On the Record at The National Archives

The National Archives

With the help of historians and record experts at The National Archives, we are going to use personnel files, secret government reports, and declassified correspondence to uncover the true stories.

S01 Trailer: Spies
Trailer 2 min 16 sec

All Episodes

There are over 900 years of immigration records available for research here at The National Archives. Over the next three episodes, we’re exploring the rich history of migration in the 20th century. This first episode begins with the story of an English woman who loses her citizenship because of who she chooses to marry, and a British citizen arrested because of his country of birth. Then, we uncover the lesser-told story of people leaving Britain for a better life. For a transcript and information about the documents used in this episode visit our show notes. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. Visit: smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Nov 26

35 min 4 sec

There are over 900 years of immigration records available for research here at The National Archives. In our latest three-part podcast series, we’re exploring the rich history of migration in the 20th century.   This series focuses on three major Acts that highlight shifts in policy around migration and citizenship over the past 100 years. We feature the profound and lasting impact of migration for citizens and non-citizens alike throughout Britain, its Empire, and the Commonwealth. 

Nov 22

2 min 16 sec

In the aftermath of war and pandemic, approximately 8.5 million householders in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man completed the 1921 census. In this episode, we’re exploring the enormous digitisation project undertaken by Findmypast and asking our family history specialists what to expect when we get to see the census in early 2022.  For show notes visit: https://bit.ly/1921Census  For more information visit: nationalarchives.gov.uk/census  Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit: https://smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Oct 27

49 min 56 sec

In the 1940s, the British government discovered the power of film to inform, promote, and persuade the public, and they created the Central Office of Information to create strategic media campaigns on all kinds of subjects. In this episode, we’re silencing our phones, dimming the lights, and digging into 65 years of informative, odd, sad, scary, and funny COI films. If you think public information films were all dry and boring, then prepare to have your mind thoroughly changed. This podcast is being released as part of the #COI75 anniversary celebrations, where The National Archives has joined with the BFI, and Imperial War Museums (IWM) to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the COI. For more information about the films used and a transcript visit: https://bit.ly/GovMovies Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit: smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/  

Aug 19

1 hr 1 min

In the 1940s, the British government discovered the power of film to inform, promote, and persuade the public, and created the Central Office of Information. In this episode, we’re silencing our phones, dimming the lights, and digging into 65 years of informative, odd, sad, scary, and funny public information films.

Aug 16

2 min 13 sec

On 30 June 1922 the Public Record Office of Ireland was destroyed by fire in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War. Historians have long considered the 700 years of records that the building contained as tragically lost to history. In this special podcast episode we explore how nearly 100 years later five core archival partners are collaborating on the Beyond 2022 project to virtually reconstruct the building and its contents by hunting for replacement documents around the world and using ground breaking technology. For a transcript and information about the documents used visit: https://bit.ly/IrelandLostArchive For more information about Beyond 2022 take a look at the project's website: https://beyond2022.ie/ Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/ 

Jun 24

59 min

On 30 June 1922 the Public Record Office of Ireland was destroyed by fire in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War. Historians have long considered the 700 years of records that the building contained as tragically lost to history. This special podcast episode explores how nearly 100 years later five core archival partners are collaborating on the Beyond 2022 project to create a virtual reconstruction of the building and its contents by hunting for replacement documents around the world and using ground breaking technology.

Jun 21

2 min 16 sec

In the final episode of this series on our most intriguing and significant trial records, we’re taking a closer look at the evidence. First, we examine pieces of courtroom evidence like a red suit seized from a LGBTQ+ space in the 1930s and the calling card that led to Oscar Wilde’s downfall. Then, we explore how our trial records preserve evidence of everyday life in the past that would otherwise be lost to history.  For a transcript and information about the documents used in this episode visit our show notes. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. Visit: smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

May 6

30 min 56 sec

In the second episode in our mini-series on trial records, we look at the long and colourful history of trial by jury. First, we hear about the sensational Victorian case of two sailors who resorted to cannibalism after being stranded on the high seas. Then a barrister and historian explains the origins of trial by jury, how juries have evolved over 600 years, and why it’s so important to understand their history.   For a transcript and information about the documents used in this episode visit our show notes. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. Visit: smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Apr 22

