Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)CMS
TitleChurch Missionary Society archive
Extent250 linear metres
Thumbnail (Click this image to open a larger image)


DescriptionThe official archive of the Church Mission Society (formerly Church Missionary Society) predominantly comprises the records of the administrative departments at the Society's headquarters in England, including records of the General Secretary's Department; Finance Department; Committee of Correspondence, Group 1 (later 'East Asia'), Group 2 (later 'West Asia') and Group 3 (later 'Africa') Committees and Africa and Asia Departments of the Overseas Division; the Medical, Candidates' and Women's Departments, the Educational Auxiliary and the various departments of the CMS Home Division.

The archives of the administrative departments include committee and sub-committee minutes, administrative files, incoming and outgoing correspondence, letter-books, registers, missionary application papers, ledgers, cash books and other financial records, printed and other materials. Arising from the central administration and running of the Society, they include records relating to CMS policy and direction, the seeking out and training of missionary candidates, the CMS training institutions, the welfare of staff in the UK and overseas; correspondence with government and other administrative and governing bodies in the UK and overseas, with overseas bishops and other missionary societies; papers relating to CMS property, and correspondence with its overseas hospitals and other medical and educational institutions.

The bulk of the records kept by the Overseas Division comprise correspondence to and from each mission area, including original papers and contemporary office copies. The mission correspondence aavailable for research dates from the Society's first work overseas at the beginning of the 19th century to c 1959. During the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, the CMS exercised close supervision and control over its missions and, as a result, the records are both extensive and detailed. The papers include, for example, the detailed journals and Annual Letters which the Society's missionaries were required to provide as an account of their activities. As the work of the missions embraced not just evangelism but also education, medical work, language study and translations, development of local agriculture and industry, the records are a valuable resource for study not only of Church and mission enterprise but a wide range of other topic areas including anthropology, politics, slavery, geography, travel, history of medicine and women's studies.

In addition to the records catalogued by department, there are some additional sequences within the official archive. Most notable are the 'Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society' (incorporating the Society's annual report), 1801-1921/22 continued as the 'Annual Report of the Committee of the Church Missionary Society' 1922-1962; the 'CMS Year Book' issued from 1962 and continuing under the title, 'CMS Directory' from 1981; the typescript volumes issued under three titles General Reviews of the Missions', 'Annual Report' and 'Historical Record' 1919, 1922/23-1986; printed 'Extracts of the Annual Letters of the Missionaries for the year …', 1886-1912 (entitled 'Letters from the Front' 1911-1912). There are also small compilations of records held as the CMS Maps, CMS Plans, CMS Miscellaneous papers, CMS [language] Manuscripts and the CMS Registers of Missionaries. Some of the original copies of the serial publications have been retained by CMS headquarters (now in Oxford) but complete sequences can be seen digitally or on microfilm in Cadbury Research Library and at other subscribing institutions.

The majority of records currently available for research in Cadbury Research Library date from 1799-c 1959. However, material in the public domain, including extensive sequences of periodicals and the CMS printed and typescript annual reports and year books, are available beyond this date.

In addition to the CMS official archive, the CMS Archive in the broader sense (being all those records compiled by CMS and selected for permanent retention), includes a number of deposited and unofficial archives. These include records of organisations which amalgamated with CMS or otherwise passed their records to CMS headquarters (Church of England Zenana Missionary Society; Society for Promoting Female Education in the East; Loochoo Naval Mission; Mid-Africa Ministry; Missionary Leaves Association); an extensive and growing sequence of collections of privately deposited papers relating to the work of the Church Mission Society, both in the UK and through its overseas missions (the Church Missionary Society Unofficial Papers); a collection of theses written about CMS or making extensive use of the records; also, small, miscellaneous compilations of records passed to CMS headquarters by related bodies (papers of several local CMS Associations; Persia Diocesan Association; Sierra Leone Diocesan Association; overseas mission records of overseas churches). The deposited and unofficial archives are catalogued as distinct collections [see under 'Arrangement' and 'Related Material' below].

A small number of books received as part of the CMS archive, but not listed under the records of a particular CMS department, are held as a named collection within Cadbury Research Library's rare books [see under 'Finding Aids' below].
ArrangementFor the purposes of cataloguing, the work of the Society was divided into two - work overseas and work at home (in the British Isles). Two classification systems were used, one for the papers of the Overseas Division and one for all of the other departments of work at CMS headquarters.

The arrangement of the records of the CMS relating to its work within the British Isles is by department. Each department has been allocated a reference letter (for example, C for Candidates, F for Finance, G for General Secretary). The records within each department have then been arranged into a classification scheme according to their creation and use by that department (for example, A for Administration, C for Committee work, with further subdivisions as appropriate).

