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Annual Impact Report 2021-22

Our Mission

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives is central to the borough it serves. We collect, preserve and provide free public access to archives, images and library material which record or illustrate the borough’s past and present.

We help research with these collections and deliver outreach, exhibitions and events. These activities engage and connect local residents and visitors from across the UK and overseas with the rich histories of London’s East End.


2020-21 was a challenging year for the service due to the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Our building was closed during lockdown. We had three periods of re-opening for visitors to our Reading Room with reduced hours. Staff continued to work behind the scenes

  • answering local history enquiries
  • enhancing digital content for collections online
  • running virtual events including Bangladesh 50 years workshops
  • collecting and cataloguing new digital archives
  • writing new collection guides
  • reviewing collections management procedures

Key highlights of 2021-22

  • We were delighted to welcome two newcomers to the team early in the first lockdown of 2020. Richard Wiltshire as our new Archives Manager, who joined us after 18 years as an Archivist at London Metropolitan Archives. Sanjida Alam also joined as Heritage Co-ordinator (Public Access)
  • Our service retained its status as an Accredited Archive Service
  • Our team expanded our range of free online resources. We launched a new YouTube channel on 27 April 2020 to showcase recently catalogued films from our moving image collection. The channel has 25 videos attracting 30,000 views and over 350 subscribers. Highlights include
  • 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
  • A chronological playlist, 'The East End on Film', collecting together the best archive footage of London’s East End from other YouTube channels like British Pathé and London’s Screen Archives.

2021 during the pandemic - At a glance



Library and archive items produced


Reading room visitors


Remote enquiries answered


New user registrations



Items added to the catalogue


Cataloguing hours


Active volunteers


Online catalogue views


Volunteer hours

Projects worked on

Social media on phone


Social media posts


Likes, shares and retweets


New followers


Videos uploaded


New subscribers




Hours watched

Online event


Online events held


Event attendees


Citizen researchers for Bangladesh 50 Years project

Bangladesh at 50

Collaborations and partnerships

To commemorate 50 years of Bangladesh independence, we worked with The National Portrait Gallery, under its Citizen UK programme, to produce our Bangladesh 50 installation at Idea Store Whitechapel.

This brought together artists and local communities in archival research and creative engagement. Local residents were invited to research how the independence movement was in the East End.

They explored the impact of the Liberation War of 1971 on local, personal and collective identity. Informed by these findings, Ruhul Abdin, the Lead Artist worked with the group to produce a major commemorative artwork, now displayed at Idea Store Whitechapel.

We also partnered with The Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust to host the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster: 'The Women’s Perspective' online exhibition and events previously planned to take place onsite before lockdown. The exhibition booklet is available for download.


Public engagement and outreach

Our online outreach programme expanded to continue to meet the needs of reaching the local community and beyond during lockdown.

Our Bangladesh 50 Years exhibition events programme started in March 2021. We held 10 online events featuring notable Bengali speakers, academics, and teachers, which attracted over 350 participants

Film screenings

We started online public screenings of films with connections to the borough’s history, including La Boheme to Gardiners: The Sights and Sounds of the Jewish East End for Holocaust Memorial Day, and The Life and Times of Miriam Moses for Women’s History Month.

Online events

included LGBTQ+ History Month Talk: The Queer East End: introducing our collections, Black presence in the East End


We launched our quarterly podcast, East End History in an Object


We continued to publish our newsletter, keeping the public informed of lockdown activities, online events and reopenings. Explore the newsletter and sign-up.

Our website

We have our collections and downloadable subject and classification guides.

Recordkeeping support

This is offered for local organisations. The charity Play Association Tower Hamlets (PATH) unfortunately had to close during the pandemic. They deposited their records with us so their legacy can be preserved.

