Opening a window on all our yesterdays

PUBLISHED: 17:22 02 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:40 05 October 2010

YOU may be interested in the history of Tower Hamlets because you believe a relative lived in the East End or you are undertaking research into one of the many fascinating aspects of this unique borough. Tower Hamlets was formed in 1965 from the former Me

YOU may be interested in the history of Tower Hamlets because you believe a relative lived in the East End or you are undertaking research into one of the many fascinating aspects of this unique borough.

Tower Hamlets was formed in 1965 from the former Metropolitan boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar.

The place to go for further information is Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives at Bancroft Road, just off the Mile End Road between Mile End and Stepney Green Underground stations.

The library holds more than 20,000 printed books and pamphlets. These date from the 17th century and cover the history of the East End in all its diversity. There is also an extensive cuttings collection in more than 40 boxes and some 25,000 illustrations which include photographs of streets and individual subjects.

This is, of course, not forgetting the 2,000 maps dating from Elizabethan times and a wide selection of microfiche including collections of National Census records and local newspapers from 1853.

The Archives, which occupies approximately three quarters of a mile of a purpose-built environmentally-controlled strong room, the largest collection of London borough archives outside of Westminster, are divided into local authority records, business records, records of societies and associations, records of institutions, records of places of worship and personal papers.

The earliest local authority record held is a volume of minutes of the Inhabitants of the Hamlet of Poplar from 1593. This is not, however, the earliest record held in the archives. This title belongs to a Conveyance of four acres of meadow situated in Old Ford which is dated January 28, 1384.

Some of the more moving records held in the archives are lists of men, women and children in the workhouses of the 18th and 19th centuries and pauper examinations which give accounts of those seeking help. Equally moving are the registers of Poplar Mortuary and of civilian deaths and casualty lists from the Second World War.

The expertise of the staff helps you find exactly what you are looking for. The 2,700 visitors, 1,300 written enquiries, and 2,800 telephone enquires last year can all testify to the staff's helpful approach.

Further evidence of this can be seen in the National Council on Archives' Public Services Quality Group results compiled from completed visitor questionnaires. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives scored 90.4 per cent in this survey for quality and appropriateness of staff's advice, the highest in London.

If you were researching a relative, for example, you could first find them on the census, then look at the address on an old map. You could then look at the extensive photograph and cuttings collection and, perhaps, locate a photograph of the house they lived in and maybe even discover an image of them.

You could then look at the numerous archive catalogues and index to deeds, there are more than 8,000 title deeds to property held in the archive, and perhaps find a deed signed by the person you are searching or a manuscript relating directly to your subject of interest.

If undertaking social history research, you could examine manuscripts as varied as the personal papers of Edith Ramsey, for example, or the business records of G Fish, pawnbroker, or the illustrated Victorian diaries of the Rev Dan Greatorex, or the papers of Father Joe Williamson. These are, of course, only a few of the countless subjects you could research and find information on.

But this wonderful resource is under threat, as you may know from the ongoing East London Advertiser campaign.

I urge everyone to show support for Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives which record the history of all cultures, the rich and the poor, the past and the present and makes this history available to everyone.

Those thinking of splitting up the collections and abandoning Bancroft Road for the sake of money should think again.

I have used Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives on a professional and personal level throughout the last 10 years. It is and always will be a privilege to be able to use these records to tell the stories of those who have lived, loved, worked, and died in Tower Hamlets.

It is a wonderful place to visit, with many stories waiting to be discovered.

It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9am-8pm, Fridays 9am-6pm and Saturdays 9am-5pm, and can be contacted on 020-7364-1290 or online at:

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