Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)CMS
TitleChurch Mission 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 of the Society's UK office. 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 departments of the Overseas Division comprise correspondence to and from each mission area, including original papers and contemporary office copies. The mission correspondence available 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 mission partners ('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.

As well as 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 the 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 UK office (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 UK office (referred to as 'headquarters' in the historical records), namely: the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, the Loochoo Naval Mission, the Mid-Africa Ministry and the Missionary Leaves Association. There is an extensive and growing sequence of collections of privately deposited papers relating to the work of the Church Mission Society held as the Church Mission Society Unofficial Papers. There is also a collection of theses written about CMS or making extensive use of the records; small, miscellaneous compilations of records passed to the CMS UK office by related bodies including papers of several local CMS Associations, the Persia Diocesan Association, the Sierra Leone Diocesan Association, and mission records of churches outside the UK. 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].

Very few unpublished photographic records relating to the work of CMS missionaries are held within the official records of the CMS UK Office. Researchers interested in visual records may wish to consult the Society’s illustrated magazines and other printed sources in the records of the CMS Editorial Department (CMS/H/H5) and other departments of the CMS Home Division (the Catalogue to the Papers of the CMS Home Division is not available online but can be forwarded on request). In addition, there are many hundreds of original photographic records relating to CMS missionaries and the countries in which they were working in the privately deposited collections held as the Church Mission Society Unofficial Papers (CMS/ACC); these include prints, negatives, albums, lantern sides, and accompanying papers. Information about photographic records held by institutions other than the Cadbury Research Library, is given in the Research Guide to using the CMS Archive, and in the Associated Material field below.

Please be aware that the records reflect attitudes of the time and include names, words, comments and personal opinions which may be found offensive, racist and derogatory.
ArrangementFor the purposes of cataloguing, the work of the Society was divided into two - work 'overseas' (ie outside the UK) 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 UK office ('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. However, some records are closed in line with closure periods set by CMS and Data Protection regulations and, where available, surrogate copies are made available in place of original documents.

The CMS archives are subject to a 40 year closure period. Annual Letters of missionaries (mission partners) 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.

Where digital and microfilm copies are available, for preservation reasons, these are made available in place of original documents. Further information is given in the 'Copies' field below.
Finding AidsThe 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.

Archive 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. To search those parts of the catalogue that has been entered 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. There is a full list of all parts of the catalogue, indicating which parts can be seen online and which parts are currently available in the form of a paper handlist, in the CMS Research Guide.

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: Using the Church Mission Society Archive': 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 catalogue and other finding aids and tips on using the Archive to look for records about a missionary (now 'mission partner') or a mission. Copies of the Guide 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 Research 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 Mission 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.

The catalogues to the Church Mission Society Archive include terms copied from the records which are offensive and discriminatory. Personal and place names which are transcribed as they appear in the record include names imposed by colonial administrations and settler communities. The language reflects usage at the time the records were written. Historically, archive catalogues did not consistently use quotation marks ("...") to indicate where terms had been taken directly from the records. We are working to revise our finding aids to ensure that they do not make anyone feel excluded or unwelcome, or use prejudicial language, whilst also not removing information which reflects the impact of the past, and the historical context. Work is needed to add current names and context to the catalogue.
DocumentCMS Research Guide.pdf
Index to printed Annual Letters 1886-1904.pdf
Index to printed Annual Letters 1905-1912.pdf
Access StatusPartially closed
Creator NameChurch Mission Society
Administrative HistoryThe Church Mission Society was founded in England in 1799 as a Christian mission organisation with three guiding principles: evangelizing the world, social reform in the UK, and abolition of the Slave Trade. For the founders of the CMS, by evangelizing was meant sharing the knowledge of the Christian Gospel according to the doctrines and principles of the Anglican Church although the first CMS missionaries to be recruited to work outside the UK were German Lutherans.

On the 12 April 1799, a group of 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 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. It was primarily a membership society comprising missionaries, supporters and staff of the CMS UK office ('headquarters').

