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British Isles Free Web Sites: Images and Museums

Selective guide to free web sites about the British Isles organized by broad topics: general and history; images and museums; libraries; literature/language; news; politics, government, and contemporary society.

Images and Museums

Art UK

200,000 artworks from over 3250 British museums and collections.  2nd century to 2018. 

Authorial London Project

From Stanford U.  Use it to explore the literary geography of ca. 1600 London place references in ca. 200 works by 47 authors.  Interactive map and several base maps to choose from where you can browse and search by literary author name, place name, or book title.  Narrow results by genre, form, time period, social class.  Allows readers to examine the City from literary, geographical, and biographical perspectives.  Has a re-usable platform 'Authorial [x]' which allows people to create similar projects for other locations. 

Bombsight: Mapping the WW2 Bomb Census

Bombsight, a project of the British National Archives, allows readers to experience the World War II bombing of London through interactive maps, photographs, and narratives. The landing page has a map of London covered with numbered red dots, each related to the bombing of that particular location. Selecting one of the dots pulls up a short description of the location and the explosive. Readers may then click on "read more" to navigate to a page that includes images related to the area, as well links to people's stories related to the area.

Bridgeman Art Library

This is a commercial site from which researchers purchase the images. But, the collection is large and covers history, literature, places, people, etc.

''With images from over 8,000 collections and more than 29,000 artists, we represent international museums, galleries and artists by providing a central source of fine art for image users.

Founded in 1972, the Bridgeman Art Library works with museums, art galleries and artists to make the best art available for reproduction. The result is an outstanding archive of images drawn from collections throughout the world, all of which are available for licensing.

Every subject, concept, style and medium is represented, from the masterpieces of national museums to the hidden treasures of private collections. Fine art is just one of the sources of images; design, antiques, maps, architecture, furniture, glass, ceramics, anthropological artefacts and many others also feature in the collection.

We aim to make these images accessible for every user; each one has been catalogued with full picture data and key-worded to make searching easy, even for those with little art knowledge. Our website allows you to explore the collection in depth with quick and advanced search facilities. We also provide a full research service whereby our expert researchers can select images to suit your requirements.

Many further images are available offline through our four offices in London, Paris, New York and Berlin and the archive is constantly growing; our team of specialists continue to search the art collections of the world to find new and exciting images for you to use.''

Britain from Above

Features images from the Aerofilms collection, a unique aerial photographic archive of international importance. Includes 1.26 million negatives and more than 2000 photograph albums. Dating from 1919 to 2006, the total collection presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the 20th century. It includes the largest and most significant number of air photographs of Britain taken before 1939. Includes urban, suburban, rural, coastal and industrial scenes, providing important evidence for understanding and managing the built and natural environments. The collection was created by Aerofilms Ltd, a pioneering air survey company set up in 1919 by First World War veterans Francis Lewis Wills and Claude Grahame-White. In addition to Aerofilms’ own imagery, the firm expanded its holdings with the purchase of two smaller collections – AeroPictorial (1934-1960) and Airviews (1947-1991).  It was bought by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), English Heritage (EH), and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) from Blom ASA in 2007.

British Cartoon Archive

British Cartoon Archive is a research center and library of British cartooning located in in the Templeman Library at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Its web site features a catalog with images of over 130,000 cartoons published in the British press, as well as information about the archive, announcements of special events, featured cartoons and cartoonists, teaching aids, and other useful material. The primary draw is the catalog database of images (back to the 1790s), which extends beyond the Archives' own physical collection (back to 1904). Detailed cataloging records. Searching by keyword and date.

British Council

The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations. There is information on studying in the U.K., funding and scholarships, the arts, literature, learning and teaching English, visiting Britain, visas, etc.

British Film Institute

BFI supports British film and TV industries through funding and educational endeavors.  See the Explore Film and TV and Education and Research sections.  Former allows for searching of the BFI National Archive with moving images, stills, posters, ephemera, articles and lists about films.  Education and Research section has a statistical yearbook, exit polls, reports on audience habits and cultural impacts.  The Britain on Film Archive is making available, via its BFI Player, 1,000s of films, preserved, 120 years of British life, many unseen for decades.  Now contains London on Film also.

