Guide to the Archives Centre

Westminster City Archives has a range of great resources to help you with research. Browse through this guide to find the correct service for your project.

1. Art and Design collections

The Art and Design collection at Westminster City Archives has been recognised as a collection of national significance and includes the below archives:

Liberty Ltd.

Jaeger Co. Ltd.

Waring and Gillow Ltd.

2. Cemetery and crematoria records

By the mid-19th century, London churchyards were full to overflowing. To rectify this, the 1850 Metropolitan Interment Act allowed parishes to buy land outside London to provide new cemeteries.

After the 1853 Burial Act, almost all burials took place in new cemeteries outside the city centre. London churchyards were no longer used apart from a few, rare interments in private graves.

From 1853 onwards, the parishes, and subsequently, councils, used various cemeteries and crematoria. A list of these, with contact details for the bodies that hold the records, can be browsed by downloading our information sheet on Cemetery and crematoria records.

To view listings of earlier burial registers, see our Anglican Church records section

You may also want to browse our information sheet on Monumental inscriptions.

3. Church and cemetery records

City of Westminster Archives Centre is the Diocesan Record Office for south Westminster, and most Anglican parish registers for the area south of Oxford Street have been deposited here.

We also provide access to original registers or transcripts of some non-conformist churches.

From the late 1850s onwards, most London burials took place in cemeteries rather than church burial grounds. We hold registers for Hanwell, St Marylebone, Mill Hill and Willesden Lane cemeteries. For covering dates, see the Cemetery registers section. 

Where possible, access to our registers is provided on microfilm to help preserve the original books. 

4. Council records

One of our core functions is to preserve records of local government in Westminster from the regulation of the city by the Court of Burgesses to the activities of Westminster City Council today.

Our council records include:

  • Court of Burgesses records (1610 to 1901)
  • civil parish records (covering all 12 former civil parishes of Westminster, Paddington and Marylebone)
  • records of civil boards and commissioners that served the former civil parishes of Westminster
  • records of Westminster City Council, St. Marylebone Borough Council and Paddington Borough Council (1901 to 1965)
  • records of Westminster City Council (1965 onwards)

Although they primarily deal with the administration of the city, Westminster's council records can also be a useful source for family historians. Sources of possible interest include rate books and poor law records such as workhouse admission registers.

5. Courts of law

We hold records for Westminster and Marylebone Petty Sessions which tried misdemeanour (petty) offences as opposed to more serious felony.

These courts met regularly and fulfilled a similar function to today's magistrate's court.

View a listing of our court of law records (PDF,  199 KB)

7. Directories and court guides

Directories and court guides show who lived where in London. They are slightly limited, but useful for tracing people and residential histories during years not covered by the census.

View a detailed listing of our directories and court guides (PDF, 14 KB)

Directories

First published in 1677, the London Directory evolved from alphabetical name listings to complex reference works listing residents and workers by trade, commercial name, profession and street.

We hold London directories from 1736 to 1991 which can be accessed on microfilm in the searchroom, along with copies of some earlier directories from the Guildhall Library's collection.

We also hold local directories for St Marylebone, Paddington and Pimlico dating from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.

Please note:

  • before 1816, directories are arranged by surname and have no street listings
  • from 1817, some directories had listings by residential address and Kelly's Directories contain street listings from 1842
  • from 1855 the principal sections of Kelly's Directories are streets, commercial, trades and court
  • people had to pay to be included in directories, so they aren't comprehensive but mainly list individuals involved in trade, commerce and the professions

The Historical Directories site offers online access to selected local directories for England and Wales from 1750 to 1919.

Court guides

Court guides list people of social standing:

  • Boyle's Court Guides have street directories from as early as 1792 as well as the court section listing people of social standing
  • Royal Kalendars are useful for looking up civil servants

Access Boyle's Court Guides, Royal Blue Books and Royal Kalendars for selected years between 1792 to 1940 at Westminster City Archives.

8. Electoral registers and poll books

View a detailed listing of our electoral registers and poll books (PDF, 70KB)

Electoral registers

Electoral registers are useful in tracing people by a known address - to search for someone by name, use London Directories).

Registers have been published every year since 1832 except in wartime. To be listed, a person must meet certain franchise qualifications.

