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Sound Collection

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives holds a unique collection of sound recordings relating to the history of East End. The collection’s strengths include:

  • Oral history collections documenting a diverse range of East End voices, including early Bangladeshi, Chinese, and Somali migrants
  • Radio broadcasts, including early BBC programmes unavailable elsewhere
  • Historic lectures on a variety of East End topics recorded at Tower Hamlets libraries
  • Interviews with notable residents, including veterans of the Battle of Cable Street and those who survived the Blitz
  • Street and area histories covering all parts of the borough
  • Music by local artists, community organisations, and choirs

These recordings are stored on a variety of analogue and digital formats, including:

  • Vinyl and gramophone records
  • Reel-to-reel tapes
  • Audio cassettes
  • CDs
  • Digital audio files

Our recordings on physical formats are kept in our archive strong room under controlled environmental conditions, while our digital sound files are saved on a secure digital preservation system. At present only digital formats can be accessed in our reading room. Our sound recordings on older analogue formats require funding to create digitised public access copies.

Local History Library:

To search for recordings in our library’s sound collection:

  1. Go to our online catalogue’s advanced search page
  2. Select ‘Audio’ in the Type field, and if you want to find sound recordings on a particular subject enter search terms in the Any Text field (for example “Battle of Cable Street”)
  3. Click the Search button at the bottom of the page
  4. Browse the results and click on a record to read more about an item

If an item is available to listen to in our reading room its Access Status field will show the word ‘Open’.



To search for oral history recordings held in our archives:

  1. Go to our online catalogue’s advanced search page
  2. Select ‘Archives’ in the Repository field
  3. Select ‘File’ in the Level field
  4. Enter ‘O*’ in the Reference Number field, plus any search terms you want to include in the Any Text field (for example “Somali”)
  5. Click the Search button at the bottom of the page
  6. Browse the results and click on a record to read more about an item

You can also browse our oral history records hierarchically by collection.

Sound recordings can be found in several other archive collections outside our oral history records. The best way to find these in our online catalogue is to follow the steps above but add “sound recordings” (in double inverted commas) to the Any Text field and leave the Reference Number field blank. As with our library items, if a recording is available to listen to in the reading room the word ‘Open’ will show in the Access Status field.

Below are a selection of highlights from across our sound collection, including oral histories, other archive sound recordings, and local history library items on a range of audio formats.


Oral history collections

  • Alan Dein Exhibition: 'After You've Gone'. 2012. O/AND.
    Oral histories undertaken in conjunction with the Alan Dein Exhibition 'After You've Gone' which was held at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives from 17 May-12 July 2012. Digital access copies available.
  • Best Days of Our Lives. 2014. O/BDL.
    Seven oral history interview recordings and accompanying transcripts/summaries from the Best Days of Our Lives BME oral history project. Digital access copies available.
  • The Bengali East End. 2011. O/BEE.
    Eleven oral histories from members of the Bangladeshi community that lived in the borough of Tower Hamlets, mainly during the 1970s and 1980s. Digital access copies available.
  • Don't just live, live to be remembered: The Somali East End. 2012-2013. O/DJL.
    Eighteen oral histories from members of the Somali community that lived in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Digital access copies available.
  • Legacy of Limehouse Chinatown: Tracing the histories of London's old Chinatown. 2010-2011. O/LLC.
    Five oral history interviews undertaken in 2010-2011 as part of the Legacy of Limehouse Chinatown project, which was led by Islington Chinese Association (the grantholder), supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and managed by Dr. Yat Ming Loo. Digital access copies available.
  • Mapping the Change: Old Ford Voices and Island Memories. 2011-2012. O/MTC.
    Seventeen oral histories about the area of Bow known as Old Ford, including the Island (now known as Fish Island), located in the north-eastern corner of Tower Hamlets. Digital access copies available.
  • The Poetic East End. 2016-2017. O/PEE.
    Thirty-five oral history interviews undertaken in 2016-2017 for The Poetic East End project, led by the Shanghati Literary Society, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. Digital access copies available.
  • Rooms with a View. 2015-2016. O/RWV.
    Nine oral history interview recordings created as part of the 'Rooms with a View' project by Magic Me, an intergenerational arts organisation based in Bethnal Green. Digital access copies available.
  • Sneath Engineers of Mile End. 2014-2015. O/SNT.
    This oral history project involved the capture of oral histories relating to Sneath Engineers, a long-standing local business located in the Mile End area of Tower Hamlets. Digital access copies available.
  • Where I Belong: Black and Asian women's lives in Tower Hamlets. 2013-2014. O/WIB.
    Thirteen oral histories from Black and Asian women who lived in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Digital access copies available.

