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Collections Relating to the Built Environment

Tower Hamlets has a long history of trade and industry, migration and change. These key themes have influenced the development of the borough and is reflected through the built environment. The built landscape includes historic and modern buildings. This includes town halls, factories, residential blocks, parks and other open spaces, the northbank of the River Thames and transport systems including canal, railway and road.

We hold over 2,000 maps dating from Elizabethan times to the present day. These include copies of Ordnance Survey maps at a scale of 1:1250 for the Borough of Tower Hamlets. They date from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century, and clearly show individual buildings. We also hold street plans and some early parish and estate maps. Key large-scale maps from earlier dates include:

  • Gascoyne's map of the Parish of Stepney (covering most of present day Tower Hamlets) of 1703
  • Roque's map of London of 1746
  • Horwood's map of London of c. 1795
  • Faden's map of London of c. 1813

For further information about maps, please refer to our Maps User Guide.

Layers of London is a map-based history website where free historic maps of London are accessible. A small selection of maps from our collections is available to view online via Layers of London.

We also have a range of maps for sale.

We hold around 33,000 photographs and illustrations relating to Tower Hamlets. These are arranged in two main series:

  • By location - street / road name
  • By subject

Some photographs date from the 19th century but the bulk of the images date from the 20th century. The photographs can be viewed in our reading room and some of our Digital Gallery.

We also offer an in-house and remote reprographics service. This includes black and white photocopies and digital scans for users who would like copies of our photographs. For further information, please refer to our copying charges.

Extensive images of local interest are also available elsewhere. A major resource is the City of London’s Collage London’s Picture Library.

We hold a collection of London-wide trade directories which date from the early 19th century to 1991. They contain lists of businesses that operated in London arranged by address and trade type.

We hold both hard copy editions and copies of some editions from the Guildhall Library collection on microfilm.

Digitised copies of directories across the country can be viewed online via Historical Directories hosted by the University of Leicester.

Mike Ellison's 'Topography of Tower Hamlets' (LC14742) is an excellent guide. It distinguishes all the streets with the same name and gives current names and their former name(s).

Our archive collections range mainly from the 16th century onwards. It covers Tower Hamlets Council and its predecessor bodies, deeds, and building files including drainage applications. These are not digitised and thus available to consult as originals only in our Reading Room.

The location of a particular site and/or the date period of interest will help you identify the relevant predecessor local authority.

Useful sources (with catalogue references in brackets) include:

Tower Hamlets Council:

 London Borough of Tower Hamlets (L/THL)

  •  Records of the Council, Committees and Forums (L/THL/A)
    • Includes records of the housing committee (L/THL/A/11) and the town planning committee (L/THL/A/17)
  • Records of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor and Successors (L/THL/D/2)
    • Records re Building Control (L/THL/D/2): provide important information about the development of new buildings, housing schemes, places of worship, public buildings such as schools and health centres, commercial or industrial premises, and dead and temporary buildings. They also include works before 1965 when the Borough was created.
    • These are currently being catalogued (work will continue until at least 2021). They can be made accessible to users on a case by case basis in line with data protection legislation. Please contact localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk if you would like to access this collection.
  • Records of the Legal Section, Title Deeds (L/THL/J/1)
    • These are documents which record the transfer of land or property between individuals, and the details of the transaction. They include personal names, dates, the costs involved and sometimes plans or maps of a local area.
    • These complement our wider deed collection. For further information please refer to our Title Deeds user guide.

Stepney:

Hamlet of Mile End Old Town

  • Records of the Drainage and Sewerage Committee (L/MEO/3)
  • Records of Improvement Schemes (L/MEO/4)


Poplar:

  • Parish of All Saints Poplar and former Hamlet of Poplar and Blackwall, Records re Taxation, Rating, Valuation and Censuses, (L/ASP/E/E)
  • Parish of Bromley St. Leonard, Records re Taxation and Rating, (BL/BSL/B)
  • Parish of St. George-in-the-East (L/SGE)
    • Records of the Surveyor (L/SGE/F)
    • Includes records of drainage applications (L/SGE/F/3)
  • Poplar District Board of Works (L/PBW)
    • Records of the Board and its Committees (L/PBW/A)
      • Includes minutes of the sanitary committee (L/PBW/A/4) and works committee (L/PBW/A/5)
    • Records of the Surveyor (L/PBW/B)
      • Includes records relating to drainage and building notices and applications (L/PBW/B/4)

