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.
="A Necessary Fiction exhibition poster"

Exhibition and events: A Necessary Fiction

  • 5 October 2017 — 20 January 2018 *on now

A new exhibition of artwork by ceramicist Basil Olton exploring the untold history of anti-imperialist black activism in interwar London. The work is inspired by Chris Braithwaite, also known as Chris Jones, a resident of Stepney, trade unionist and founder of the Colonial Seamen’s Association who worked and organised in the East End during the 1930s and 1940s.


Exhibition Launch
Thursday 5 October, 6:00 - 7:30pm
Artist Basil Olton will launch the new exhibition A Necessary Fiction, as well as an illustrated catalogue featuring two essays on his new work in ceramics and mixed media. Free, no booking required. Refreshments provided. Speeches at 7pm.

Talk: The Politics of Exhibiting
Thursday 19 October, 6:15 - 7:30pm
How do memory and history converge in the social production of heritage? What is the role of collections, exhibitions and institutions in the construction of knowledge? A panel discussion with Dorothy Rose du Boulay(grand-daughter of Chris Braithwaite), Michael McMillan and Basil Olton. Free, no booking required.

Half-Term Sculpture Workshop
Tuesday 24 October, 2:00 - 4:00pm
Inspired by the exhibition and themes of recorded and un-recorded family history and recollection, this creative workshop for families and children will utilise shape and form and the beauty of the fragment to create a 3D form using Modrock sculpting material.
Free, but booking is required. Please email or call 020 7364 1290 to reserve your place.

Half-Term Creative Workshop
Thursday 26 October, 10:00am - 12:00pm
Inspired by text, texture and the transient meaning of images, this creative workshop for families will use mixed media and cut-out shapes to create an A3 collage banner.
Free, but booking is required. Please email or call 020 7364 1290 to reserve your place.

Talk: Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism and the Left in interwar London
Thursday 26 October, 6:30 - 7:30pm
From the Scottsboro protests to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, this talk by Prof. Hakim Adi will consider the activities and campaigns of the International African Service Bureau, of which Chris Braithwaite was Secretary. The IASB was a Pan-Africanist organisation committed to trade unionism and anti-imperialism. Free, no booking required.

Talk: Love and loss in mid-century multicultural Stepney
Thursday 7 December, 6:30 - 7:30pm
Join Dr Rob Waters (University of Sussex) for this talk focusing on local educationalist Edith Ramsay, who lived and worked in Stepney during the 1940s and 1950s and became deeply involved with the transnational lives of Stepney’s African, Caribbean and South Asian populations. The letters in her archive (held here at Tower Hamlets) reveal lives disrupted by war, illness and poverty, but also give an intimate insight into convivial life and love in Stepney, and its identity as a historic multicultural centre. Free, no booking required.

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.
="East End History Club flyer"

East End History Club

  • 3 February 2018 2-4pm
  • 17 March 2018 2-4pm

Are you interested in the history of London's East end? If so, come along to one of our FREE drop-in sessions. You'll have the chance to browse through old photographs, maps, newspapers and archival documents relating to a range of popluar subjects, such as housing, health, immigration, work, school, leisure and much more!
These sessions are ideal for those who are curious about local history and want to find out more. There's no need to book, just drop in. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. Suitable for adults and children (11+).

Upcoming sessions:

Saturday 21st October 2-4pm
Saturday 2nd December 2-4pm
Saturday 3rd February 2-4pm
Saturday 17th March 2-4pm

Suitable for

  • 11-13
  • 16-17
  • 14-15
  • 18+


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.