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Royal College of Art Archive and Related Collections

Royal College of Art Archive (c. 75 linear metres, excluding photographic and art collections) 

The Royal College of Art (RCA) archive is a substantial resource that documents the history and work of the RCA in multiple formats and across many decades. The majority of material dates from the post-1896 incarnation of the College, when the National Art Training School at South Kensington became the Royal College of Art, while the archive’s particular strengths lie in the period following the 1948 reorganisation of the College under Robin Darwin. The RCA archive can be used to trace the evolution of courses and developments in art and design education, together with the range of work created by students, and the numerous projects, publications and exhibitions with which the College has been associated.

Manuscript and published material

Published material and grey literature within the archive includes runs of prospectuses (from 1898), exhibition catalogues (from 1937), annual reports (from 1937), governing body reports (including the landmark government reports of 1901, 1911 and 1936), and press cuttings (from 1940s). Other series include documents relating to individual departments, programmes and schools (usually exhibition materials or annual publications), and numerous publications from various College imprints, including Inklings (1971–95) and the Lion and Unicorn Press (1952–84). Student magazines include The Beam (1898), Gallimaufry (1925) and The Mandrake (1926–7), together with complete runs of two series of the RCA Students’ Magazine (1911–15; 1921–4) and ARK (1950–78). Student newsletters (typically more irreverent than formal publications) are also included from different phases of College life, and include Newsheet (two runs, c.1956–62 and c.1967–72), Boo! (1970s), Mews Paper (1970s) and OTR (1980s). Across the decades, the student magazines include articles and artwork by numerous notable alumni, from Austin Osman Spare (attended c.1905) to Pauline Boty (graduated 1961).

Manuscript material includes series relating to the management of ARK and the Lion and Unicorn Press. Numerous other projects and functions of the College represented include the evacuation to Ambleside in the Lake District in the Second World War, the operations of the Junior Common Room Committee (students’ union), and the development of teaching spaces and College buildings.

Photographic material

The substantial series of photographic collections contain over 80,000 images of moments from College history in many different formats, from glass lantern slides to born-digital files. College life is represented through over 5,000 images of, for example, department life, Convocation ceremonies, exhibitions, and interiors in print and slide format. The earliest images include a set of interiors of the College during its incarnation as the National Art Training School in the nineteenth century. Major College projects covered include the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion for the Festival of Britain (1951), the design by RCA staff and students of stained glass windows for Coventry cathedral (1956), re-built after its destruction in the Second World War, and the GraphicsRCA retrospective exhibition (1963). The self-contained Record of Student Work series contains photographs of student work as exhibited in the final-year diploma and degree shows from the 1950s, and contains around 2,000 prints (1950s–70s), 30,000 slides (1950s–2002) and upwards of 50,000 born-digital images (2003–ongoing). The record is comprehensive for many years, and the student work of many notable alumni is included. The Royal College of Art collection has also been photographed in its entirety. Images from the collections have been catalogued and digitised to varying degrees, but much of this work is ongoing or undertaken on demand. Some images may be viewed on the websites of the Visual Arts Data Service and the Public Catalogue Foundation.


Special Collections receives many requests for biographical information relating to former staff and students. In the case of former students, we can usually confirm year of graduation and course followed. Qualitative information about living individuals can only be provided in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998) or with the permission of the data subject. However it is often possible to supply contextual detail drawn from photographs, prospectuses, annual reports and departmental publications.

Royal College of Art: Related Collections

These collections, usually donated by the individuals who acquired them, contain material that overlaps substantially with the formal College archive and reflects different aspects of the RCA’s operations and history.

Kenneth Agnew photographic collection (2 boxes)

Contains visual documentation of many RCA  Industrial Design (Engineering) Research Unit and Department of Design Research projects of the 1960s and 70s and complements the L Bruce Archer archive. In slide and transparency format and arranged by ‘Job Number’ (project code). Images often show prototypes, technical processes and assembly alongside finished products, and include projects ranging from medical equipment for the National Health Service (NHS) to the development of solar panels. Kenneth Agnew’s celebrated re-design of the NHS hospital bed (1963) is well represented. Cataloguing and digitisation in progress.

