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In 2018, Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain in partnership with the Borthwick Institute for Archives began a three year project to catalogue, preserve, and open up its archive which holds material dating back to the very beginning of the British Fellowship in 1946. Spanning the entirety of its 75 years, the archive material comprises over 446.15 cubic feet and 6 GB of digital records.

The archive’s online catalogue can be found here:

Further information about accessing material in the AA GB Archive can be found here.

Bob and Bill 1935-1946

Origins in North America and the Big Book - 1935-1946

Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between a New York stock broker, Bill W and an Akron surgeon, Dr Bob. Both had been hopeless alcoholics.


Canadian Bob's House

The Message Spreads to Great Britain, 1946-1960

In the mid 1940s, the General Service Office in New York started to receive enquiries from alcoholics in Great Britain eager to know more about AA’s Twelve Step programme of recovery. Aware of the interest in Britain, American member Grace Oursler, a writer and contemporary of F Scott Fitzgerald, was inspired to organise a meeting while on a trip to London. The meeting, which took place in Oursler’s suite at the Dorchester Hotel on 30th March 1947, is recognised as the first official AA meeting to take place in Great Britain.

Recognition through Service Warlingham Park Hospital

Recognition through service - 1960-1975

The 1960s and early 1970s was a period of growth and development for the British Fellowship, and it began making inroads within sectors of society hit hardest by alcoholism. The first AA prison meeting took place at Wakefield Prison on 27th December 1957 under the organisation of the Leeds Group. The Wakefield Prison Group served as a test case, to measure the extent with which alcoholic inmates engaged with the Twelve Step programme. The next prison group did not open until 1960 at Barlinnie Prison in Scotland. It was set-up by an AA member who was a journalist for a leading Scottish newspaper and had undertaken research on AA’s success in American prisons. Despite facing obstacles from some wary prison governors and staff, as inmates were transferred around the country the AA message started to spread and groups began to flourish.

Newspaper headlines

Adaption and evolution - 1975-1990

In 1975, AA GB in England and Wales underwent a significant restructure with the introduction of regionalisation. The Tenth General Service Conference that year agreed that regionalisation was desirable because of the benefits which accrue to the Fellowship as a whole in the fulfilment of its Primary Purpose. The consensus of opinion was that because of rapid growth there was a need for additional structure between intergroup and Conference. The 12th General Service Conference in 1977 saw for the first time representation at Conference by a Region – the Southern Region comprising five intergroups.

Young People in AA

Reaching out - 1990-2006

In 1991, AA’s internal survey showed that the number of groups and membership numbers had doubled, with female members now making up a third of the British Fellowship. In the early part of the decade, AA adopted new techniques and technology to attract new members. An AA film aimed at younger alcoholics titled ‘Message to Young People’ was released in 1992. The following year, the first online AA group was founded by forward thinking members of the Glasgow group. In 1994, steps started to be made towards consolidating the local AA helpline numbers into one national 0845 number.

Archive Cataloguing Project

Just for Today, 2010-2021

The end of 2012 saw the launch of Alcoholics Anonymous Awareness Month in a bid to boost both AA’s profile, and increase public understanding of less known or more ‘socially acceptable’ drinking habits which could be indicative of alcoholism. November was chosen to coincide with the British alcohol abuse charity Alcohol Change UK’s flagship awareness program Alcohol Awareness Week.