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Collections and Digital Resources

Search our online catalogue descriptions of archives, books, images, maps and pamphlets. See what’s available for you to consult on your visit.

Our local history library covers a range of popular East End subjects. These include migration and communities, local industries and political movements. We also hold loads of photographs, press cuttings and rare publications.

The archives range from medieval parchment to digital audio and video. They occupy hundreds of linear metres of shelves in our climate-controlled strong room.

Get more from our useful websites.

Archives online

Explore examples of original items from the archives. Each page features digital images of an item or series of records.

These records are of particular use to family historians. They help trace people who lived or worked in Tower Hamlets.

Census 2021

The first census was in 1801 and the most recent in 2011. The census is carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  It gives a snapshot of the nation and helps to plan and fund public services.

Oral history

Since 2010 Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives has undertaken several oral history projects. The recordings created were showcased in exhibitions hosted at the library and accessed via a listening booth.

User guides

Read our collections guides through links from this page and plan your research.

Caring for your Collections: Community Archives

Guidance is to help you treasure your items and think about future actions to help safeguard them for generations to come. 

Local History podcast

We have our very own podcast! An occasional podcast introducing our readers (and listeners!) to a wonderful item from our collection. Tune in for seasonal tales, protest inspiration, archive underwear and more!

Library classification scheme

Tower Hamlets Local History Library covers a wide range of popular East End subjects, ranging from biographies of local people to migration, local industries, and political movements.

The library collections include

  • Over 20,000 books and pamphlets. They date from the 16th century to the present day. The material has extensive coverage of the history of Tower Hamlets and London-wide.
  • Electoral registers for Tower Hamlets from 1901. Digital versions are available up to 1965 via Ancestry Library Edition.
  • London trade directories from 1800.
  • Cuttings Collection - over 400 boxes of newspaper cuttings, articles and ephemera. Many date from the 19th century.
  • Over 25,000 photographs and illustrations. Over 80 boxes contain photographs of street scenes arranged by place. The rest of the collection by subject. View a selection of digital copies in our Digital Gallery.
  • Over 2,000 maps and plans dating from the 17th century (with copies of 16th century) to the present day. These include Ordnance Survey maps, street plans and early parish and estate maps. Some digital copies are available via Layers of London. Over 500 periodical titles, including local newspapers from 1853 on microfilm. Historic local and national newspapers are also available on the British Newspaper Archive.
  • Local census returns for Poplar, 1821 and 1831. 1841 to 1891 census returns and parish registers of seven of the oldest churches on microfilm. Also available online via Ancestry Library Edition.
  • Over 100 films and videos on local topics. Originals are kept in special storage conditions at London Metropolitan Archives. This is the result of our partnership with London’s Screen Archive. Reference copies of many titles are available to view in our reading room. A selection is also available on London’s Screen Archives website and our YouTube channel.

The archive collections include

  • extensive local authority records of Tower Hamlets Council. Also archives of predecessors, the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. Dating from the 16th century to present they include minutes, files, plans and rate books.
  • documents of local individuals and organisations. These include some places of worship, schools, clubs, societies and some businesses.
  • over 8,000 title deeds relating to properties in the borough from 1384 onward. Search our online catalogue and onsite index by name and place.
  • audio-visual records. These include over 100 sound recordings including oral histories. There are over 60 films and videos of local interest.

Search the catalogue

We hold a unique collection of original paintings of the East End. Digital copies are available to view for free on the Art UK website. The originals are not available to consult in the Reading Room. This is due to their size, specialist handling requirements and availability online.

Most of our unique collections are available to consult as originals in our Reading Room. We also provide access to digital resources online. These include family history databases, newspapers, digitised archivesoral history recordings, maps and online exhibitions. Browse digitised historic photographs in our Digital Gallery.

Search and order copies of historical birth, marriage and death certificates online. Visit the General Register Office.

London Metropolitan Archives holds the archives of City and London-wide local government. These include records of the City of London, Greater London, Middlesex and London County Councils. Also archives of organisations relating to Tower Hamlets and most local parish records. Extensive images of local interest are available via Collage London’s Picture Library.

Guildhall Library and London Metropolitan Archives hold libraries relating to London's history.

Material relating to London and the East End is available at Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives.

Records of central government include documents created by local organisations and individuals. Visit The National Archives.

Search The National Archives Discovery Catalogue for descriptions. You can also find the location of archives held elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Click ‘extended search’ and ‘Record Creators’ tab to search for organisations and individuals. Find an Archive provides contact details. Listed are our neighbours Hackney Archives and Newham Archive and Local Studies Library.

Contact us to offer your material relating to Tower Hamlets. Items can include original documents, books and digital formats.

Read our guidance for further advice.