Peter Byrom papers (1 box) 

Correspondence and memoranda relating to the College’s strategic plans and changes of senior management at the Royal College of Art c. 1981–3, in particular relating to the tenure of Rector Lionel March. Donated by Peter Byrom, Chair of Council, Royal College of Art, 1981–6. Complements the contemporaneous diaries of L Bruce Archer in the L Bruce Archer archive. Inventory available.

Elisabeth Clements and J D McCord papers (2 boxes) 


Photographs and other mementos relating to the RCA in the 1930s from the collection of sculptors Elisabeth Clements (graduated 1933) and J D McCord (graduated 1935), who met while students at the College. Contains various photographs of student life, including the Junior Common Room and Sculpture department huts on Queen’s Gate. Also includes sketchbooks and photograph albums recording the work of both sculptors after their time at the RCA, including Elisabeth Clements’s travel scholarship to Germany in 1934. Inventory available.

Robin Darwin memorabilia (2 boxes)


A collection of the remaining Darwin-related papers in the possession of Sir Robin Darwin’s family and held on deposit by Special Collections. It includes sketchbooks and designs for book jackets by Darwin, some personalia, and many photographs, largely of Darwin’s own paintings. Inventory available. Many other Darwin-authored papers, including letters, articles and speeches, appear throughout the main Royal College of Art archive.

Margery Dennis Hall collection (1 box)


Various photographs collected by alumna Margery Dennis Hall (graduated 1937), depicting RCA student life in the 1930s.

Clifford Hatts collection (1 box)


Articles, memoirs and photographs donated by alumnus Clifford Hatts (graduated 1949). Includes material relating to RCA Theatre Group productions and various photographs. Also includes 16mm films (transferred to DVD) of the 1948 Convocation ceremony along with that year’s graduate exhibition and student revues. Inventory available.

Nick Holland papers (1 box)


A collection of letters, memoranda, ephemera, minutes and student newsletters (Newsheet, 1967–8), principally relating to student unrest at the time the College received its Royal Charter (1967) to attain university status and become a wholly post-graduate institution. The unrest was fuelled by the Academic Board’s failure to raise the status of the qualification offered by the Fashion School to Master’s level, creating a disparity with other courses. Donated by Nicholas (Nick) Holland in November 2009. Holland had been president of the Junior Common Room committee (students’ union) throughout the period. The collection includes letters from Sir Robin Darwin and the then Professor of Fashion Janey Ironside. Inventory available.

Patrick Holliman collection of Design Education Unit papers (1 box)


A collection of RCA papers c. 1984–5, including correspondence and reports mainly generated by the Design Education Unit (DEU) led by Ken Baynes. Collected by Patrick Holliman, employed by the DEU as a resource officer. Includes advocacy documents and studies by Ken Baynes, Janet Daley and Phil Roberts, and publications related to design education. Inventory available.

Gerald Nason collection of ARK magazine and Newsheet papers (1 box)


A set of photocopies of correspondence surrounding the controversial, and ultimately pulped, issue 34 (1963) of RCA student magazine ARK. The largely image-based issue had caused controversy with a range of irreverent and satirical photo-montages, involving Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill, among others, and College management deemed it unfit for public distribution. Gerald Nason was editor at the time and donated copies of the correspondence to the Library in 1990. In 2014, he added a second series to include select issues from the first run of the RCA Newsheet (1956–63), which includes contributions from David Hockney and Pauline Boty, and a photocopy of the original issue 34 of ARK. Inventory available.

W R Lethaby manuscript (1 file)


W R Lethaby’s 11-page manuscript notes for a proposed syllabus when invited to become Professor of Ornament and Design at the Royal College of Art, c. 1901. Contains proposals before appointment and an outline of the prepared syllabus on arrival at the College. Digital copy available. 

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Please note, access to the collections is by appointment only.