32 min 23 sec

In the first installment of a three-part series on our trial records, we’re examining the history of trials by ordeal and combat. This episode has witch trials, defamation lawsuits from accused witches, myth-busting, strong-men for hire, Irish landowners fighting to the death in a castle, and some facts about duels. Tune in to hear stories and historical insights that can only be found in the documents preserved at The National Archives.  For a transcript and information about the documents used in this episode visit our show notes. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. Visit: smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Apr 8

34 min 3 sec

In our latest three-part podcast series, we are exploring stories from our collection which tell the history of trials, from witch trials and trial by combat to today’s legal system. In the series you’ll hear about a famous cannibalism case as well as legal evidence preserved in our archives which reveal LGBTQ+ spaces otherwise lost to history. You’ll also hear about how archives themselves are evidence of the past.

Apr 6

2 min 1 sec

Over the last 600 years, Britain has faced its fair share of public health crises. In this episode, we are investigating four deadly pandemics and epidemics that changed life in the UK: the Black Death, cholera, the 1918 influenza, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Hear unique insights and stories from our records and learn about the long history of public health responses in Britain. How did outbreaks from the past affect real people and how did they change Britain? Find out more: https://bit.ly/3bj9r8f Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: C 54/185 m.20d; C 74/1 m.18; CAB 24/71/8; E 163/22/2/60; FO 383/398; HO 44/25; MH 13/47/207; MH 13/53; MUN 4/3702; PC 1/109; PREM 19/1863  Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/ 

Feb 18

1 hr 2 min

Over the centuries, Britain has faced its fair share of public health crises and recently we have seen an increase in interest in our records about them. As we near the one year mark since the first UK lockdown due to COVID-19, we’ve made a special bonus episode to investigate four stories of epidemics and outbreaks from 600 years of British history.

Feb 15

1 min 56 sec

Illustrator Louis Wain changed the way we think about cats and dedicated his life to improving their welfare. Richard Whittington is the real man behind the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat, and his 15th century charity helped ensure that St. Bart’s hospital in London would survive for another 600 years. Brave young Nellie Spindler lied about her age in order to serve as a frontline nurse in the First World War before her tragic death. In our final episode on heroic deeds, we tell their stories. Documents: C 66/434; COPY 1/221 (314); COPY 1/229A (187); COPY 1/243(i) (173); COPY 1/280 (327); PRO 30/69/1491; PROB 11/3/468; PROB 11/10/229; SC 8/25/1235; SC 8/26/1255; SC 8/121; WO 95/345/2; WO 399/7850. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/ 

Nov 2020

41 min 5 sec

A British spy named Pearl jumps from a plane under cover of night. A Thai shopkeeper named Boonpong decides to risk everything for strangers from the other side of the world. A knight named George defies a Roman Emperor and kills a dragon. In this episode, we’re sharing three stories of individuals whose bravery and heroic deeds made a big impact on British history during times of war. Documents from The National Archives used in this episode:  C 66/234; E 42/479; E 101/496/17; E 315/91; HS 9/355/2, HS 9/356; WO 325/35; WO 361/1701 Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Nov 2020

44 min 31 sec

In 1921, W.E.B. Du Bois (the African American thinker and NAACP co-founder) sent a letter to Winston Churchill with a rather interesting request. A closer look at this letter illuminates the Pan-African and anti-colonial activism of the inter-war period and Du Bois’ interest in London as a site for Black leaders from around the world to gather. Then, a design registration record from the Victorian era asks the question, “Can design improve health?” We follow the paper trail of a 19th century doctor who believed it could. Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: BT 45/5/950; BT 45/5/973; CO 323/878; MH 13/196/81 Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Oct 2020

39 min 35 sec

In this three-part series we’re exploring stories in our collection with the theme of heroic deeds. As our long-time listeners will know, we like to go off the beaten path when it comes to telling the thousands of stories preserved in our national documents, so in these episodes, you’ll hear about spies parachuting into enemy territories and knights slaying dragons, but you’ll also hear about health inspectors trying to improve the living conditions of poor Londoners and leaders using their skills to organise for change. Anyone can do something heroic, make the choice to help even when it’s dangerous, or act to challenge injustice. So in this series you’ll hear famous names alongside those of everyday people from history who made a difference.

