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A Prospectus of the Archival Collections held at the Museum

A guide to the archival collections held at the Museum and a guide for researchers is now available. The prospectus describes the scope and content of the archives, with reference to specific collections. It also provides details of the facilities offered by the Museum to researchers, and the Museum's catalogues and databases, fees and opening hours.

Click here to download a pdf version of the prospectus.
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The Collections

The Museum houses a wide variety of collections, all of which have become a valuable resource for researchers and schools. We can provide audio, visual and tangible items - many of which come from the same donor.

You can see and hear many items from the Collections on display in our Galleries, and browse our Reference Library every day of the week. But there is much more behind the scenes. We store a wide variety of media - from Oral Histories to Artefacts - in our different archives, where they are catalogued and stored ready for research or display use. For more information or to book a research appointment, please click on the relevant archive:

Our Oral History archive holds over 1,000 interviews and radio programmes.
Film is stored in the Moving Image Archive.
Photographs and other still images are held in the Photo Archive.
Artefacts and handling objects are stored in the Artefacts Stores.
Books, periodicals and primary sources are stored in the Paper Archives.
Uniforms, clothing and textiles are kept in the Costume Department.

The Collections  |  Artefacts  |  Costumes & Textiles  |  Film  |  Sound Paper  |

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The BECM’s permanent collection consists of over 15,000 objects. The artefacts are primarily donated by people who lived in the British Empire and the Commonwealth.

In 2003, the museum successfully transferred over 10,000 objects to Bristol. These were the collections of the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. Within this collection there are 4,000 handling objects which provide a valuable resource for educational activities. Some of these items will be available to education groups on a loan basis. Please see the Reference Library section for more details.

The artefacts have been collected from all over the Commonwealth and cover many aspects of culture, tradition, history, industry, art and craft, leisure and everyday life.

For more details please put your request in writing to:

The Collections Department
The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum
Clock Tower Yard
Temple Meads
Bristol BS1 6QH

Or email:













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Costumes & Textiles

The costume and textile department contains approximately 2000 items. These include a large quantity of military uniforms as well as textiles, Yoruba robes and many other accessories. Most items are donated by former colonial servants and/or settlers as part of a wider collection, and may have accompanying photographs and/or documentation indicating whom they were worn by and when.

For more details please put your request in writing to:-
The Collections Department
The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum
Clock Tower Yard
Temple Meads

Or email:

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Film Archives

The Museum’s growing Moving Image collection currently contains approximately 1000 titles, comprising over 400 hours of cinefilm footage dating from the 1920s onwards. The films reflect the life of indigenous people, colonial settlers and government officials within the British Empire and Commonwealth.

The majority of the films held were shot by amateur film makers in Africa and the Indian sub-continent, and are personal impressions of the places and the era they lived in. Included is footage of industrial and commercial activities, agriculture and forestry, momentous political events and conflicts, sporting and ceremonial occasions, ,people at work and leisure, holiday and travel footage, and family footage.

In addition the collection contains government produced information and travel films from different countries, commercial documentary and news film, and television material.

The archive also holds VHS copies of numerous "talking heads" interviews, recording the experiences of people who have lived and worked in the Commonwealth.

Further information for researchers:-

The collection holds 16mm, 9.5mm, and standard and super 8mm cinefilm.

Viewing copies on VHS are available for most titles.

A limited number of items also exist on Beta SP and other formats. Copyright is held to a large part of the collection. Information on request.

Researchers are welcome to consult the Moving Image Database at the Museum, and may make arrangements to view material on site.

Access to the Database and the Archive is normally between Wednesdays and Fridays.
Free initial enquiries from Researchers or Commercial Organisations are welcomed.
Charges for further services vary depending on the nature of the research, and should be discussed with the Film Archive Co-ordinator.

For further information please contact:-









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Sound Archive

Oral history is nothing new. For centuries people have been passing down stories from generation to generation. However, the advent of the portable tape recorder resulted in these stories being preserved and accessible to all. In the last decade Oral History has become an increasingly popular means of recording fact. The evidence of people who actually witnessed and even participated in events is obviously of surpassing interest and importance.

Over the last ten years, this Museum has built up an incredible oral archive of over 1,000 recordings. The Oral History collection covers a vast range of views, opinions, anecdotes and experience from people who lived and worked in the former Empire and Commonwealth. Stories from administrators, nurses, foresters, agriculturalist, geologists, explorers, colonial mention but a few.

To listen to some of the highlights of our collections click here.

The majority of the collection records experiences from people who worked for the Colonial Service from 1910 onwards (at present interviews from indigenous people make up approximately 20% of the archive). Our special projects include: Commonwealth Soldiers, A History of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and an Explorers Project. We have also been given original tapes and transcripts from television and radio programmes which on Empire: which include The Secret History of Mau Mau, Overviews of Empire, the Raj through Indian eyes, Hong Kong’s last year as a colony, and Independence in Uganda.

Excerpts from our oral history archive can be heard in the permanent galleries, we also run oral history workshops in our radio room. The oral history interviews can be accessed by booking an appointment with our library and archive. We are in the process of creating a public database of our entire collection for the permanent galleries.A copy our Oral History Catalogue is now available free of charge (£5.00 p&p). There is a synopsis for every tape in the main collection, with more general comments on special collections. The catalogue can be used a primary source before listening to the recordings themselves.

For further information please contact:

The Collections  |  Artefacts  |  Costumes & Textiles  |  Film  |  Sound Paper  | Reference Library | 

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Paper Archive

Reference Library

As well as the Commonwealth Institutes artefacts, BECM transferred the Commonwealth Resource Centre, nearly 15,000 resources, consisting of books, VHS, CD's, audio tapes and records, periodicals, CI publications, journals, visual aids and newspaper articles.

A large selection of material is available for reference and is housed within the library and archive area at the end of the permanent galleries. The reference library is open to all visitors to the galleries between 10am
- 1pm and 2pm - 5pm (excluding weekends and bank holidays).

It contains up to date reference and children's books relating to the empire and Commonwealth.

There is also a loan box service available for schools and education groups. At present there are 10 boxes available for hire. A maximum of two boxes can be loaned for either a term or half term for a nominal fee. They contain a number of handling objects on 10 different themes including Indian life, African life, world religions and world art and crafts.

For more details please contact:-

Primary Sources
Available on request, the Museum houses a unique collection of primary sources, including original correspondence, notes, ephemera, newspapers and reports relating to Empire and Commonwealth history in the 19th and 20th centuries. Also held are a selection of House of Commons and Command Papers from 1830 to 1965, the Police Records from 1919-1947,and a microfilm collection of 170 volumes of British and Foreign State Papers from 1812 to 1968. Please email for a research appointment.

Secondary Sources
Available on request are original books from the 19th and 20th Centuries covering the history of the empire and Commonwealth. Please call for a research appointment.

For further information please contact:

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Still Image Archive

The still image archive holds thousands of images in a variety of formats, including: prints, albums, slides, negatives, transparencies, postcards and digital images; in black and white, colour and sepia.

The images date from circa 1880 to the present day and cover a range of themes from countries across the empire and Commonwealth, such as industry, agriculture, landscapes, architecture, development, hunting; everything from daily domestic life to key political and royal events. Material has been donated and loaned from families, organisations and professional photographers (such as Elspeth Huxley, Mary Hill and Charles Trotter).

Due to the wide range of subject matter covered, the archive has become a popular resource with researchers (both educational and commercial).

For further information, please contact:

The Collections  |  Artefacts  |  Costumes & Textiles  |  Film  |  Sound Paper  | Reference Library |Photo  |

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