| The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 is one of only two permanent Royal Commissions, the other being the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. Despite its title, the records of the 1851 Commission are owned by the Commission and are not public records, i.e. not subject to the provisions of the Public Records Acts.
The Commission appointed its first archivist in 1988, before which the archive was maintained largely by the Secretary, Assistant Secretary and office staff, with a 'general' card catalogue for a finding aid. The archive is impressively complete considering a number of changes in the Commission's premises since 1851. Its longest tenure has been at 1 Lowther Gardens, which was occupied from 1920 until the move to accommodation within Imperial College in 1986, and it is evident it was in the years immediately following the move to Lowther Gardens (from Victoria Street) that a numbering system for the archive was devised by the Secretary Evelyn Shaw.
This system has been largely preserved for the present catalogue but it has been necessary to add sub-sections (e.g. in sections 4 and 10) to take account of the increased committee activities of the Commission, in particular with regard to the award of new schemes of Fellowships and Studentships. Unused numbers from the original system are occasionally taken up by other developments.
Records not assigned numbers in Evelyn Shaw's scheme have been separately listed A-I. These include correspondence from 1849 to 1855 on the Great Exhibition and its aftermath, maps and plans, publications, photographs and collections on permanent loan.