Free Online Resources
Ancestry Library Edition
Researching your family tree? If you are a Tower Hamlets Idea Store user, for a limited time you will be able to access our subscription to Ancestry Library Edition for free from home. All you need to do is click on the link below, then enter your library card number and PIN when prompted:
Ancestry is the world’s largest online database of family history records, including birth, marriage, death and census records. It is particularly good for those of you tracing London ancestors. Some useful digitised record sets include:
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery Registers, 1841-1966
- London Selected Church of England Parish Registers, 1558-1875
- London Electoral Registers, 1832-1965
- London City Directories, 1736-1943
The British Newspaper Archive
Discover history as it happened with access to hundreds of historic newspapers from all over Britain and Ireland dating from 1700 onwards with our subscription to the British Newspaper Archive. Their collections feature several East London newspapers, including:
- East London Observer (1857-1928, with plans to continue adding issues up to 1944)
- Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser (1866-1912)
- Woman's Dreadnought (1914-1924, known as the Workers' Dreadnought from 1917)
This service is currently only accessible at Tower Hamlets Idea Stores and libraries.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Access 50,000 biographies of people who shaped history via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
This service is available to Tower Hamlets Idea Store members only. You are required to add an additional 'TH' prefix to your library card login.
Archive films and videos
Explore hours of rare archive footage of Tower Hamlets on our YouTube channel, which features a selection of films and videos from our collection.
- Amateur footage of Tower Hamlets Carnival from 1979
- A fly-on-the-wall documentary from 1985 showing a day in the life at Stepping Stones Farm
- Three episodes of Dogs Life, a video magazine produced for Isle of Dogs residents in the mid-1980s
We have also created a playlist, The East End on Film, which brings together the best archive footage of London’s East End from other YouTube channels.
These films were digitised by Film London, who have also made these videos available to watch via the London’s Screen Archive website.
Visit our Digital Gallery to browse some of our 36,000 images reflecting life in Tower Hamlets over the centuries, including a large number of historic street scenes.
More images of Tower Hamlets can be found online at the London Metropolitan Archives’ Collage website.
Digitised historic maps
Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives holds over 2,000 maps, a small sample of which Layers of London have digitised and made available online, including:
- Plan of the hamlet of Ratcliff, 1846
- St. George division, Circa 1880
- The East and West India Docks, 1886
- Annotated map of the Isle of Dogs, Circa 1890
- Plan of the Limehouse district, 1893
- Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, 1899 (annotated with the locations of air raid shelters in 1940)
To view the maps, follow the link above and select ‘Use this layer’, then click ‘I’m done!’ on the following page.
Browse our paintings collection
We hold a large collection of paintings featuring places in Tower Hamlets or by East End artists including Doreen Fletcher, Noël Gibson, and Rose Henriques. ArtUK have digitised a selection of these artworks and made them available to view online.
Explore our online archives
Explore a selection of digitised items from our collections.
Selected to be of particular interest to family historians, they include apprentice registers, taxation records and registers from places of worship. They include many names and other personal details, and all records have an alphabetical index.
Oral history recordings
Explore clips from our extensive oral history collection to hear Borough residents in their own words. Listen to former East End shop owners, Bengali community organizers and anti-racist protesters, Somali migrants and many more describe their experiences of Tower Hamlets.
Local History Walks
Are you a borough resident or planning a visit to Tower Hamlets? Why not download our local history walks and explore the history of our borough and communities on foot.
You might not be able to visit our exhibitions in person but we have a selection of online exhibitions for you to explore, including:
- Will Crooks, politician
- Upper North Street School Air Raid, June 1917
- The Afro-Caribbean Community in Post-war Stepney
- From local Town Hall to Local History Library & Archives: a short history