Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive
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Tower Hamlets local history library and 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.

Venue Type:

Library, Archive

Opening hours

Monday Closed
Tuesday 10am - 5pm
Wednesday 9am - 5pm
Thursday 9am - 8pm
Friday Closed
Saturday (fortnightly) 9am - 5pm
Sunday Closed

Admission charges

Exhibitions: Free admission
All users are required to register with the service on their first visit. Please ensure you bring a form of ID providing proof of your permanent address.

Getting there

Nearest tube: Stepney Green

Bus Routes: 25, along Mile End Road

By car
There are a limited number of pay and display parking spaces in the surrounding roads as well as parking spaces for Tower Hamlets resident's permit holders.

Local history library:

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 Library includes an important "shipping collection" which, as well as covering local subjects, includes general material relating to the history of merchant shipping.

Cuttings - 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.

Illustrations - 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.

Maps - 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.

Microfilms - 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.

While there are substantial holdings of archives relating to the borough, much of Tower Hamlets material is deposited elsewhere (notably at the Greater London Record Office).

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.

Deeds - 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.

Collection details

Archives, Social History, World Cultures

Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.
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World War One in Tower Hamlets

  • 5 September — 2 October 2016 *on now
  • 10 October — 6 November 2016

Our new pop-up exhibition 'World War One in Tower Hamlets', explores the impact of war on the borough using sources from the collections of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. The exhibition will be on display at the following locations:

Brady Centre: Monday 23 May – Sunday 19 June
Idea Store Whitechapel: Monday 27 June – Sunday 15 August
Idea Store Bow: Monday 5 September – Sunday 2 October
Idea Store Watney Market: Monday 10 October – Sunday 6 November

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Idea Store Bow
1 Gladstone Place, Roman Road, Bow
E3 5ES

Getting there

Nearest Underground station: Mile End. Cross Bow Road and walk up Coborn Road, then right up Tredegar Road, left up St Stephen’s Road, and right onto the Roman Road.

Nearest DLR: Bow Church. Cross Bow Road, turn right, then left up Fairfield Road. At the end, turn left onto Tredegar Road, right onto Parnell Road, and left onto the Roman Road.

By car

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the eastern end of the Roman Road is closed to traffic, due to the market. On these days, approach from Tredegar Road, Cardigan Road and Anglo Road.

On non-market days, enter the one-way section of the Roman Road from Parnell Road, and park in one of the pay and display bays.

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Blue Pen

  • 1 — 6 October 2016 *on now

Blue Pen is an experimental short film installation about censorship and the disappearance of dissenting voices, created by local artists. We are hosting Blue Pen for one week only in the Entrance Hall, in between our scheduled exhibitions.

The film pays particular attention to the voices of women journalists in conflict zones and is partly inspired by the story of Dorothy Lawrence, a reporter who posed as a man to gain access to the frontline during World War One. "Blue pen" is a casual term coined during this period to describe the heavy edits and careful monitoring of the censorship committee.

There will be an evening event on Thursday 6 October (First Thursdays) with the film-makers present, and an opportunity to look at our WW1 collections relating to women and conscientious objection. Visit the Blue Pen website or email for further details.

Suitable for

  • 14-15
  • 16-17
  • 18+

Raju Vaidyanathan: Brick Lane Born: Some Photos, 1983-1989

  • 11 October 2016 — 7 January 2017

A lifelong resident of Brick Lane, Raju Vaidyathan took up black-and-white photography as a keen young amateur more than thirty years ago, documenting day-to-day life in his neighbourhood. But he couldn’t afford to do anything with his thousands of negatives, and so these images were never seen - until 2015 when Raju enrolled in an Idea Store Learning photography class at the Shadwell Centre and began to develop and print his own work.

As the first Asian photographer to capture Spitalfields as it was in the early 1980s, Raju’s camera provides insider access to a place and community which seems ever more distant today.

A selection of Raju’s photographs will be exhibited for the first time at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives as part of Photomonth 2016.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly
Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.
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History Hoppers

  • 19 October 2016 2:30-4:30pm
  • 16 November 2016 2:30-4:30pm
  • 21 December 2016 2:30-4:30pm

Do you have a passion for old pictures?

Fond memories of forgotten streets?

Are you curious about archive collections?

Our new monthly History Hoppers group offers you and your friends the chance to explore and discuss original historical library and archive sources that help to tell the story of your local area in Tower Hamlets, with a slice of cake and cup of tea to wash it all down!