British Pathé

News and entertainment video film archive. Since the invention of the moving image in the 1890's, British Link to their WWI films.Pathé began recording every aspect of global culture and news, for the cinema. Encompasses one of the world's most prodigious and fascinating documents of the modern age. Fashion trends, warfare, famous faces,  sport, travel, culture, major events all covered.  Especially useful about WWI and WWII. British Pathé is a definitive source for the 20th century in moving images. All 85,000 newsreels, 1896-1976, are now searchable and viewable on YouTube. This equates to 3,500 hours of filmed history.  Link to WWI films.

Brought to Life

Provides access to images of thousands of artifacts and objects from the London-based Science Museum's medical collections.  Historical timeline, essays on key themes such as "birth and death" and "diseases and epidemics."

Burlington Magazine

Launched in 1903 and still published, the Burlington Magazine is the longest running academic art journal in the English language.  This site in Internet Archive offers some early issues online, from 1903-1922.  Includes all text and images (including photos and illustrations in both color and black and white).

Charles Peirce Collection of Social and Political Caricatures and Ballads

The Charles Peirce Collection of Social and Political Caricatures and Ballads brings together a range of fabulous prints published in London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This collection eventually found its way to the American Antiquarian Society.

Courtauld Gallery: Beyond the Label

Presents extended information about selected works and their creators in the collection, beyond what typically fits on an exhibit label.

Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (U.K.)

The DCMS is responsible for [British] Government policy on the arts, sport, the National Lottery, tourism, libraries, museums and galleries, broadcasting, film, the music industry, press freedom and regulation, licensing, gambling and the historic environment. They are also responsible for the listing of historic buildings and scheduling of ancient monuments, the export licensing of cultural goods, the management of the Government Art Collection and for the Royal Parks Agency.

English Heritage

English Heritage, officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Goverment sponsored by the Dept. for Culture, Media and Sport.  They are best known as the steward of over 400 significant historical and archaeological sites.  They maintain a public archive, the English Heritage Archive, formerly known as the National Monuments Record, whose Catalogue includes descriptions of more than a million photographs and documents.  Portico contains in-depth histories of English Heritage sites. Heritage Gateway has national and local records for  England's historic sites and buildings. PastScape is for England's archaeological and architectural heritage.  Heritage Explorer contains image resources for teachers.  Designated Datasets are available for download and can be used with GIS (Geographic Information System); they include data on listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields, World Heritage sites, and protected wreck sites.


A federated search engine across many free and pay full-text sources that pulls together content from European libraries, museums, etc. Europeana enables people to explore the digital resources of Europe's museums, libraries, archives and audio-visual collections. It promotes discovery and networking opportunities in a multilingual space where users can engage, share in and be inspired by the rich diversity of Europe's cultural and scientific heritage.  Ideas and inspiration can be found within the more than 15 million items on Europeana. These objects include images, texts, sounds, and videos.

Fashion Museum

Formerly known as the Museum of Costume, the Fashion Museum is located in Bath, England.  It collects and displays examples of historic and contemporary dress and style.  Focus is on British design and designers.  Exhibitions section is organized chronologically:  past, present, future, with text and photographs.  Can browse the Museum's full library of digitized images.  Simple or advanced searches possible also.

Internet Archives Map of Book Subjects (Images)

In Dec., 2014 there were 2,619,833 images in the books in the collection of e-books in the Internet  Archive's Book Collection.  This link allows you to search for and use the images in these e- books by subject/thematic relationship.

Irish Sheet Music Archives

Based out of Milwaukee, the Ward Irish Music Archives were established in 1992 and is dedicated to the preservation of Irish and Irish-American music in all of its forms. Visitors to this remarkable site can browse over 5,000 pieces of Irish and Irish-American sheet music. While some of these ditties are not in the public domain, the collection can be narrowed down by filtering for only publicly available items. The History section contains a topical history of sheet music from the days of the broadside to the more challenging days of the early 21st century when digital versions became dominant. The Galleries are another great feature, containing additional information about cover artists, composers, and themes. 

Lewis Walpole Library

Contains English caricatures and political satirical prints from the 17th-19th centuries.

