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Historical research in London archives

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This post was written by Charlie Berry, a doctoral student at the Institute of Historical Research and cross-posted from the History Collections website

As a research student, a lot of my time is spent beavering away in libraries and archives. My thesis topic, neighbourhoods in fifteenth-century London, means that I am fortunate in having most of the material I need all in one city.

The collections available in London libraries and archives are extensive and usually remarkably well-catalogued. Since I mainly work with documentary sources, the majority of my research time is spent either at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell or The National Archives at Kew. The collections at both are vast, covering a broad range of periods and topics, and it’s easy to follow trails through the documents all in the one reading room. I’m also fortunate in that both the LMA and National Archives have printed and manuscript indexes available for a lot of the material I look at, which is invaluable for pinpointing the records I need.

Beyond the large archives, there is an amazing array of diversity in the collections available to researchers in London. My thesis research has also taken me to the Guildhall Library, which mainly houses the records of London’s livery companies. Local Borough archives too offer a wealth of material which is perhaps underused by historians. My local archive in Hackney is a wonderful resource I used during my MA as well as whilst recently taking part in a local history project. That project is itself creating an archive of material at the Bishopsgate Institute Library, which has archival collections specialising in radical history.

There’s such a large amount of material out there in London’s archives, large and small, that there must be a million untouched research topics hiding in the files and folders just waiting to be explored, with friendly archivists there to help you find them! History Day at Senate House is a great opportunity to find out more about the kinds of collections available in London (and beyond).

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