About our archive collections

Archive cataloguing project

Although the majority of our holdings are catalogued we are gradually re-cataloguing our archive to international standards. You will be able to recognise a new catalogue entry because it will have an archive reference code  which is described in more detail below. Please be aware that the re-cataloguing process will take a long time and at this point only a small portion of the archive collection has been completed. You will still be able to find archive materials through a standard keyword search in our online catalogue if they don’t yet have an archive reference code.

New archive classification scheme 

Our archive records are now being catalogued hierarchically and their place in the hierarchy is defined by the original purpose or reason for which they were created. It can appear complicated but it allows us to create unique reference numbers of everything we catalogue which clearly show the relation of an individual item or file to the rest of the archive collection.

The Fonds represents the complete archive collection of an institution so in the NMA we have two - the Met Office collection and the Royal Meteorological Society collection each of which has a separate Fonds. Beneath these Fonds sit the various main series which describe the key activities of the organisation in question at a very high level and under these come a number of sub-series which delve down in more detail in to individual activities. Below these sub-series we find the individual records (these can be single things or bundles of documents) which are called either ‘items’ or ‘files’ depending on their specific nature.

These different levels create the archive reference numbers that we use to catalogue and find our materials and each layer is separated by a forwards slash ‘/ ‘. So, for example, the Archive Reference number MET/2/4/2/3/a/1/6  (which is actually the reference code for a folder of Sea Ice charts for July – December 1968) is created by moving down the hierarchy in the following way:

MET – Fonds – Met Office
     2 – Series – Functions
           4 – Sub-Series – Data
                 2 – Sub-Series – Data Display
                        3 – Sub-Series – Charts
                              a – Sub-Series – Sea Ice Charts
                                    1 – Sub-Series – North Atlantic Sea Ice Charts
                                           6 – File – Sea Ice Charts July 1968 – December 1968

The following classification scheme provides a summary of the main series and sub-series in our archive collectiions. You can search on the archive reference numbers in our online catalogue.

A guide to understanding and using our data collections

The Met Office archive collections hold a vast range of historical weather information. You can use and understand many of the types of record held in our collections without extensive meteorological knowledge or an expert on hand to help you but they can seem complicated because of the specialised terminology that is used. There are a number of standard record formats which you will find in all of our collections and some of these are easier to use and understand than others.

We have produced a guide to our data collections which is is intended to help you understand what each of these record types is, decide which records would be most useful to you for the research you want to carry out and discover what you need to do next in order to see the records themselves. Images of different record types have been included to help you understand what you might expect to see. Guide to NMLA Data Collections

Examples of what we hold in our archive collection

  • The original Beaufort Scale.

  • Weather reports for the UK, every day from 3 September 1860 to the present. 

  • Weather reports from around the world.

  • The great early writings on meteorology from such pioneers as Aristotle to Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon and Luke Howard, in our collection of historical meteorological literature maintained in co-operation with the Royal Meteorological Society.

  • Marine weather logbooks - worldwide records from merchant and Royal Navy ships, including those from historic voyages such as of the HMS Prince of Wales when she attacked the Bismarck in WW2.

  • Registers of meteorological observations and autographic records for approximately 1,000 sites - dating back to the mid-19th century. These cover temperature, wind, rainfall, solar radiation, snow and sunshine.

  • Upper-air data from radiosonde and pilot-balloon ascents.

  • The earliest weather diary is from Rye (Sussex) for 1730-33.

  • Historic images.