London Transport Museum Poster Collection

With over 5,000 posters and 700 original poster artworks, this digital collection from the London Transport Museum is one of the web's finest repositories of Great Britain's public art. There are links to various themes, such as Beyond the City, Entertainment, Events, London's Transport System, Wartime London, and others.

Map of Britain on Film

From the British Film Institute.  Shows settings of hundreds of films in the U.K. and Ireland.  Search by location, by decade, by subjects.  Watch short clips of identified films.  Clips date back to the earliest days of film.  Illustrates both importance of geography in films as well as how film plays a role in constructing and representing space.

Mapping Gothic France

Yes, it has English Gothic also.  France and Great Britain are home to a number of striking examples of gothic architecture built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, including cathedrals and castles. On this website, created by Columbia University art historian and archeology scholar Stephen Murray and Vassar College art professor Andrew Tallon, visitors can explore photographs of these structures and learn more about the history of this architecture. On The Main Map, visitors can explore annotated photographs of structures by geographic pin. Many of these pins included multiple photographs, allowing visitors to examine the exterior and interior of structures in great deal from their own computer. The majority of structures are located in modern France, but this collection also includes a large number of buildings in the United Kingdom. Another way to experience the site is via The Historical Maps and Timeline section, which features an animated map outlining the intersections between the history of France and the construction of these buildings. Meanwhile, visitors with a passion for architecture will enjoy the Comparison feature, which allows visitors to layer a variety of exterior and interior architectural features on different structures. A work in progress, the Stories and Essays section provides more information about Gothic architecture as well as the history of France.

National Art Library

The Art Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum (see V and A Images, below).    Author, title, L.C. subject heading, and keyword searches are possible.  

National Gallery Picture Images [U.K.]

"Welcome to the National Gallery Picture Library. We have created this site primarily for image professionals, allowing access to and rights clearances for images in the National Gallery’s world-famous collection.

* Search the National Gallery’s collection online using simple keyword searches or our specially tailored advanced search facility
* Browse the collection by theme, subject or style
* Create and manage your search results using our light box facility
* Use our online price calculator to quickly and easily obtain quotes for a variety of standard image usages
* Use your credit card or customer account to pay for and download high resolution image files directly from the site

We recommend the use of our new generation of images now available as downloads from this site. You can read more about the technical aspects of our digitisation process, and the files it generates, in Image information. In addition to those digital formats available online, we can supply digital image files on CD to suit your needs. To order material, please complete our Picture Library request form. We have created this website to allow easy viewing, accessing and licensing of our images from wherever you are in the world, but we still like to keep in touch with our clients. Based next door to the Gallery, we are available during normal office hours to respond to queries you may have about our service or images. We recommend you check our FAQs before making direct contact with us, as you may find your answer quicker there."

National Library of Scotland Map Images

Contains 48,000 maps of Scotland dated from 1590-1961.  Includes also some maps from the rest of the British Isles, including 1890s of London.

National Museums of Scotland

Has "Search Our Collections" to browse their database of over 24,000 objects.

National Portrait Gallery: Digital Resources

Collection of almost 200,000 portraits searchable online.  This site has tools to help teachers and visitors better utilize the collections. To search their catalog, click on "Collections" on left side.

National Trust

"We protect historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs. Then we open them up for ever, for everyone.  At the bottom of the page, there is a link to National Trust Images. Near the top of this page, towards the center, there is a "Filter Search."  Clicking there opens up a variety of things one may search for, such as interiors, exteriors, landscapes, portraiture, paintings, etc.

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

The Centre has two complementary purposes: to contribute to the understanding of British art and architecture and to act as a research centre for scholars working in this field.  They have a library of books, periodicals, pamphlets, theses, exhibit and auction catalogs, and an archives, including a photo archive.  They publish British art history works, offer programs, and grants/scholarships to scholars wishing to utilize their facilities and collections.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Home of University of Oxford's ethnographic and archaeological collections.  Virtual exhibits here. 

Quad Royal: British Post War Posters and Graphics

Quad Royal are posters measuring 40" x 50".  These were created for advertising on railroad or Tube (subway) trains.  Useful for studying the evolution/history of graphic design in the mid 20th c.