You can listen to extracts from some of these collections on the oral history section of our website.


Other archive collections with sound recordings

  • Papers of Caroline Adams (1949-2001) chiefly relating to her book "Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers". c. 1970s-1998. P/ADM. Tape recordings of interviews with some of the Bangladeshi migrants whose "life stories" are featured in the book "Across Seven Seas...". Digital access copies and some transcripts available but closed for 84 years under current Data Protection legislation.
  • Interviews by Jerry White used for research for 'Rothschild Buildings: life in an East End tenement block, 1887-1920'. 1980s. P/WHT. Copies of Jerry White's original recordings of interviews conducted between 1973 and 1977. Many individuals were from the Jewish community, born between the 1880s and the 1930s. Some transcripts available.
  • Records of the Cable Street Group. 1978-2016. S/CSG. Includes ten cassette tapes of residents and former residents recalling the Battle of Cable Street of 1936. Some transcripts available.
  • Records of the Mile End Old Town Residents' Association. 1983-2001. S/MEO. Six tape recordings of interviews relating to the Mile End Residents' Association's publication "Changing Places". Some transcripts available.


Radio and television broadcasts

  • Canada's gift to Bethnal Green Library. BBC North American Service, 1947. LCS6-LCS8.
    Programme about Bethnal Green Public Libraries receiving a gift of 1,500 books from Canada as the result of an appeal published by the Tornto Globe and Mail, featuring interviews with Mayor Henry Hooke and Borough Librarian George Vale.
  • Our East End : youthful reminiscences / by Bud Flanagan , Alfred Marks, David Kossoff , Georgia Brown, Alfie Bass , Bernard Bresslaw, Lee Montague , Lionel Bart ; compiled and introduced by Jo Joseph. BBC Home Service, 1962. LCS23.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Fifty years in Stepney / Lady Rose L. Henriques. BBC Home Service, 1966. LCS22.
  • It's a lovely day tomorrow : the story of the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube Disaster / by Bernard Kops. ITV, 1975. LCS38.
    Audio only.
  • Old Bethnal Green ; Wapping / Guy Williams. BBC Radio London, 1975. LCS34.
  • Stepney walkabout / Jack Dash. BBC Radio London, 1975. LCS36.
  • Interview on dispute in Tower Hamlets Borough Housing Department dispute ; Review of "Fly a flag for Poplar" exhibition and film at Central Library / Pat Finch. BBC Radio London, 1976. LCS37.
  • London labour. 2, The greengrocer and the pickled-herring man. BBC Radio 4, 1979. LCS56.
    Tom Vernon meets Bob Wheeler who sells vegetables, and Bert Daltrey who has a pickled-herring stall in the Roman Road Market.
  • The London programme. The Berger empire. ITV, 1983. LCS78.
    Audio only.
  • Radio interviews with Roger Backhouse. BBC Radio London ; LBC, 1984. LCS77.
    Local radio interviews by Roger Backhouse on the Tower Hamlets Public Libraries strike.
  • Interview with Bill Fishman on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. BBC, 1986. LCS88.
    Digital access copy available.
  • The Friday feature. A laugh, a tear, a song : the story of the Yiddish theatre in the East End of London / written by Fora Wolchover ; narrator Cyril Shaps ; with Lee Montague as Jacob Adler. BBC Radio 4, 1987. LCS87.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Relative values. 4, The Gittlesons. BBC Radio 4, 1988. LCS86.
    Family portrait of the Gittlesons from Wapping exploring how shifting social and moral attitudes in Britain have affected family life.
  • The Saturday feature. Frumkins : a tale of two wine shops. BBC Radio 4, 1989. LCS94.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Down your way. BBC, 1992. LCS95.
    Rabbi Lionel Blue returns to his beginnings when he visits his birthplace, London's East End. Digital access copy available.
  • After you've gone. BBC, 1997. LCS104.
    Oral historian Alan Dein follows a kosher meals-on-wheels service to hear from the hidden Jewish minority in the area. Digital access copy available.


