Local History Library & Archives

Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives covers the area of the present-day London borough of Tower Hamlets - the original East End of London which, until 1965, comprised of the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney.

If you are interested in a building in the borough, tracing your ancestors who lived here, doing a school or college project on some aspect of the borough or are just feeling nostalgic, we may well be able to help you.

Visit our website and search the online catalogue.


Anyone may visit our exhibitions without registering.

We welcome people to our reading room who wish to use our unique heritage collections for their personal research. If you do not intend to use our collections, please visit an Idea Store or Library instead. Unfortunately we do not have the capacity to accommodate independent study.

You will need to register on your first visit. Please bring a form of ID providing proof of your permanent address. You will also be asked to fill in a registration form.

The Reading Room is located on the first floor, accessible via lift or stairs.

Materials available at the library

Local authority records

There are extensive holdings of records of the borough and its predecessors dating in some cases from the 16th century. These include minutes, rate books and correspondence files.


There are over 8,000 deeds recording the transfer of properties in the borough, which are indexed by name and place.

Other archives

In addition the archives hold documents relating to many local institutions, including some places of worship and schools, local clubs and societies, and some businesses.

For historical birth, marriage and death certificates contact the borough registry office.

Books and pamphlets

The local history library holds over 20,000 printed books and pamphlets dating from the 17th century to the present day. These provide extensive coverage of the many differing aspects of the recorded history of Tower Hamlets. 


The cuttings collection, which is contained in over 400 boxes, includes newspaper and periodical cuttings and articles and printed ephemera, a substantial amount of which dates from the 19th century.


The library holds about 25,000 illustrations, mainly photographs. There are over 80 boxes of photographs of general street scenes arranged alphabetically, while the remainder are arranged by subject


Well over 2,000 maps and plans are held dating from Elizabethan times to the present day. The collection includes large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, street plans and some parish and estate maps.


The library holds on microfilm, copies of census returns for the whole borough, from 1841 to 1891; various local newspapers from 1853; parish registers of seven of the oldest parish churches; and London trade directories.

Audio-visual collections

About 100 sound recordings and 60 films and videos of local interest are held.

Digital Gallery

A sample collection of our photographs are available to view online in our Digital Gallery on the Idea Store website.

Paintings Collection

As well as photographs, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives also holds a unique collection of original paintings. These paintings have all been digitised and are available to view for free on the BBC website Your Paintings


  • Photocopying of the collection is allowed depending on copyright and physical condition.
  • Digital copies, subject to copyright, can be obtained; sizes and prices available on request.
  • Publications - An extensive range of informative publications are available for sale at the local history library and also many of the community libraries.
  • View the reproduction and hire charges

We cannot, however, undertake detailed genealogical research on behalf of enquirers.  Details of professional record agents can be obtained by contacting the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives.

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