Our historical collections

If you're a researcher, find out about our archives, audio visual collection, historical publications and museum items.

Historical books, parcels and canned food with Red Cross emblem


The archives record the history and activities of the British Red Cross from its foundation in 1870 as the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War.

Early records

Reports are available of relief work carried out during the following wars:

  • Franco-Prussian war 1870-1871
  • Turco-Servian war 1876
  • Russo-Turkish war 1877-1878
  • Zulu war 1879
  • Boer rebellion 1881
  • Egyptian campaign 1884-1885
  • Servo-Bulgarian war 1885-1886
  • rebellion in Rhodesia 1896
  • Turco-Greek war 1897
  • Sudan expedition 1898
  • South African war 1899-1902

Records from the period 1870-1905 include the papers of our first chairman, Colonel Robert Loyd-Lindsay (created Lord Wantage in1885).

In 1905, the organisation was reconstituted under the name of the British Red Cross Society and received its first Royal Charter in 1908. Official records are kept from 1905.

A monthly journal ‘The Red Cross’ was first published in 1914 and has continued under various titles and format to the present day. The first annual report was produced in 1924.

Central Registry files: 1940-1990s

The Central Registry files are the formal administration records which were created at the headquarters of the British Red Cross. The files provide a unique record of the organisation’s work from 1940 to the early 1990s.

The collection includes official papers concerning the Second World War, the peace-time activities of the British Red Cross and the birth of the NHS through the National Health Service Act 1948.

Other papers cover the expansion of overseas branches, disaster relief and major international conflicts including the Korean War and the Falklands War.

There is also information on the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the strategies and long-term plans of the organisation and youth activities in the UK.

Branch formation

County Branches of the Red Cross were established from 1907. Records of Branch activities vary but often include annual reports, minute books and membership information.

Branches were also established in British dependent territories and some records are held, mainly from 1949-1971.

Records of the world wars

During both world wars, the Red Cross combined with the Order of St John to carry out relief work at home and overseas. Information about this work is available in published form. We hold the few surviving records of the Joint War Committee (1914-1919) and the Joint War Organisation (1939-1947).

We hold indexes of personnel from both wars. You can access the entire collection of our First World War personnel cards online.

We also hold records of the peacetime co-operation between the two bodies (Joint Council 1919-1946 and Joint Committee from 1943).

Collections catalogue

You can explore our museum and open archives collections on our online database.

Audio-visual collections


An extensive photograph collection covers work at home and overseas.

We will consider all requests to reproduce images from our museum and archive collections on condition that they adhere to our image reproduction policy. Please contact enquiry@redcross.org.uk for information about our policy.

Film and sound

A small audio-visual collection covers British Red Cross activities mainly from the second half of the 20th century. 

Historical reference library

The library contains British Red Cross publications from its origins to the present day. It also contains selected publications from other parts of the Red Cross Movement, in particular the Bulletin of the International Committee of the Red Cross from 1869.

Museum collection

The museum collection contains many diverse objects which illustrate the work of the British Red Cross in the UK and overseas.

They include:

  • medals and badges both awarded by, and to, members of the organisation
  • Red Cross uniforms and textiles, including pieces made by recovering soldiers and the Changi quilt
  • wheelchairs, stretchers, crates and large objects all used by, or produced by, the British Red Cross
  • medical equipment, including bedpans, first aid kits, illustrated triangular bandages, feeding cups and blood transfusion equipment
  • fundraising material from campaigns during the First and Second World Wars, Red Cross Week and international appeals, collecting tins, stickers and badges
  • posters illustrating international work, UK services, juniors and youth, first aid and appeals, and our links with the wider programmes of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • images of past and present royal patrons, paintings by Doris Zinkeisen who was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee during the Second World War, and artwork representing past campaigns, work overseas and distinguished members of the organisation.

Find out about our current and previous exhibitions.