The papers relating to the work of the Overseas Division are organized into three chronological divisions: 1799-1880; 1880-1934; and 1935-1959. The divisions reflect changes that were made in the method of keeping the correspondence and papers over this time period. There are papers for each department of the Overseas Division divided in to mission series (where papers of each individual mission kept together) and general series (papers relating to more than one mission area). There are also smaller compilations of papers arising from work across the departments.

The unofficial and deposited papers are held and listed separately. When work to enter the numerous volumes of the original paper catalogue to the CMS Archive into the Cadbury Research Library online catalogue was started, the deposited and unofficial collections (including the CEZ, Loochoo, MAM, MLA and FES archives and the 'CMS Unofficial Papers' CMS/ACC) were entered separately rather than under the CMS Archive. This long established practice is being continued as further parts of the catalogue to the CMS Archive are entered online.
Access ConditionsThe majority of this collection is open to all registered researchers but some records are closed in line with closure periods set by CMS and Data Protection regulations. The CMS archives are subject to a 40 year closure period. Annual Letters of missionaries are subject to a 50 year closure period. Where records relating to living individuals are of a sensitive nature, an additional closure period applies such that missionary application papers, for example, are closed for the lifespan of the individual concerned or 105 years.
Finding AidsArchive catalogue: a paper catalogue listing almost all of the contents of the archive to file and item level (in over 30 volumes) is available in Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections. Many, but not all, of these volumes have been entered into the online archive catalogue and so these catalogue entries can also be searched online: click on Finding Number to display a summary contents list and repeat click to open up different levels of the catalogue. Further parts of the catalogue will be made available electronically in due course. See also 'Research Guide' below.

University of Birmingham library catalogue: books received as part of the CMS archive, and not as part of the records of a particular CMS department, are held as a discreet collection within Cadbury Research Library's rare books; they can be searched using FindIt@Bham (shelfmark pre-fixed Cadbury Research Library Church Missionary Society).

Research guides: the paper and online catalogue listings are supplemented by four research guides designed to assist with Frequently Asked Questions about the archive:

1. 'Research Guide: Church Missionary Society': an illustrated, introductory guide to the collection intended for visitors to the Cadbury Research Library. The Guide includes an introduction to the different parts of the wider CMS Archive, summary lists of missions, advice on how to use key record sequences, information about material in the archive which is not listed in either the paper or online copies of the catalogues, options if you are unable to visit the Cadbury Research Library, information about microfilm and online copies, guidance on using the finding aid and tips on using the Archive to look for records about a missionary or a mission. Copies are available in the Cadbury Research Library on paper and online; there is a pdf copy attached to the Document field below. To request a copy in another format, please email or telephone 0121 414 5839.

2. 'Guide to the records of the Candidates Department': electronic (pdf) copy available online attached to the sub-fonds level entry in the online archive catalogue, archive finding number CMS/C.

3. 'Guide to the records of the Medical Department': electronic (pdf) copy available online at-tached to the sub-fonds level entry in the online archive catalogue, archive finding number CMS/M.

4. 'Guide to the committee records compiled by the General Secretary's Department': electronic (pdf) copy available online attached to the sub-fonds level entry in the online archive catalogue, archive finding number CMS/G.

Indexes: a two-part index to printed extracts from missionaries' Annual Letters for 1886-1912 is available in Cadbury Research Library (pdf copies are attached to the 'Document' field below); a name card index complied by CMS is available for consultation in Cadbury Research Library; Cadbury Re-search Library also holds a microfiche copy of a place index to the CMS archive. Further information about the indexes and Annual Letters is available in the 'Research Guide: Church Missionary Society'.

Microfilm and digital copies of CMS records and publications: printed and online guides to records which have been micropublished and digitised by Adam Matthew Digital Ltd are available online and in CMS (Oxford), Cadbury Research Library and other subscribing institutions. See under ‘Copies’ below.
DocumentCMS Research Guide.pdf
Index to printed Annual Letters 1886-1904.pdf
Index to printed Annual Letters 1905-1912.pdf
Access StatusOpen, but subject to some access restrictions
Administrative HistoryIn the late 18th century, the Church of England did not have a body to organise and effect its missionary activity and there became a growing realisation that there was scope for a society to evangelise the indigenous people. In 1799, a group of Evangelical clergymen and laymen (all members of the Eclectic Society, an Anglican discussion society) met at the Castle and Falcon Inn in Aldersgate in the City of London and the 'Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East' was formed. At that meeting, John Venn, rector of Clapham (and a member of the Clapham sect) laid down the guidelines which the CMS continues to follow. The basis was that the society should be loyal to the leadership of bishops and to the Anglican pattern of liturgy but that it was not to be dominated by clergy. It emphasised the role of laymen and laywomen and was and is primarily a membership society comprising its missionaries, its supporters and its staff at headquarters.

