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Archive and History

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 girls' 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 illustration of RSA House

Explore the RSA Archive

Explore the RSA Archive

Preserving our past, recording our present and inspiring our future.

The RSA has been committed to enriching society through ideas and action since 1754. The archive's enhanced on-line catalogue is full of information from our 260 year history, including contributions from our members, among them such notables as Dickens, Faraday and Marx. 


Latest from the RSA Archive

William Shipley plaque unveiled

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. 

House Tours, Enquiries & Archive visits



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 get in contact below!


During the House Development the archive service will continue throughout, albeit a restricted service. Please contact the archivist as usual.


We welcome archive 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.

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

Archive visits

Cognitive media

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 with 48 hours notice, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9.30am to 4.00pm.

Arrange a visit, inquiry or tour

The best way to arrange a visit, inquiry or tour is to email us below. You can also reach us by post at 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ, or by phone on tel: +44 (0)20 7451 6885.

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

During the House Development the archive service will continue throughout, albeit a restricted service. Please contact the archivist as usual.


Email the RSA archive

RSA Archive images, artwork and audio

Bridgeman images

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

Audio archive

Our world-famous events are recorded and the event audio files are available on our Discovery web page for up to two years.


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

Art UK

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

Useful links

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.