Oct 2020

2 min 42 sec

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” That iconic Churchill line has framed our remembrance of the Battle of Britain for 80 years. But it’s also been said that the few were supported by the many. In this episode, we’ve joined forces with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force Museum to commemorate the few and the many by telling lesser-known stories from the summer of Britain’s great defence of our skies. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! Visit smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Sep 2020

43 min 35 sec

To mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain we have joined forces with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force Museum to share some lesser-known stories of Britain’s great defence of our skies.

Sep 2020

2 min 9 sec

Refugee Week is an annual event that celebrates the contributions of refugees to Britain. Many refugee stories have found their way onto our repository shelves. In this special episode, we’re sharing just a few of them. We’re also going beyond the documents, as two of our records specialists interview their own parents about their refugee experiences and connect those stories to the documents we hold.   Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: DO 142/416; ED 128/66; MH 8/9; MH 37/322 Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Jun 2020

55 min 14 sec

To mark Refugee Week we are sharing just a few refugee stories from our vast collection. In a special episode we will also be going beyond the documents, as two of our records specialists interview their own parents about their refugee experiences.

Jun 2020

1 min 51 sec

In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England to be with the woman he loved. It’s widely considered to be one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century. But is it really? A century earlier, an elderly pauper named Daniel Rush and his wife faced a terrible choice: enter the workhouse and be separated after 49 years of marriage or try to survive without any income or family for support. Who made the greater sacrifice for love, the king or the pauper? In this episode, we try to answer that question.   Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: MH 12/6846; PC 11/1; TS 22/1/1; TS 22/1/2 Daniel Rush's letter read by Adrian McLoughlin, recorded by Digital Drama Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

May 2020

40 min 8 sec

In 1588, Queen Elizabeth received a letter from her friend the Earl of Leicester just a few days before he died. She kept the letter by her bed for the next 15 years. In 1919, a Jamaican sailor named James Gillespie was forced to leave Cardiff after the Race Riots. Faced with the prospect of returning to Jamaica without his wife and child, he wrote to the Home Office, asking for help. These letters reveal two very different love stories nevertheless joined together by the theme of love divided.   Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: CO 318/350/400; SP 12/215. Earl of Leicester's letter read by Sean Patterson, James Gillespie's letter read by Daniel Norford. Recorded by Digital Drama. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

May 2020

35 min 21 sec

A love struck medieval clerk writing out romantic lyrics as he daydreams, a gay man in the 1930s who tears up a letter to his lover to hide it from the police, two women who defy 18th century conventions to marry in secret...these are some of the characters you’ll meet in this episode, which features three stories of disappointed and forbidden love. Each story comes from a real love letter in The National Archives’ collection, and if you think a government archive can’t be romantic, these documents and their powerful stories may very well change your mind. Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: DPP 2/224; E 163/22/1/1; PROB 10/6000. Listeners, we need your help to make this podcast better! We need to know a bit more about you and what themes you’re interested in. You can share this information with us by visiting smartsurvey.co.uk/s/ontherecord/

Apr 2020

38 min 57 sec

With Love. In our latest mini-series we’re re-reading famous love letters preserved in our archives and reading between the lines of less obviously romantic records to discover the love-stories of everyday people from the last 500 years.

