Major collections

The quality and significance of the documents, photographs and films we preserve have been recognised by both Arts Council England and UNESCO UK.

Historical phone books

We have a near-complete set of phone books for the whole country produced not only by BT, but also by its predecessors including Post Office Telecommunications, the National Telephone Company and other private companies. They date back to 1880, the year after the public telephone service was introduced into Great Britain.

BT's historical phone books from 1880-1984 are available online. Scanned in collaboration with Ancestry.co.uk they are of particular interest to family historians. You can still see copies of the phone books from 1880 to the present in person at the BT Archives.

PDF version of an information sheet on British phone books.

Note: historical copies of the Yellow Pages directory are now available for inspection at the Berkshire Record Office.

Post Office collections

These are our historical records for the telecommunications function of the Post Office and its predecessors. These papers document the development of the telegraph and telephone services up to 1980, and include records of preceding private telegraph and telephone companies taken over by the Post Office dating back to the early part of the 19th century. These are searchable on our online catalogue, on the BT Digital Archives and can be seen in full at the BT Archives.

Private telegraph companies

The collection of records from the private telegraph companies dating back to 1846 are some of the oldest held by BT Archives. This collection includes all the records created and used by the inland private telegraph companies before the network was nationalised under the Post Office in 1870. It also includes some private telegraph companies who operated international services, which were brought under control of the Post Office. This collection has many interesting items including company letter books and plans of the developing telegraph network. These are searchable on our online catalogue, on the BT Digital Archives and can be seen in full at the BT Archives.

PDF version of an information sheet on private telegraph companies.

BT collection

This comprises of records created by the company from 1980 to the present day and are subject to a thirty year closure period.

Visual materials library

This is a collection of historical photographs, video and film of BT and Post Office Telecommunications dating back to the last century. This fascinating body of records includes not just images of old equipment, but views of engineers and telephone operators at work, old vehicles, street furniture and scenes and so forth, including many local views. Copies of films, photographic prints and scanned images can be supplied to order, subject to copyright restrictions.

Historical communications library

We keep a wide selection of printed sources relating to the history of communications, from major scientific breakthroughs and national events to histories of local exchanges and telecommunications pioneers.

Our sources include journals and periodicals, technical and historical works dating back to the 18th century, and external publications and reports.

We also hold a wide selection of BT publications, such as annual reports and staff magazines, many of which are digitised and can be searched electronically in our searchroom.