Repton Flip Book

Humphry Repton was a famous English landscape designer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  We have his works in Special Collections.  His famous "red books" showed customers how to improve the looks of their estates with building and planting alterations.  This web site shows "before and after" views, digitizing some of the images from his famous Red Books. A project done at University of New South Wales in Australia. 

RIBApix: Royal Institute of British Architects

Provides images from the collections of the British Architectural Library at the Royal Institute of British Architects, the world’s most extensive visual archive devoted to architecture. Covers world architecture of all periods together with related subjects such as interior design, landscape, topography, planning, construction and the decorative arts. Many of the images are also of social documentary importance. Search. Browse.  Copyrighted images, but download of low resolution copies may be done for personal use or teaching.  Connection offered to the B.L. Architectural Library catalog, also.

Royal Collection

This link goes to their Picture Library, which is described thusly: "the [U.K.] Royal Collection contains world-famous and historically significant works of art, including paintings and miniatures, drawings and watercolours, prints and photographs, furniture, sculpture, jewellery, porcelain, clocks, and arms and armour. [We] can supply thousands of images across the entire range of the Royal Collection in a variety of formats including digital. team of researchers will respond promptly and efficiently to client requests.  All our images are consistently quality controlled, and we are always happy to discuss projects with clients and make further suggestions.  The online Picture Library currently only shows a proportion of the works that have been photographed.  New additions are frequently being added to the website, but please do not hesitate to contact the Picture Library if you are unable to fulfil your order online."  PLEASE NOTE: THEIR IMAGES ARE NOT FREE. The site contains forms and instructions for ordering.

Royal College of Physicians Museum and Archive Collections

Search RCP collections to uncover a wealth of information on the history of medicine and the RCP.   Near complete records of the RCP's activities for 500 years. Manuscripts and personal papers of eminent physicians. 300 oil and sculptural portraits of physicians and over 5,000 prints and drawing. Silver and decorative art collection. Rare medical instruments and artefacts.

Shared Shelf Commons

SSC is a free online database of digital images, sponsored and hosted by ARTStor, one of MSU LIbraries' paid e-resources (see our Fine Arts Library webpage) working with partners such as university and association art collections, to put up their images on the internet.  Boolean keyword searching with limiting by geography, date, collection, or specialized subject classification.  Uses ARTStor metadata.

Teaching History with 100 Objects

Search by topic, date, place, theme, or select a picture from the home page.  Each object has a brief annotation, as well as categories of additional info: "about", bigger picture, teaching ideas, "for the classroom."  Helps bring history to life.

University of St. Andrews Photographic Archive

St Andrews University Library holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic photography in Scotland, stemming primarily from the fact that St Andrews played a vital role in the development of the photographic process, through the early interest of Sir David Brewster and his friendship with William Henry Fox Talbot. Over 300,000 images. The photographs available on this web site are a cross-section of the whole collection - a sample which will be regularly increased in size until virtually the whole collection will be searchable from remote sites.

 V and A Images [U.K.]

V&A Images is the versatile picture agency of the Victoria and Albert Museum with an ever-expanding collection including the Theatre Collections, Museum of Childhood and the National Art Library.  The Victoria and Albert is one of the world's great museums of design in the western world.

VADS (Visual Arts Data Service)

Digital images and resources for students and scholars of art history and social studies.  The organization is based at University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England.  Image catalogue can be browsed thematically and span a wide range of time and place.  Under Resources also is the Learning Index which can also be browsed to find educational materials on visual materials from its collection.  Collections of note included are Designing Britain: Design Archives at University of Brighton, Imperial War Museum: Posters of Conflict, and Netherlands Decorated Books Collection: London College of Communication. 

Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

Look for published illustrations of Shakespeare's characters, by name.  Look for illustrations by genre (comedy, history, or tragedy).  Or by illustrator/editor (illus. found in books of the period). Or by location (interior or exterior). Or by title of the play.  Or for illus. in preliminary materials (such as title pages of books). Or by act or act header.  Author of site is a faculty member at Univ. of Cardiff.

Welcome Library Images

Over 100,000 high resolution images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements are now freely available from the Welcome Institute for the History of Medicine.The images range from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists. The earliest item is an Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings.






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