Apr 2020

2 min 13 sec

In 1965, Britain passed the Race Relations Act, which made it illegal to refuse service on the basis of race. To some, it looked like progress, while some anti-racist activists were critical. In this episode, we’re going to examine two stories of Black people in 1960s and 70s Britain using the legal system to fight racism and discrimination. Lorne Horsford used the protections of the Race Relations Act to make his case. The Mangrove Nine turned the courtroom into a platform for protesting the institutional racism that flourished outside the mandate of the Act. Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: CK 2/367; CK 2/690; HO 325/143

Jan 2020

34 min 35 sec

The campaign for women’s suffrage is often characterised by its militant factions and leaders like Emmeline Pankhurst who used bombs and destruction of property to get their message across. That characterisation is accurate, but it’s not the whole story. In fact, militant suffrage actions didn’t begin with the Women’s Social and Political Union...or women at all. In this episode, we explore how a lesser-known male suffrage movement called Chartism advanced the suffrage agenda and how the militant tactics of the women’s suffrage activists fit into a large historical trend.  Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: ASSI 52/212; HO 45/2410; HO 45/10700/236973; ZPER 34/1; ZPER 34/12; ZPER 34/142

Jan 2020

30 min 52 sec

In 1990, a march in protest of the government’s poll tax turned violent as police and marchers clashed. The Poll Tax Riots became one of the most infamous protests in recent British history. But this wasn’t the first time protesters rioted and set fires in London to show their anger at a poll tax. In fact, 600 years earlier, the first mass uprising in English history was prompted by a very similar situation. In this episode, we use the medieval records in our collection to uncover the real story of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. SFX Credit: https://freesound.org/people/duckduckpony/sounds/204046/  Documents from The National Archives used in this episode: C 67/29; JUST 1/400 m.21; KB 9/166/1 m.2; KB 27/482 rex rot. 39d; KB 27/483 rot. 40; KB 27/486 rex rot. 5

Jan 2020

31 min 7 sec

What would you do to change the status quo? In our newest three-part series we're sharing stories of protest. Using the records in our archive, we've pieced together stories of people fighting back against inequality and oppression that span 600 years.

Jan 2020

2 min 4 sec

The Cambridge Five are perhaps the most infamous spy ring of the 20th century. They worked their way into the upper ranks of British Intelligence in order to spy for the Soviets, betraying their country and causing the deaths of dozens of British agents. So why were none of them ever prosecuted? How did they get away with it? In this episode, we use the intelligence records in our archives to illuminate three stories of double agents. Mata Hari was executed for using her seductive powers to spy for the Germans, but where’s the evidence that she was actually a spy? Did the Cambridge Five get a pass because of their elite social status? How did British laws against homosexuality make their own agents vulnerable to Soviet blackmail? These questions and more are answered in the final instalment of our mini-series on spies and espionage in British history.  

May 2019

1 hr 4 min

The exploits of T.E. Lawrence are legendary. Thanks to the famous film Lawrence of Arabia, millions around the world know about his time spying and fighting in the Middle East during the First World War...or at least they think they do. In this episode, we use the records in our collection to debunk the mythology around Lawrence. We also share the lesser known story of Gertrude Bell, another intelligence officer working for the British in Arabia. Some people say Bell is the female Lawrence, but after listening to this episode, you’ll probably agree with us when we say that, actually, Lawrence is the male Gertrude Bell.

May 2019

43 min 32 sec

Right now, as you read this description, a spy is gathering intelligence, reading classified information, and hiding in plain sight. But what do spies actually look like? What do they do? What motivates them to enter such a secretive profession? In this episode, we use the documents in our collection and expert insight to go beyond the popular image of spies, explore the history of intelligence in Britain, and tell the Second World War story of a courageous Muslim woman who defied all expectations in order to carry out a dangerous spy mission in Nazi-occupied territory.

May 2019

35 min 40 sec

History is everywhere in our popular culture. But the truth is harder to find. On the Record is a podcast by The National Archives that takes a closer look at the stories you think you know. At The National Archives, we are the guardians of more than 11 million historical government and public records spanning a thousand years of British history. These original documents hold incredible stories...if you know where to look. Join us for our first three-part series: a closer look at famous spies in British history. With the help of historians and record experts at The National Archives, we are going to use personnel files, secret government reports, and declassified correspondence to uncover the true stories of famous spies from King Alfred the Great to the Cambridge Five.

Apr 2019

2 min 16 sec