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The RSA was founded during the Enlightenment by William Shipley in 1754 with the first meeting being held at Rawthmell’s Coffee House, Covent Garden, London.

Shipley’s belief that the creativity of ideas could enrich social progress was reflected in the diversity of awards offered by the Premium Award Scheme. For the first 100 years the Society encouraged innovation and excellence through this scheme in six areas - Agriculture, Manufacture, Chemistry, Mechanics, Polite Arts, Colonies and Trade.

Our long lasting commitment to education from being one of the first to promote improvement in girl’s education leading to the establishment of Girls’ Public Day Schools and the first public examination system continues today with our growing family of RSA Academy schools.

We also demonstrated a strong commitment to the environment by offering awards for the reduction of smoke emissions as early as 1770, the first recorded use in an environmental context of the word ‘sustainability’ in 1980 and our continued commitment to environmental sustainability reflected in our Great Recovery Programme.

Archive services

Our archive offers a wide range of services from audio files of recorded events to RSA House tours and archive viewings.

Audio Archive

Audio Archive

Our events are recorded and the event audio files are available on our Discovery web page for up to two years. After this period they are deposited with the British Library Sound Archive and may be consulted there through the Library’s Listening and Viewing Service. This service is free but you may need to make an appointment. The RSA and British Library cannot provide copies of unpublished recordings to third parties unless the person or institution requesting a copy obtains written permission from all recorded speakers.

British Library Sound Archive

Latest from the RSA Archive


RSA Founder commemorated with green plaque in Covent Garden, London.

On Wednesday 6th April 2016 a green plaque was unveiled dedicated to William Shipley, our founder, to commemorate the tercentenary of his birth and the site of our first meeting at Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.

The commemorative plaques scheme, which is now a common sight across the UK, was initiatied by the Society with the first of 36 plaques erected in 1867 at Lord Byron's birthplace. 

Book on the RSA's historic murals wins the William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History 2015!

Book on the RSA's historic murals wins the William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History 2015!

James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning a New Public Art by William L. Pressly

Between 1777 and 1784, the Irish artist James Barry executed six murals for the Great Room of the [Royal] Society of Arts in London.  Although his works form the most impressive series of history paintings in Great Britain, they remain one of the British art world’s best kept secrets. William L. Pressly’s book James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts is the first to offer an in-depth analysis of these remarkable paintings.

Get a 20% discount using the promotional code RSA when you order your copy of the book from the Cork University Press.

Order now

Useful links


Online versions of our Transactions and Journals [1783 – 2011] via JSTOR are free to view and download up to 1870. 

Bridgeman images

A selection of images from the RSA are available for licensing through Bridgeman Images.

Art UK

Visit the RSA's page at Art UK, showcasing the UK’s national collection of over 200,000 oil paintings.

Discovery - The National Archive



Established in 1850 to continue the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851 initiated by Prince Albert and the Society of Arts. 



The national Explore Your Archive campaign’s aim is to raise awareness of archives, their value to society and their impact.

Raising awareness is not the only aim of the RSA Archive; we want more people to understand and value our specialist archive, to reach and engage with a more diverse audience and also strengthen our relationships with current archive users.

Explore your Archive project



We welcome enquiries by telephone, letter or email.

Enquiries that take less than half an hour, are free of charge. Complex or more extensive enquiries that take up to an hour are charged at a rate of £5 per 10 minutes for non Fellows.

Alternatively an appointment to visit the archive to undertake your own research can be arranged.

Please see below for contact details.

Archive Visits

We're pleased to welcome visitors to the archive.

The RSA Archive is maintained in three secure and environmentally controlled strong rooms which protect against atmospheric changes, fire and theft.

Public access is available, by appointment only, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9.30am to 4.00pm in the archive area located in the RSA Library.

There is no charge for this service, but we do require at least 48 hours prior notice.

Download the RSA Archive Access Policy (PDF)  


We're pleased to welcome visitors to the House our home for 240 years and counting!

If you would like to arrange a weekday individual or group tour of the RSA House built by the Adam brothers and completed in 1774, ­please contact the Head of Archive.

Eve Watson

Eve Watson

Head of Archive


Contact the RSA Archive

You can reach us by post at 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ, or by phone on tel: +44 (0)20 7451 6885.

Alternatively, Eve Watson, our Head of Archive will be pleased to answer your enquiries.



Email the RSA archive