Historical research in London
London’s archive collections cover a vast spectrum of interests and take in the records of national government and worldwide organisations as well as town hall records and the papers of local cycling clubs and the Townswomen’s Guild. Archives relating to almost every aspect of our ancestors’ lives can be found in London. Material reaches from the Domesday Book to primary school logs. London’s archive repositories range from the magnificent National Archives facility at Kew, to one room of local and family archives in North Kensington. Manuscripts of war and peace, of sport and travel, of education and entertainment, of religious worship and political activity are located throughout the Capital.
The largest record repository in London is, appropriately, the National Archives (TNA), situated at Kew in west London. TNA holds the records of national government and related organisations and institutions, from the eleventh century until the latter part of the twentieth century. Arranged by departmental code, the collection covers every major aspect of national government.
London history can be researched at the London Metropolitan Archives, which holds the records of the Capital’s regional administrators, as well as Church of England parish registers, probate records, poor law papers, education, taxation and civil administration records.
Governance of London has always been divided between lots of administrative bodies. Each has left it’s own mark on the Capital’s history and many have left an archive of historical records. The records of the City of London for instance are kept by the Guildhall Library. Here you can find city parish and probate records, livery company papers, business archives, and the written record of the legal administration of the Square Mile. The Lloyds of London collection is here, as are many banking records.
Westminster City Archives hold the records of the ancient City of Westminster, including local taxation papers, parish registers, probate registers, legal records, maps and plans.
By virtue of being the national capital and for many years the administrative centre for the British Empire, London’s archive collections touch on interests right across the globe. The Oriental and India Office Collection at the British Library contains records of the British administration in India up to 1947. These include treaties, civil, military and legal administration sources, trade records, ecclesiastical returns, probate records, service records, and personal and family papers.
The National Archives
London Metropolitan Archives
City of Westminster Archives
Catalogues and collection descriptions:
Access to archives
Archives of interest
Lambeth Archives at the Minet Library
This local authority archive contains many of the usual collections, including maps, photographs, borough records, and newspapers. However, like all London local authority archive repositories, it has several other collections of particular interest to historians not just interested in local history. In Lambeth, London at leisure is a particular focus. At the Minet Library you’ll find the Vauxhall Gardens Collection, Surrey Zoological Gardens papers and manuscripts and cuttings relating to the Crystal Palace after its relocation to Sydenham in 1853.
South London was a centre of theatre and music hall, theatre historians will find playbills and posters relating to Ashley’s Amphitheatre, the Surrey Theatre, the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties, the Empress Theatre in Brixton, Streatham Hill Theatre and the Old Vic.