East End History Club

Our long-running bi-monthly workshop moved online, featuring subjects that proved popular, including:

  • The Matchgirls Strike: The Perspective of Sarah Chapman, a Local Girl
  • East End Housing Estates
  • Protest in the East End
  • An introduction to LGBTQ+ Archives in partnership with ELOP

East End History Club

Our long-running bi-monthly workshop moved online, featuring subjects that proved popular, including:

  • The Matchgirls Strike: The Perspective of Sarah Chapman, a Local Girl
  • East End Housing Estates
  • Protest in the East End
  • An introduction to LGBTQ+ Archives in partnership with ELOP

Explore Your Archives 2020

We produced an online event Unravelling Building Plans. This featured rarely seen building plans and building control files from our collections.

We illustrated the research potential these records offer local historians, planners, and developers. The event also highlighted cataloguing work in progress and conservation challenges these records present.

  • For Census Day on 21 March 2021, we created a webpage highlighting notable East Enders. Explore their census returns, and photographs. 
  • Re-opening to the public: Following relaxing of national Covid-19 guidelines in September 2020 we were delighted to be able to welcome users to our public reading room again. We ran an appointment service on Tuesdays and Fridays. Staff retrieved items in advance for visitors and quarantined items after use.

The Top 10 book and pamphlet research categories in 2020:

  1. Ethnic groups, immigrants, and race relations
  2. Recreation
  3. Housing
  4. Town planning and improvements, development
  5. London
  6. Chemical industries
  7. Biography
  8. Politics, Political Parties and associations
  9. Education
  10. Life of the people


Our wonderful volunteers undertook tasks remotely during 2020-21. Crucial projects included taking photographs for the Covid-19 archive, adding history summaries and subject keywords to our archive catalogue and compiling website content.

New additions to the Library

Act ‘impowering the respective militias of London, the Hamlets of the Tower, Southwark and Westminster to raise foot’ (reference LC15107).

This pamphlet joins related militia acts already held in the Library. It was published in 1651 by the House of Commons during Oliver Cromwell's English Commonwealth.

The act is among the early printed references we hold with the phrase which gave the modern London Borough of Tower Hamlets its name.Books added to our library collection this year included:

  • Migrant City: a new History of London by Panikos Panayi (2020)
  • East End Born & Bred: the remarkable story of London Boxing by Jeff Jones (2020)
  • The Splendid Mrs McCheyne and the East London Federation of Suffragettes by Jane McChrystal (2020)
  • Female Husbands: a trans history by Jen Manion (2020)
  • 111 places in London’s East End that you shouldn’t miss by Ed Glinert (2020)

Other new books were received, including Women activists of East London: radical women in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest 1880-present by Esther Freeman.

New additions to the Archives

Life During Lockdown: COVID-19 Collecting Volunteer Project / Making History: Documenting Coronavirus in the East End (collection reference P/COV)

We asked for contributions from the people of Tower Hamlets. To help share the impact of the virus and the lockdown measures in place on residents and organisations based in the borough.

We also ran a volunteer project for Tower Hamlets residents as an opportunity to help us capture and record people’s experiences of life during this extraordinary period. This would be preserved within our archives and serve as a learning resource for future generations.

We have received photographs, documents and films. Submissions continue until the end of 2021. We also welcome future additions to our collections.

Feedback from our users

"Thanks so much for the splendid information you send the speed with which you sent it. Unbelievable!"

"Thank you so much for providing this service, it's wonderful"

"I just had to write again to tell you - you did it" I have been looking for this certificate for I know my great-grandmother's name and will be able to order my grandfather's birth certificate"

"Librarians and archivists are the most amazingly helpful and knowledgeable people! I can't believe how much detail you've been able to provide me with, that's so kind of you. I don't think it's said enough how important local archives, and the people who work in them, are"

"Thank you so much again for helping me find this after all these years of looking. I am so very grateful"

"Wow, this is brilliant, thank you so much! Quite honestly, I can't believe've given me a real boost and I'm looking forward to delving into Mum's school a bit more with the information you have given me"