The Church Missionary Society (renamed the Church Mission Society in April 1995) is administered by its committees and each Secretary to a main committee is in charge of a department at headquarters. The General Committee (now the General Council) is the most important and is responsible for overall policy and all CMS members are represented on the General Committee. The main departments at headquarters included the General Secretary's Department, the Finance Department (both in existence from the foundation of the Society), the Home Department (set up in 1871), the Medical Department (set up in 1891) and the Candidates Department (set up in 1897). Up to 1880, administration of all overseas mission work was through the Committee of Correspondence. In 1880, the system of mission administration was revised and the mission field was divided into three geographical areas under three Group Sub-Committees (initially named 'Group 1', 'Group 2' and 'Group 3' later 'East Asia', 'West Asia' and 'Africa' committees); from 1957 the missions were administered by the Africa Committee and the Asia Committee.

Initially the Society had no designated offices but in 1813 it rented premises in Salisbury Square which had expanded by the end of the 19th century to house a large headquarters with a complex administration and numerous staff working under eleven Secretaries. The Society moved from the City of London in 1966 to premises in Waterloo Road. After the opening of regional offices in Ghana, Korea and Singapore in 2006, CMS headquarters moved out of London to the current location of Watling Street, Oxford in 2007.

The overseas mission work of the CMS began in West Africa in 1804 but spread rapidly to India, Canada, New Zealand and the area around the Mediterranean. Its main areas of work in Africa have been in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan; in Asia, the CMS's involvement has principally been in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China and Japan; and in the Middle East, it has worked in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. It has also worked extensively in New Zealand (1809-1914) and Canada (1822-1930), with smaller missions in Abyssinia (1830-1842), Asia Minor (Smyrna) (1830-1877), Greece (1830-1875), Madagascar (1863-1874), Malta (1815-1843), Mauritius (1856-1929), Seychelles (1871-1894), South Africa (1840-1843), Turkey (1819-1821), Turkish Arabia (Baghdad, 1883-1919 and Mosul, 1900-1919), and the West Indies (1819-1861).

References: Rosemary Keen, 'The Church Missionary Society Archives: or thirty years work in the basement', Catholic Archives, volume 12, 1992, pp21-31; Church Missionary Society Archive. General Guide and Introduction to the Archive. A Guide to the Microfilm Collection (Adam Matthew Publications, 1998); Henry S. Cobb, 'The archives of the Church Missionary Society', Archives volume II, number 14, 1955.
Custodial HistoryFollowing a long-term contract made between CMS and the University of Birmingham for the gradual transfer on permanent loan of the Church Missionary Society Archive, the first transfer from CMS headquarters in London took place in 1979-1980. This deposit comprised the Africa overseas missions records for the period up to 1934. The second phase of transfer took place in 1986. This comprised the East Asia and West Asia overseas missions records for the period similarly up to 1934. The next major transfer of records from CMS headquarters was completed by 1993 and this included the records of the overseas missions for the period 1935-1949, records of the Finance, Medical and Candidates Departments; together with related archives including the surviving records of the Female Education Society and the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society and the privately deposited archive collection known as the Church Missionary Society Unofficial Papers. An additional deposit of material for 1950-59 was received in 2000.

The CMS has long recognised the value of its archives and first employed an archivist in 1951 in order to make the early mission archives available. The cataloguing work of the archive has been undertaken by CMS archivists, most notably Rosemary Keen and Ken Osborne.
CopiesParts of the CMS archive have been micropublished by Adam Matthew Publications as part of a long term project which started in 1996. They were published in a series of sections with accompanying printed guides which include reel by reel listings of the records which have been microfilmed.
The microfilms are arranged as:
Section I: East Asia Missions
Section II: Missions to Women
Section III: Central Records
Section IV: Africa Missions
Section V: Missions to the Americas
Section VI: Missions to India
Section VII: General Secretary's Papers
Section VIII: Home Papers, Part I
Section IX: Middle East Missions

The microfilms include copies of a large number of pamphlets and periodicals which have been retained by CMS (Oxford) as well as records deposited in Cadbury Research Library. They were filmed as part of Section III: Central Records. For example, Section III: Central Records: part 22 comprises copies of numerous publications held as India Pamphlets, Africa Pamphlets, CMS Printed Publications and Missionary Pamphlets.

Cadbury Research Library holds a complete set of all the microfilms and copies of the printed guides to Sections I-VI. Libraries and other institutions around the world have subscribed to some or all of these sections. The full text of guides to Sections I-IX are also available online through the Adam Matthew at

Where microfilm copies are available, this is indicated in the online catalogue (see 'Copies' under CMS/B; CMS/G and CMS/M) and in the paper handlists (see the list of contents at the front of the handlists). A summary list is available on request, please email

As well as the very extensive microfilm sequences produced by Adam Matthew, the Cadbury Research Library holds microfilm copies of the earliest issues of the 'CMS Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East' 1801-1921 (East Ardsley: E. P. Microform).

In addition to the microfilms, digital copies of selected CMS records and publications are available online through Adam Matthew Digital (, the Internet Archive (, Google Books (, Hathi Trust digital library ( and other sites.

The Adam Matthew Digital website is of particular note. Digital copies of almost all of the materials which were micropublished by Adam Matthew Publications are available online under two titles: 'Research Source - Church Missionary Society Archive' and 'Church Missionary Society Periodicals' (see URL link below). Miscellaneous records from the CMS Archive are also used in other Adam Matthew Digital products including 'Empire Online'.

The digitised copies on the Adam Matthew Digital website are available to members of, and visitors to, subscribing institutions alongside an excellent range of supporting material. Copies on the other sites are freely accessible.

All visitors who have registered for a Cadbury Research Library Reader ticket can access Adam Mathhew Digital products on the public access computers in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room. Staff and students of the University of Birmingham may also access the products when off campus through the University’s eResources (log in through FindIt@Bham and enter a database search),

To find out more about Adam Matthew Digital and to request a free trial, follow the URL links below or go to
Related MaterialCadbury Research Library holds a number of deposited and unofficial archives which form part of the wider CMS Archive:

Church Missionary Society Unofficial Papers (CMS/ACC)
Records of Local CMS Associations (CMS/SOC)
Records of the Persia Diocesan Association (CMS/PDA)
Records of the Sierra Leone Diocesan Association (CMS/SLDA) (NOT HELD BY CADBURY RESEARCH LIBRARY)
Records of Overseas Missions from records of overseas churches (CMS/Q)
Records of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society archive (CEZ)
Records of the Loochoo Naval Mission (L)
Records of the Mid-Africa Ministry (MAM)
Records of the Missionary Leaves Association (MLA)
Records of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (FES)

In addition to collections received as part of the CMS Archive, Cadbury Research Library holds records of the Church Pastoral Aid Society (merged with CYFA Pathfinder Ventures Ltd, 1 May 2010) founded in the Committee Room of the Church Missionary Society in 1836 (finding number: CPAS); records of other overseas mission organisations including the Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society (finding number: MS47), BibleLands (finding number: MS203), the Zambesi Mission (finding number: ZM) and records of the United Mission to Nepal (DA45); records relating to missionary training in the records of St John's College, Nottingham including papers of its predecessor, the London School of Divinity, (finding number: SJC) and Records of St Andrews' Hall (finding number: SAH); papers of missionaries of CMS and other mission societies including, for example, Papers of Constance E. Padwick (finding number: DA33), the Tugwell Collection (finding number: DA44), Papers of Mildred Eleanor Gibbs (finding number: DA17), Papers of David Macdonald Paton (finding number: DA34), Account of a journey made by Archibald Downes-Shaw (finding number: MS12), Papers of Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell and his son Dr John Preston Maxwell (finding number: DA26); Papers of Rev Canon Ernest Walter ('Rufus') Francis, Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society missionary (finding number: MS837); Dr Karl Gutzlaff Collection (finding number: DA19) and more.

As well as the books which were deposited as part of CMS archive, there are many mission related titles in Cadbury Research Library book collections, some written by or about CMS missionaries.
Associated MaterialsThe Church Mission Society retains custody of most of its archives post 1960, together with some other earlier records and extensive collections of printed and published material. These are maintained at CMS headquarters, Watlington Road, Oxford, OX4 6BZ.
The Royal Commonwealth Society Library, Cambridge University (GB 0115) holds a Church Missionary Society Photographic Collection; all of the glass plates from the collection are available online at
Publication NoteThere are a number of published histories of the Church Missionary Society. These include the following official histories which are all available in Cadbury Research Library:

Charles Hole, 'The early history of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East to the end of A.D. 1814' (London: Church Missionary Society, 1896);

Eugene Stock, 'The history of the Church Missionary Society, its environment, its men and its work' in 4 volumes (London: Church Missionary Society, 1899-1916);

Gordon Hewitt, 'The problems of success: a history of the Church Missionary Society, 1910-1942' in 2 volumes (London: published for the Church Missionary Society by SCM Press, 1971-1977).

Open access copies of Hole's and Stock's histories can be found online through the Internet Archive at

Many published work have made significant use of the CMS Archive, including:

'The Church Mission Society and world Christianity, 1799-1999' edited by Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley (Grand Rapids, Mich.; : Cambridge : Eerdmans ; Richmond, Surrey : Curzon Press, 2000);

'Christian Women in Chinese Society: The Anglican Story' edited by Wai Ching Angela Wong and Patricia P. K. Chiu. Sheng Kung Hui: Historical Studies of Anglican Christianity in China series (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018)