Most parliamentary electoral registers included electors for local government since the late 19th century, making it possible to find people even if they couldn't vote. Women ratepayers appear as municipal electors from 1869; today, registers include EU citizens.

2 editions have been issued each year since 2003: the full register lists everyone entitled to vote and the edited register lists voters who allowed their details to be made freely available.

Public access to full registers is restricted; contact Electoral Services to view full electoral registers for Westminster. 

Poll books

Although poll books list voters, they differ from electoral registers as they record how each person voted.

Poll books were published in the late 17th century until 1872 when the passing of the Ballot Act resulted in their effective abolition. 

10. Images

View over 70,000 prints, photos and original artworks related to Westminster's history including architectural photography, advertising material, postcards, portraits, plans and more.

Searching for images

A prints and photographs card index is available in the searchroom; search the collection by street or prominent building, and, in certain cases, by artist, portrait sitter and subject.

View 1000s of images using our WESTCAT catalogue, our vast collection of books and pamphlets or our newspaper cuttings collection.

Obtaining copies of images

Original images cannot be photocopied for preservation reasons. To obtain copies, please use:

  • self-service photography - you may take photographs of most images in our collections for a small fee
  • digital imaging services - we can provide digitally-scanned copies of most images through our reprographics service (most unbound items of A3 size or smaller can be processed)
  • professional photography - arrange for copies to be made by our external photographer (prices available on application)

Notable collections

Alongside our main topographical collections, we hold a number of distinct collections of special interest. Most of these collections are indexed in our searchroom's card indexes or on WESTCAT; some have separate printed indexes.

11. Library collection

For information on the Archive Centre's library collection, please check the appropriate guides below:

12. Maps and plans

We offer access to original maps and copies charting London and Westminster’s development from the 16th century to the present day.

An extensive range of historic Ordnance Survey maps (1867 to 1991), Goad Insurance Plans (1881 to 1961) and more can be consulted in our searchroom.

As well as our main map collection, some plans are held in our archives of Marylebone, Paddington and Westminster estates.

CDs of historic Marylebone and Paddington maps from our collections are available to buy from the Local History Shop.

Significant maps in the collection

13. Personal, family and estate papers

Over 75,000 deeds have been deposited, many coming from solicitors through the British Records Association, relating to properties in the area deposited over the last 50 years. Some deeds are calendared and have a card index to personal and place (mainly street) names and trades.

Of particular note are 18,000 deeds relating to the Grosvenor Estate. The main sequence of these is arranged alphabetically by street name.

Collections of personal papers include general collections of miscellaneous material relating to Paddington and St Marylebone consisting mainly of 19th century letters from residents, some of them well-known. These collections are fully catalogued and indexed as D Misc and Acc 612 and 988.

View a listing of our family and personal papers

View a listing of out estate papers

14. Special collections

Westminster City Archives holds unique collections of great significance to researchers of fashion, art and design, theatre and literature.

Art and Design collection

Our Art and Design collection has been designated as being of national importance.

Theatre materials

We offer an extensive collection of theatre materials with books, playbills, programmes and prints documenting the history of London's vibrant theatre scene, and in particular the development of West End theatre.

The Preston Blake collection

The Preston Blake collection is a large collection of books, pamphlets and art works relating to the influential poet, painter and printmaker William Blake.

Donated to Westminster in 1967, the collection represents 50 years of assiduous acquisition of books by and about the great poet, painter and mystic, who was born in Soho and spent most of his life in Westminster.

The collection consists of over 700 volumes, many of which are rare and sought-after, as well as periodicals, catalogues and transparencies.

Jewels of the collection include:

  • autographed letters written by Blake to one of his patrons
  • Blake’s own printed copy of his first book of poems ‘Poetical Sketches’ including alterations in Blake’s own hand
  • The ‘Book of Job’ containing proof copies of Blake's 22 engraved illustrations
  • artist’s proofs of the 7 large illustrations of Dante

Many of the books in the Preston Blake collection are catalogued in the Westminster library catalogue. A printed catalogue of the collection is available in the Archives' searchroom.

15. Westminster City Council's history

Read about the history of Westminster City Council from 1900 to the present day as well as about St. Marylebone and Paddington Borough Councils.


Last updated: 2 November 2017
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