NPG - Visitors' Books

Scope and Content

Volumes 1-11 the period 25 Feb 1860-29 Dec 1884 and are for visitors to the public Galleries. Volumes 1-10 give the date, and the signatures of visitors to the Gallery, along with the numbers included in group visits, and the daily totals. Volumes are arranged in chronological order. Volume 11 gives this information for 1 Dec 1869-15 Dec 1869, then includes summary lists of numbers of visitors at key holidays - Easter, Whitsun, and Christmas - for 1870-1884.

Volume 12 covers the period 28 Feb 1896-31 Mar 1920 and is mainly for researchers, conservators, or those visiting the Director on business, giving the names, addresses, and subjects of visit.

Volume 13 covers the period 1933-1951 and is for special events such as opening ceremonies, and includes the signatures of Royalty and other guests present at these occasions.

Visitor books were not kept for 1885-1895, while the Gallery was at the Bethnal Green Museum, because entrance was to that museum as a whole, rather than the National Portrait Gallery specifically. In 1896, on the opening of the St. Martin's Place premises visitor books were discontinued and replaced by turnstile account books (NPG73).

Administrative / Biographical History

The National Portrait Gallery admitted its first visitors in 1857 to its premises at 29 Great George Street. Admission was free but was by only by tickets collected in advance from London print sellers. The Gallery was open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 12-4pm, and 12-5pm in the summer. From 1858 the Gallery also opened for an additional 3 days over the Easter holidays, without tickets, and in 1860 admission tickets were abolished. In 1864 the opening hours were extended to 10-4 and 10-5. In 1865 opening was extended to Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10am-6pm May-Sep, 10am-5pm Apr and Oct, and 10am-4pm Oct-Mar. The Gallery also added to its Easter special opening days by opening on Whit Monday and Boxing Day.

In 1870 the Gallery moved to new premises within the South Kensington Museum. The Gallery was then open to the public free of charge on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and for a fee on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, in accordance with the rest of the museum. In 1879 opening was extended again to every day except Friday and Sunday, free of charge.

In 1896 the Gallery's new building at St. Martin's Place was opened. It was open to visitors on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays free of charge, and on Thursdays and Fridays for sixpence. The opening hours were 10-4 Nov-Feb, 10-5 in Mar and Oct, and 10-6 Apr-Sep. The Gallery also began to open on Sundays from 3-6pm, Mar-Oct, in line with other National Museums and Galleries. In 1900 Sunday opening was extended to 2.30-5.30pm. In 1909 Sunday opening was extended to the whole year.

From Nov 1915-Apr 1920 the portraits were evacuated and the Gallery was taken over as government offices for the duration of the First World War, so no visitors were admitted.

From Aug 1939-Jul 1945 the portraits were evacuated and the building taken over by the Government for the duration of the Second World War, few visitors were admitted, except for a few special exhibitions.

In Jul 1945 when the Gallery re-opened, it was with limited opening hours, which were gradually extended, and the entrance charge was dropped entirely.

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

The complete catalogue for this archive can be searched via the NPG Archive Catalogue .

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.