Collections and Digital Resources
Use our online catalogue to search descriptions of thousands of archives, books, images, maps and pamphlets and see what’s available for you to consult on your visit.
The extensive local history library covers a vast range of popular subjects such as migration and communities, local industries and political movements, and includes thousands of photographs and press cuttings as well as rare publications. The archive collections are stored on hundreds of linear metres of mobile shelving in our climate-controlled strong room and are spread across a variety of formats, from medieval parchment to digital audio and video.
The library collections include
- Over 20,000 books and pamphlets dating from the 16th century to the present day, providing extensive coverage of the many aspects of the recorded history of Tower Hamlets.
- Electoral registers for the area of Tower Hamlets from 1901, digitised versions of which are available up to 1965 via Ancestry Library Edition.
- London trade directories from 1800.
- Cuttings Collection, consisting of over 400 boxes of newspaper and periodical articles and printed ephemera, a substantial amount of which dates from the 19th century.
- Over 25,000 photographs and illustrations. Over 80 boxes of photographs cover general street scenes arranged alphabetically, while the remainder of the collection is arranged by subject. A sample collection of our photographs are available to view online in our Digital Gallery.
- Over 2,000 maps and plans dating from the 17th century (with copies of 16th century) to the present day. The collection includes large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, street plans and some early parish and estate maps. A small selection of maps from our collections is available to view online via Layers of London.Over 500 periodical titles, including local newspapers from 1853 on microfilm. Historic local and national newspapers can also be viewed onsite on the British Newspaper Archive.
- Local census returns for the whole borough from 1841 to 1891 and parish registers of seven of the oldest parish churches on microfilm, which can also be viewed online via Ancestry Library Edition.
- Over 100 films and videos on a variety of local topics. Most of our moving image collection is stored externally in specialist storage conditions provided by London Metropolitan Archives as part of our partnership with London’s Screen Archive, however reference copies of many titles are available to view in our reading room. A selection of these can also be viewed on the London’s Screen Archives website and our YouTube channel.
The archive collections include
- extensive local authority records of Tower Hamlets Council and its predecessor governance bodies especially the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. Dating from the 16th century onward records include minutes, rate books and correspondence files.
- documents of many local individuals and organisations, including some places of worship and schools, local clubs and societies, and some businesses.
- over 8,000 title deeds recording the transfer of properties in the borough, which are indexed by name and place.
- audio-visual records include about 100 sound recordings including oral histories and 60 films and videos of local interest.
We hold a unique collection of original paintings. The majority of these have been digitised and are available to view for free on the Art UK website. The originals are not usually available to consult in the Reading Room due to their size, specialist handling requirements and availability online.
Although most of our unique collections can only be viewed in our Reading Room, we also provide access to a wide range of digital resources online, including family history databases, historic newspapers, digitised archives, oral history recordings, maps and online exhibitions. For further information on these resources, use the links in the menu on the right or below if using mobile device, and to browse our collection digitised historic photographs see our Digital Gallery.
For historical birth, marriage and death certificates, search and order copies online via the General Register Office.
For records of the City and London-wide local government including the City of London Corporation, Greater London, Middlesex and London County Councils, further archives of organisations relating to Tower Hamlets and most local parish records visit London Metropolitan Archives. Extensive images of local interest are available via Collage London’s Picture Library.
Further records relating to London and the East End are held by the Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives.
For records of central government which often include documents created by local organisations and individuals visit The National Archives.
You can also search The National Archives Discovery Catalogue to find descriptions and the location of archives held elsewhere in the UK. Click ‘extended search’ and ‘Record Creators’ tab to search for organisations and individuals. You can also search Find an Archive for contact details of other archive repositories including our neighbours Hackney Archives and Newham Archive and Local Studies Library.
We welcome offers of new material relating to Tower Hamlets. These can include original documents and reference material as well as items in digital format. Contact us with details and we will be pleased to advise further.
See our guidance for further information and advice.