The CMS was administered by its committees with each Secretary to a main committee being in charge of a department at 'headquarters'. The General Committee (now the General Council) is the most important and responsible for overall policy with all CMS members being represented on the General Committee. Work in the UK was initially shared between the General Secretary's Department, the Finance Department and the Committee of Correspondence. Further departments were established over time including 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 mission work outside the UK ('overseas') 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 no. 1, Group no. 2 and Group no. 3 later 'East Asia', 'West Asia' and 'Africa' committees respectively); from 1957, work outside the UK was supported by the CMS Africa Committee and the Asia Committee.

Initially the Society had no designated offices but in 1813 it rented premises in Salisbury Square, London. By the end of the 19th century, the premises had expanded to house a large UK base ('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, the CMS UK office moved out of London to the current location of Watling Street, Oxford in 2007.

The Society's mission work outside of the UK began in West Africa in 1804. It spread rapidly to India, the area now known as Canada, New Zealand and the area around the Mediterranean.

The 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. CMS has also worked in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. Work in New Zealand dated from 1809-1914 and the area now known as Canada 1822-1930. There were smaller missions in Ethiopia ('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 Caribbean ('West Indies') (1819-1861).

In April 1995, the Society was renamed the 'Church Mission Society'.

References: Rosemary Keen, 'The Church Missionary Society Archives: or thirty years work in the basement', Catholic Archives, volume 12, 1992, pp 21-31; 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 HistoryThe collection was originally held under the title 'Church Missionary Society Archive'. In 2022 this was changed to 'Church Mission Society Archive' to reflect the change of the Society's name and the name used when referring to the archive on the CMS website.
AcquisitionFollowing a long-term contract made between CMS and the University of Birmingham for the gradual transfer on permanent loan of the Church Mission Society Archive, the first transfer from CMS UK office (then in London) took place in 1979-1980.

The first deposit comprised the Africa 'overseas mission series' for the period up to 1934.

The second phase of transfer took place in 1986; this comprised the East Asia and West Asia overseas mission records for the period similarly up to 1934.

The next major transfer of records from CMS UK office was completed by 1993 and this included records of the 'overseas' missions for the period 1935-1949, first deposits of records of the Finance Department, Medical Department 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 known as the Church Mission Society Unofficial Papers.

In 1999, additional records were received further to a decision by CMS to divide all modern records of the Society by decade with an initial closure date of 1959. The material deposited in 1999 comprised records of the Medical Department 1950-1959; Annual Letters 1940-1959 and other records of the Overseas Division 1950-1959; additional records of the Finance Department, c 1870-1959.

Records of the CMS Home Division 1840-1959 were received in 2003, and records of the General Secretary’s Department 1950-1959 in 2007.
CopiesParts of the CMS archive were 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 list of contents at the front of the paper handlists held in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room.

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 digital publisher, Adam Matthew (, the Internet Archive (, Google Books (, Hathi Trust digital library ( and other sites.

The AM (Adam Matthew) 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: 'AM Scholar - Church Missionary Society Archive' (formerly Research Source - Church Missionary Society Archive') and 'Church Missionary Society Periodicals'. Miscellaneous records from the CMS Archive are also used in other Adam Matthew products including 'Empire Online’. Work is underway (2022) to add URL links from the Cadbury Research Library online catalogue to related entries on the Adam Matthew website.

The digitised copies of CMS records and periodicals on the Adam Matthew website are available to members of, and visitors to, subscribing institutions. Copies on the other sites are accessible without subscription.

All visitors who have registered for a Cadbury Research Library Reader ticket can access Adam Matthew online 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 by logging in through FindIt@Bham and entering a database search for 'Church Missionary Society'.

To find out how to arrange access to Adam Matthew digital or microfilm products if you are not a member of the University of Birmingham and not able to visit the Cadbury Research Library, follow the URL links below or go to

To find out about a Cadbury Research Library Adam Matthew Partnership Project which offers 12 researchers, one year of free individual access to the Adam Matthew products: ‘AM Scholar-Church Missionary Society Archive' and 'Church Missionary Society Periodicals', go to the Research, Learning and Teaching page of the Cadbury Research Library website and follow the links under 'Support for remote learners’ at
Related MaterialCadbury Research Library holds a number of deposited and unofficial archives which form part of the wider CMS Archive:

Church Mission 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 the 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 Mission 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)


    Some of our most significant collections