Historic lectures

  • Talk to children / by Mr. Cale. Talk on history of Stepney / by Mr. Ward, Borough Librarian. Recorded at Bethnal Green Library, c. 1960, and Central Library, Stepney, c. 1964. LCS35.
  • Fifty years in Stepney / John C. Lawder. Recorded at Central Library, Stepney, 1963. LCS21. Introduced by Clement Attlee.
  • The history of licensing : old inns and taverns (with special reference to East London) / Leonard Percey. Recorded at Tower Hamlets Central Library, 1970. LCS25.
  • London's riverside 100 years ago / Eric De Mare. Recorded at Tower Hamlets Central Library, 1972. LCS20.
  • London shipping in the 19th century / Robin Craig. Recorded at Tower Hamlets Central Library, 1973. LCS26.
  • Social service within the Jewish community / Phyllis Gerson. Recorded at Tower Hamlets Central Library, 1974. LCS28. Digital access copy available.
  • Poplar on trial : the 1921 rates dispute and after / by Noreen Branson. Recorded at Tower Hamlets Central Library, 1979. LCS57.
  • East London taverns : a talk given to the East London History Society / by Mr. A.H. French. 1980. LCS60.
  • Attlee : the limb of Limehouse / William Golant. Possibly recorded at Bethnal Green Area Library, 1983. LCS73.


Interviews with notable residents

  • Tape recording made by the Rev. W.E. Clapham, former superintendent of the Bow Methodist Mission / interviewed by A.H. French. East London History Group, 1967. LCS9a.
    Transcript available.
  • Tape recording made by Miss Muriel Lester who (with her sister Doris) founded Kingsley Hall, Bow / interviewed by A.H. French. East London History Group, 1968. LCS10a.
    Transcript available.
  • Recorded interview of Mr. Henry Wilmott. 1973. LCS55.
    Henry was a van boy who was born in Poplar and lived off West India Dock Road.
  • Miss Edith Ramsay M.B.E. / interviewed by A.H. French. East London History Society, 1978. LCS52.
    Edith Ramsay was a prominent Stepney educationalist and community worker. See also P/RAM.
  • The story of Cable St Oct 4th 1936 / Pat Devine. c. 1980. LCS69.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Recollections of the Battle of Cable Street, 1936 / Charlie Goodman. c. 1986. LCS83.
    >Digital access copy available.
  • Battle of Cable Street, October 1936 : also including remarks on Stepney Communist Party / recalled by Frank Whipple. 1986. LCS84.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Poplar in the 1920s : interviews / Gillian Rose. 1986-1987. LCS114.
    Interviews conducted for a PhD on Poplar in the 1920s. Some are with the children of the Poplarism councillors, some with other political activists, and some are the reminiscences of ordinary people.
  • Eastenders remember VE Day, 1945-1995 : an oral history on the 50th anniversary of VE Day. London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 1995. LCS101.
  • Interview with Nicky Hilliard of 4A Tredegar Square, in his front room, Saturday 24 August 2002 / interviewer, Victoria Poland. 2002. LCS116.
    Nicky Hilliard moved into Tredegar Square in 1961. He talks about the condition of the square and the characters have lived there. Transcript available.
  • Bernard McCarthy's World War II recollections. 2021. LCS210.
    Digital access copy available.


