 1853 the School moved to South Kensington where it became the much enlarged National Art Training School, part of the development of the area by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. The title Royal College of Art was conferred in 1896 with the emphasis on art and design practice. In the mid-20th century the College began the teaching of product design and the provision of specialised professional instruction including graphic and industrial design. The 1960s were a time of physical expansion and a Royal Charter in 1967 gave the College independent university status with the ability to award its own degrees.


The records are held in a number of locations as follows: Central administration: administrative records; Personnel department: staff records; Registry: student records; Library Archive Room: annual reports and prospectuses, press cuttings, exhibition catalogues, student magazines, publications, manuscript material, photographs; Digitisation and Image Services: slides, access to born-digital material.

Access Information

Administrative, staff and student records are held by Administration, Personnel and Registry, respectively; files on staff and students are closed to researchers. All other material is kept within the Library's Special Collections and Archives area which is open to researchers. Access is by appointment and within the controlled environment of the Special Collections and Archives room. Genealogical enquiries can usually be answered using material in the Library Archives Room and/or in liaison with Registry who will supply essential information about former students such as year of graduation. Personal data is not disclosed.

Acquisition Information

Internal accumulation.

Other Finding Aids

The Library Archive Room holds an electronic database which includes file-level and, in many cases, item-level descriptions of contents.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Janet Foster as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Updated by Neil Parkinson for inclusion on the Archives Hub.

Conditions Governing Use

Items are made available for the purpose of private study and personal research only. A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Special Collections Manager, Royal College of Art, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.

Appraisal Information

No data recorded.

Custodial History

Created and maintained in situ in the College.


Regular accruals to the main series are expected.

Related Material

Other manuscript holdings within RCA Special Collections related to the RCA Archive include a selection of papers relating to Robert Vere 'Robin' Darwin KCB CBE (7 May 1910-30 January 1974), a British artist and Rector of the Royal College of Art between 1948 and 1971. Related donations include a collection of memorabilia recording the RCA's evacuation to Ambleside in the Second World War, and additional correspondence and memoranda concerning ARK magazine in the 1960s.

The Royal College of Art Printmaking department has an archive of prints dating from the 1950s and in the process of partial digitisation, and there is a College collection of paintings and sculpture.

The National Archives holds in ED 23, records of the Department of Education and Science and predecessors: Establishment Files, includes the bulk of the more important files relating to the RCA, 19th century; ED 188, Department of Education and Science: Universities Branch and successors; Finance and Policy Teams: Registered Files (H Series), includes files on the RCA as a direct grant institution, 1952-1977; WORK 17, Office of Works and successors: Art and Science Buildings: Registered Files, contains correspondence and papers relating to purchases of land, accommodation, building or maintenance of the School of Design.

Victoria and Albert Museum: MSS Collections: Henry Cole (1808-1982) papers includes material relating to the early years of the RCA; annual reports of Departments of Practical Art, and Science and Art, 1853-1899; catalogue of exhibition of students' work, 1858; records of exhibition of students' work, 1882-1984, (as part of International Health Exhibition) including detailed catalogue and list of students.

Victoria and Albert Museum: Archive of Art and Design holds Department of Design Research archives. Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Archive: Kensington Gore and the Royal College of Art correspondence, plans, leases and leaflets, 1832-1987, also Commissioners' Reports on RCA Court, 1966-1979; South Kensington Redevelopment Scheme, 1933-1972, including expansion of RCA, 1961-1966; Board of Management records relating to schemes to establish computer-aided design courses at RCA, 1979-1990.


The Royal College of Art: one hundred and fifty years of art and design by Christopher Frayling (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1987).

Corporate Names