How to find public works plans
For more than a century the Public Works Department, later the Ministry of Works, constructed the buildings, roads, rails, stations and bridges that New Zealanders worked in and travelled on. We hold a huge collection of these plans, but many are hard to find on Archway. Read on to look at some approaches you can use to find these plans.
Finding original plans
We hold 78,000 original Works plans in the main plan sequence – series 22541. This collection includes a hundred years of works plans. Series 22541 is a good starting point for searching Works plans since they are listed by number. This makes it easy to determine whether a plan is held in this series.
Only plans 1 – 30,000, covering the years 1870 – 1911, have full descriptions in Archway. The plans from 1912 onward are only listed by number, which makes finding the right plan numbers vital.
When searching Archway, use the 'advanced search' for 'records'. Enter 22541 in the ‘series’ field and the plan number in the ‘record #’ field.
To uncover a plan number from 1912 or later there is an index accessible in our Wellington Reading Room. This index, catalogued on Archway as series 6587, consists of 14 microfilm reels ordered by type of plan – bridges, motorways, buildings and others.
Plan numbers can also be found in other places. If you find a reference to a Public Works Department/Ministry of Works plan in a document there is a good chance that the plan will be held by us.
Aperture cards and negatives
The original plans are not a complete set, and it is not the only place to look. While some plans have not survived, we hold a backup set of plans.
Mounted on microfilm aperture cards series 24411 contains images of many original plans. This includes not only the common PWD and MOW plan sequences, but also smaller plan sequences such as the Government Architect (GA) plans. Series 24411 is especially strong in 20th century plans and includes some plans as recent as the 1990's.
The series 24411 aperture cards can be difficult to find. Series 24411 is a big series with various types of records. To search for the aperture cards in Archway set an ‘advanced search’ for ‘records’. Enter 24411 in ‘series’ and the word ‘aperture’ in the keyword field. This will limit your results to a more manageable level.
The aperture cards are listed to box level. This means that searching for specific plan numbers will not usually work. When looking for aperture cards you need to identify the box that contains the right range of numbers.
In addition to the aperture cards there is a set of negatives in series 24411. These negatives include images of plans that aren’t found in either the originals or on the aperture cards. Due to their delicate format, the negatives cannot be ordered and viewed as easily as the originals or aperture cards. However, we can tell you if a plan can be found in the negatives and arrange a copy or viewing for you.
Many original plans found their way into other offices and agencies over the years. Some of these were later transferred to us as part of a different collection.
The research services archivists are always available to help you locate, order and copy Works plans either in the reading room or by email or post. If you have a query and are not able to easily visit us in Wellington, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.