Street and area histories

  • Whitechapel Road. Part 1 / Springboard. c. 1985. LCS62.
    Digital access copies available.
  • Petticoat Lane. Part 1 / Springboard. c. 1985. LCS63.
    Digital access copies available.
  • Brick Lane. Part 1 / Springboard. c. 1985. LCS64.
    Digital access copies available.
  • Commercial Road. Part 1 / Springboard. c. 1985. LCS65.
    Digital access copies available.
  • The changing face of London Docklands / by Anna Moffatt. 1991. LCS208.
  • The Settlement Synagogue : the story of a synagogue, 1919-1996 / tape recorded, edited and produced by Rabbi Lawrence Rigal. c. 1996. LCS112-LCS113.
    Digital access copies available.
  • Poplar characters, pubs and neighbours / John Hector. 1997. LCS109.
  • Poplar in the 20's / written by John Hector. c. 1997. LCS100.
  • Poplar memories 20's, 30's, & 40's / John Hector. c. 1999. LCS107.
  • Poplar at war 1939-1945 : my 6 years in the front line / John A. Hector. c. 2000. LCS202.
  • Poplar's bygone days / John Hector. 2002. LCS111.



Below is a small sample of the music in our sound collection, which includes rare recordings by local artists and organisations, live performances recorded at venues across the borough, and songs on local topics.

  • Strictly for grown-ups / Paddy Roberts. 1949. LCS3.
    Includes ‘The ballad of Bethnal Green’.
  • Foc'sle songs and shanties / sung by Paul Clayton and the Foc'sle Singers. 1959. LCS30.
    Includes ‘Ratcliffe Highway’.
  • Look in at the local : from Dan Farson's Waterman's Arms. 1964. LCS1.
    An evening of pub entertainment recorded live at the Waterman's Arms on the Isle of Dogs.
  • Queen high / Queenie Watts. 1966. LCS4.
    Queenie Watts was with her husband Slim the licensee of The Ironbridge Tavern on East India Dock Road.
  • A merry progress to London : an anthology of London songs / The Critics Group ; John Faulkner ; Sandra Kerr ; Ted Culver ; Jim O'Connor ; Terry Yarnell. 1966. LCS11.
    Includes ‘The blind beggar of Bethnal Green’.
  • The match girls / lyrics by Bill Owen ; music by Tony Russell. 1966. LCS27.
  • A tribute to Solomon. 1972. LCS93.
    Pianist Solomon was born at 39 Fournier Street, Spitalfields, in 1902.
  • Parmiter's School Music Club, 1722-1972. 1972. LCS12.
  • George Davis is innocent O.K.!! : the story of the campaign in words and music / featuring Bob Williamson, Bryan Chalker, Joe Stead, Paul Downes, Phil Beer, Jane Lee, Peter Hain, Alan Ford, Arbel Jones, David Stoll and Rosie Davis. 1976. LCS47.
  • Jab and move ; The hook / Repton Boxing Club. 1980. LCS58.
  • Music at the Tower / Choir of St Peter and Vincula ; directed by John Williams ; Joseph Sentance, organ. 1980. LCS59.
  • When I grow rich ; When will that be / Bow Gamelan Ensemble. 1985. LCS81.
  • Caribbean focus '86 / Atum. 1986. LCS85.
    Funded by Tower Hamlets Community Service.
  • The Steamrooms sampler / music by members of Tower Hamlets Youth Music Workshop. 1987. LCS89.
  • The new Somali sound. c. 2006. LCS201.
    Digital access copy available.
  • Whitechapel mayn Vaytdshepl / Klezmer Klub. 2009. LCS203. Digital access copy available.

Our sound collection is a vital part of our borough's heritage, but many of the recordings we hold are on fragile formats which require digitisation before they are lost forever. Creating high quality digital access copies will:

  • Preserve the voices of hundreds of ordinary East Enders for the future
  • Ensure their stories can be enjoyed and used by Tower Hamlets residents and the wider community today

If you would like to help us preserve the East End’s sound heritage through a funded digitisation project, please email us at