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.

By virtue of being the national capital and for many years the administrative centre for the British Empire, London’s archive collections and historical interest groups touch on interests local, national and right across the globe.

Download our London for Researchers guide.

Central and local government collections

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.

Governance of London has always been divided between lots of administrative bodies, many of which have left historical records of the office and of the citizens they served. London Metropolitan Archives holds the records of the Capital’s different administrative bodies including the City of London. It also holds Church of England parish registers, probate records, poor law papers, education, taxation and civil administration records of Greater London and the City of London.  It also holds records of many London businesses.

Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre holds the records of the London Borough of Bexley including council minutes, parish, school and business records.

Bromley Local Studies and Archives holds the records of the London Borough of Bromley including council minutes, parish, school and business records.

Croydon Local Studies and Archives holds records that are of value in the study of the past, present and future of Croydon.

Greenwich Heritage Centre holds a collection of documents and books, photographs and maps, and prints and drawings relating to the Royal Borough of Greenwich dating from 1387.

Hounslow Library Local Studies Service collects documents, material and images relating to the places and parishes that make up the modern London Borough of Hounslow.

Kensington and Chelsea Libraries holds material on the history of both Kensington and Chelsea, including books, maps, press cuttings, illustrations, census returns, electoral registers, manuscripts, ephemera and other archive material

Kingston Museum Heritage Service holds the Royal Borough’s archives dating from 1208 and includes local books and directories, maps, newspapers, photographs and paintings of historic Kingston, New Malden and Surbiton.

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham: Archive and Local Studies Service holds the records of local government and includes books, maps and photographs.

London Borough of Hackney holds the records of the borough council and its predecessors back to 1700, original records of local organisations and individuals, as well as photographs, maps, newspapers

London Borough of Hillingdon Local Studies and Archives holds archives from the twelfth century Market Charter for Uxbridge to the of the Middlesex Show of the 1990s.

London Borough of Islington holds approximately 100,000 items on the history of the borough from Anglo-Saxon village to major urban area.

London Borough of Sutton Archives and Local Studies holds records of local authority and its predecessor including committee minutes, rate books, school records, overseers of the poor volumes and vestry minutes from the 14th century.

Parliamentary Archives holds the records of both Houses of Parliament, other Parliamentary Collections, Private Papers, records about the Palace of Westminster.

Richmond Local Studies includes the archives of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, covering Barnes, East Sheen, Ham, Hampton, Hampton Hill, Hampton Wick, Kew, Mortlake, Petersham, Richmond, Teddington, Twickenham and Whitton.

Southwark Local History Library Southwark’s range of historical experience is a story vividly told through surviving historical documents. We have gathered these documents and other historical sources at Southwark Local History Library. The library also holds information on changes in Southwark today.

Surrey Heritage, Surrey History Centre collects and rescues archives and printed materials relating to Surrey’s past and present, so that they can tell the story of the county and its people to future generations.

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives has holdings of records of the borough and its predecessors dating from the 16th century and relating to local institutions, places of worship and schools, and businesses.

Wandsworth Heritage Service records of the historic civil parishes of the borough: Battersea, Clapham, Putney, Streatham, Tooting and Wandsworth; the Wandsworth District Board of Works; local organisations; some private papers; and photographs.

Westminster City Archives holds extensive collections relating to family, local, business and community history including books, pamphlets, directories, newspapers, journals, maps & plans, prints, drawings & photographs, local government records from 1460, electoral registers, census returns, parish registers, and business archives.

Specialist collections and historical groups

By virtue of being the national capital and for many years the administrative centre for the British Empire, London’s archive collections and historical interest groups touch on interests local, national and right across the globe.

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum holds the records of Bethlem, the Maudsley and Warlingham Park Hospitals including photographs, patient and staff records covering a period from 1553 to 2009.

Bishopsgate Foundation and Institute holds records relating to radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

Black Cultural Archives holds records relating to the Black community in Britain including personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs and artefacts.

British Library includes manuscripts, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music records, patents, maps and drawings.  It also holds the records of the India Office containing documents of the British administration in India up to 1947.

The Brixton Society works to make Brixton a better place to live and work in, and give local people a voice in what happens to their surroundings, with a keen interest in history.

BT Archives holds the records of British Telelcommunications plc and its predecessors from the early part of the nineteenth century up to the present day.

Camden History Society is the local historical society in the London Borough of Camden.

Centre for Metropolitan History promotes the study and wide appreciation of London’s character and development from its beginnings to the present day.

The Clothworkers’ Company preserves and makes available for research the historic records of The Clothworkers’ Company from its foundation in 1528 to the present day.

Federation of Family History Societies supports, informs and advises their membership, which consists of family history societies and similar bodies across the world

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust contains documents, photographs and artefacts spanning the hospital’s 160-year history.

Imperial War Museum, Documents and Sound Section documents cover a wealth of personal experience and testimony, both British and foreign, as well official records.

Institute of Education holds collections of archive materials ranging in date from 1797 to the present day. These archives are intended to reflect the broadest possible range of issues and concerns surrounding teaching in past, present and future societies

London Transport Museum collects items that reflect all aspects of the history of public transport in London from 1800 to the present day.

Museum of London tells the story of the world’s greatest city and its people, its archives include the records of the Port of London Authority and Sainsbury’s.

National Maritime Museum has the largest and most important dedicated archive for the study of maritime history in the world covering all aspects of British seafaring history from the 14th to the 20th centuries

Natural History Museum holds the Museum’s organisational archive covering the history, development and work of the Museum and its staff, including photographs and Tring Museum correspondence.

The Rothschild Archives reflects the many facets of the Rothschild family’s history and the major contribution it has made to the economic, political and social history of many countries throughout the world.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew The Archives contain the official records of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the papers of many botanists, gardeners and other individuals.

Royal College of Surgeons of England holds both institutional records and other deposited collections providing a unique resource illustrating the development of surgery and the surgical profession.

Society of Genealogists a unique combination of research material, guidance and support for those interested in family history.

University of Westminster collects, preserves, and provides access to records created by staff and students of the University and its predecessors.

Westminster Abbey Muniment Room and Library has a collection of manuscripts from the 10th century to the present day including accounts and court records of the Abbey’s landed estate and those of various administrative officials,  also includes minutes of Chapter meetings, leases of Abbey property, some records of coronations and funerals, letters, coroners’ inquests for the City of Westminster 1760-1880

Westminster School holds records of the school’s activities, administration and alumni, predominately dating from the 1868 split from Westminster Abbey.

Cross-collection catalogues and collection descriptions

Discovery - search more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country with over 9 million records available for download.

Aim25 - search collection level descriptions of the archives of over one hundred higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and livery companies within the greater London area

Archives hub - search across descriptions of archives from over 1,000 years of history, held at over 280 institutions across the UK.