Metropolitan Borough of Poplar (L/PMB)

  • Records of the Council and Committees (L/PMB/A)
    • Includes minutes of the housing committees
  • Records of the Town Clerk's Department (L/PMB/B)
    • Includes Second World War damage incident files (L/PMB/B/4) and housing registers (L/PMB/B/3)
  • Records of the Borough Surveyor's Department (L/PMB/C)
    • Includes records relating to drainage and building notices and applications (L/PMB/C/9)
       

Whitechapel:

  • Parish of Christ Church, Spitalfields (formerly the Hamlet of Spitalfields), Plans of parish boundaries, 1870 (L/CCS/6)
  • Parish of St Mary Whitechapel, Property and Estate records (L/SMW/G)


Limehouse:

  • Parish of St. Anne Limehouse, Deeds, leases and contracts relating to parish property (L/SAL/6)
  • Limehouse District Board of Works:
    • Records of the Board and its Committees (L/LBW/A)
      • Includes of minutes of committees including sewers (L/LBW/A/2/1) and works (L/LBW/A/2/2).
    • Records of the Surveyor (L/LBW/B)
      • Includes records relating to drainage applications (L/LBW/B/2)


Bethnal Green


Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green (L/BGM):

  • Records of the Council and its Committees (L/BGM/A)
    • Consists of minutes of committees including housing (L/BGM/A/12) and street trading L/BGM/A/16)
    • Air Raid War Damage Files (L/BGM/B/11 and L/BGM/B/12)
    • Records Of The Borough Engineer And Surveyor (L/BGM/D)
    • Includes records relating to drainage applications (L/BGM/D/3)

Insert your content hereExplore our extensive collections of pamphlets and press-cuttings for further information on Tower Hamlets’ changing landscape.

We also hold over 100 films and videos on a variety of local topics. A small selection can be viewed on our YouTube channel and the London’s Screen Archives website.

Local history library resources:

  • LC13855 - Religion and place in Tower Hamlets / a Building Exploratory project with the English Heritage, Arts Council England and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Photographs:

  • P01199
  • P10492
  • P10493
  • P10507

Archive collections:

  • P/GOS/2 - Brick Lane Mosque's Publications
  • L/THL/A/1/1/11 – Minutes of the Tower Hamlets Council, 10 May 1974 - 7 May 1975
  • L/THL/A/33/1/4 - Minutes of the Works Committee, 5 Jun 1974 - 22 Apr 1975

Building Control files:

  • L/THL/D/2/100/9/1 – Brick Lane Jamme Masjid 59 Brick Lane
  • L/THL/D/2/100/9/2 – Brick Lane Jamme Masjid 59 Brick Lane
  • L/THL/D/2/100/9/3 – Brick Lane Jamme Masjid 59 Brick Lane
  • L/THL/D/2/100/9/4 – Brick Lane Jamme Masjid 59 Brick Lane

Further sources:

  • London Metropolitan Archives
    • LMA/4441/01/4607 - Jamme Masjid Mosque, Brick Lane, Tower Hamlets LB: Statutory Planning File (Mosques)
  • Historic England

Local history library resources:

  • LC7282 - Limehouse blues: looking for Chinatown in the London docks, 1900-40 / John Seed.
  • LC6830 - Chinatowns in a transnational world: myths and realities of an urban phenomenon.
  • LC7789 - These accursed haunts: opium dens, identity and the construction of London's Chinatown c. 1870-1900 / Samuel Norwood.
  • LC13701 - London's Chinatown: diaspora, identity and belonging, working paper n. 3 / by Rosemary Sales et al.

Photographs:

  • P18728
  • P18758
  • P22707
  • WW/424

Maps:

  • LCM1734 - Metropolitan Borough of Stepney : London Government Act 1899 / M.W. Jameson.
  • LCM1603 - [Map showing area from Limehouse to the confluence of the rivers Lea and Thames, with Bromley Hall, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich].

Archive collections:

  • O/LLC - Legacy of Limehouse Chinatown: Tracing the histories of London's old Chinatown
  • L/SMB/A/22/1 - Minute book of the Building Works Committee of the Stepney Borough Council, Dec 1946-Oct 1947
  • L/THL/D/2/185/129/3 - Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets, Sailors Palace, 680 Commercial Road

Further sources: