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.
alt="Half Moon Theatre logo"

Exhibition: Stages of Half Moon: Celebrating the rich heritage of Half Moon Theatre, 1972-2016

  • 12 — 30 January 2017 *on now

From its inception in 1972, Half Moon Theatre played a key role in the development of the theatre sector and in its early years produced radical, politically charged theatre including Steven Berkoff’s Sink the Belgrano, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Can't Pay? Won't Pay! and Frances de la Tour as a female Hamlet.

An award from the Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots programme in 2015 enabled the company to work with young people to explore the East London theatre’s history from 1972 to 2016. The resulting Stages of Half Moon exhibition will be hosted by Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, and features previously unseen original photographs, programmes and other documents celebrating the theatre’s rich past as one of the borough’s most well-known arts organisations. The exhibition is accompanied by a dedicated website ( which includes interviews with over 100 people who have been involved with the company in various capacities over the years.

The exhibition launch event will take place on Thursday 12 January (6-7.30pm) and will include an introduction to the exhibition and the company from the present theatre’s Director, Chris Elwell, and Michael Irving, co-founder of the Half Moon Theatre, who will speak about the theatre’s early days and will present an informal performance of the opening scene of the opening play from 1972, In the Jungle of the Cities.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly
alt="Holocaust Memorial Day logo"

Exhibition: Hidden Histories

  • 16 — 31 January 2017 *on now

In recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, we will be hosting a small display curated by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in 2011, in which survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia reveal an object from their lives before genocide and its significance to them. Further information about Holocaust Memorial Day can be found here:

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.
alt="Mile End Vestry Hall"

History Hoppers

  • 31 January 2017 11:30am-1:30pm
  • 28 February 2017 11:30am-1:30pm
  • 28 March 2017 11:30am-1:30pm

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

From January 2017, History Hoppers will be moving to the new time of 11.30am-1.30pm on the last Tuesday of every month. New History Hoppers dates will be:

Tuesday 31st January, 11.30am – 1.30pm
Tuesday 28th February, 11.30am – 1.30pm
Tuesday 28th March, 11.30am – 1.30pm

Suitable for

  • Any age
alt="Pavilion Theatre 1895"

Theatre Heritage Day

  • 4 February 2017 2-4:30pm

Join us for a packed afternoon of talks on different aspects of theatre history in the East End. Our distinguished speakers are:

Dr Janice Norwood on nineteenth century theatre in the East End
Carole Zeidman on the history of Wilton's Music Hall
Erin Lee on the Black Plays Archive, including Elmina's Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah, set in Clapton
Isabelle Seddon on the Jewish East End's contribution to twentieth century political theatre
Ashraf Neswar on the history of Tower Hamlets Council's annual Season of Bangla Drama

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.