Third Wednesday of every month, 2.30pm - 4.30 pm
Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives
277 Bancroft Road, E1 4DQ

Interested in a certain subject, area or street? Send us your requests to see particular parts of our collections titled 'History Hoppers' to

History Hoppers dates in 2016:

Wednesday 15 June
Wednesday 20 July
Wednesday 17 August
Wednesday 21 September
Wednesday 19 October
Wednesday 16 November
Wednesday 21 December

Suitable for

  • Any age
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Talk: The Irish East End

  • 1 October 2016 2-3pm *on now

Rescheduled from April: join Professor Bronwen Walter, Emerita Professor of Irish Diaspora Studies at Anglia Ruskin University, for this illustrated talk on the history of Irish people in London's East End, focusing on the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960s. Free, no booking required

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

An evening of Spoken Word on Multiculturalism, Diversity and Community

  • 13 October 2016 6-7:30pm

After a hugely successful show at Hackney Museum in December 2013 and their first successful exhibition launch this year in Coombes Croft Library, north London, writer and founder KG Lester and Hackney based The WordLovers Society will be holding an evening of spoken word on Multiculturalism, Diversity & Community, as part of Black History Month. No booking required.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Adults £5.00, Children FREE

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Introduction to Street Photography with Michael Wayne Plant

  • 15 October 2016 10am-1pm

Join Michael Wayne Plant for an introduction to street photography. Michael is a Sony Global Imaging Ambassador, a social documentary photographer and the Lead Photography Lecturer for Idea Store Learning. During the session, Michael will explain the basic principles of street photography - the art of capturing everyday life on the streets. He will give an introductory workshop followed by a photography walk in the local Stepney area, practising some of the ideas explored in the workshop.

The session will be suitable for beginners, and will also give someone with more experience a chance to learn something as well. Please bring your own camera if possible. The walk will last approximately 2 hours with stops. Please advise of any access needs when booking. Places are free but you must book your place in advance via or 020 7364 1290.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Book sale

  • 15 October 2016 From 10am

We have recently finished cataloguing all of our books and pamphlets and as a result have identified a number of duplicate copies which we are withdrawing from our stock and offering for sale. Prices will be reasonable and all money raised will go to a good cause (our Donations Fund, which supports the purchase of new collections). Books on offer cover many different aspects of Tower Hamlets history, including lots of out-of-print titles and some from the nineteenth century. We hope to see you there!

Suitable for

  • Family friendly
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Walk: Black History in London’s East End

  • 15 October 2016 10:30am-12:30pm

Join us for a guided walk exploring aspects of black history in London’s East End. Free, booking essential. Please email or call 0207 364 1290 to reserve your place.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly



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Workshop: Edith Ramsay Papers

  • 15 October 2016 2-4pm

Join us for a workshop exploring the papers of educationalist and community worker, Edith Ramsay (1895-1983). Edith served on the Colonial Office Advisory Committee and was concerned with the issues faced by newly-arrived immigrants in Stepney from the 1940s onwards. Her collection of letters, notes and newspaper cuttings reveal the different stories and experiences of black people living in London’s East End during the post-war period. Free, no booking required – just drop in!

Suitable for

  • Any age
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Exhibition launch: Asian youth culture in the ‘80s East End

  • 20 October 2016 6-7pm

The launch of the Brick Lane Born exhibition will feature a public discussion exploring the various forms of Asian youth culture in Tower Hamlets in the early 1980s, including music, dance, and football. Speakers include Raju Vaidyanathan, Hasina Zaman, Faruk Shamsher, Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Bodrul Islam, Taryn Khanam and Sultana Qureshi.

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Guided walk: Brick Lane Born

  • 22 October 2016 12:30-2:30pm

Raju Vaidyanathan and Taryn Khanam will lead a walk around Spitalfields, visiting the places photographed by Raju in the 1980s and providing a brief history of the area. Places are free but you must book your place in advance via or 020 7364 1290.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly
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Talk: The Black Presence During WW1

  • 5 November 2016 From 2pm

Join Selena Carty from Black Poppy Rose ( for a talk on how African / Black people contributed to the war effort. The talk will be followed by a screening of The Battle of the Somme film.

Suitable for

  • 14-15
  • 16-17
  • 18+

Film screening: The Battle of the Somme

  • 5 November 2016 3:15-4:30pm

Following a talk by Selena Carty on the contribution of Black / African people to the war effort during WW1, there will be a film screening of the Battle of the Somme film (approx. 75 mins), a pioneering battlefield documentary that was seen by huge audiences in the UK when it was released in August 1916, barely a month after the events it depicted. Free, no booking required

Suitable for

  • 14-15
  • 16-17
  • 18+

Discussion: Identity and culture in the internet age: the Cockney + Asian experience

  • 19 November 2016 From 2pm

The proliferation of historic East End photos shared on social media and websites has revived debates around identity for Cockneys and Asians. Raju will be joined by Sultana Qureshi, Con Maloney (Isle of Dogs, Then & Now) and Taryn Khanam ( for a lively discussion and chance to look at more photos.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Getting there

Nearest tube: Stepney Green

Bus Routes: 25, along Mile End Road

By car
There are a limited number of pay and display parking spaces in the surrounding roads as well as parking spaces for Tower Hamlets resident's permit holders.

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
277 Bancroft Road
Greater London
E1 4DQ




Local History Libary

020 7364 1290


020 7364 1289


020 7364 1290

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.