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The king’s aid rolls, entries into which form the bare bones of the b4kxstp1.0 volume’s account of the local population of Battle Bridge district circa 1700, have been stored for more than three centuries in vaults beneath the City of London Guildhall in Aldermanbury, London EC2, the roof of which will have been in plain sight on the City skyline from the brow of the Mantells/ Pentonville Hill before the area was built upon in the early C19.

Recently, however, with the rest of the Corporation of the City of London’s thousand years old archive and manuscript collection, they have been relocated to the refurbished London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) in Northampton Road, Clerkenwell EC1. Here they have joined 72 kms of shelving comprising 400 years-worth of records of the administrative and judicial Middlesex Sessions of the Peace, hundreds of years of London parochial registers, and records for the various bodies set up in the C19 and C20 to run the capital.

A few select categories of documents have been returned to the Guildhall, but the bulk remains at Clerkenwell. The LMA had originally opened in 1982, built by the then Greater London Council (GLC) to house records inherited from the London County Council (the LCC, the body it replaced in 1965), transferring to the ownership of the Corporation of London in 1986 with the abolition of the GLC. The building overlooks the Spa Green, a public park with tennis courts and walks amid lawns and flowerbeds and an adventure playground, created from a remnant of the old Spa Fields.

Looking south eastwards from the hilltop, visitors to the fields would have a plain view of the site now occupied by the Islington Local History Centre (ILHC), then on the town-side corner of an open field by St Johns Street. Owned by the Skinner’s Company, it was known as the Welch field from the Welsh Cattle Fair held here during the first half of the C18, later the Cattle Field.

And looking south-westwards, the viewer would see the site of the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre (CLSAC) on Theobald’s Rd WC1, part of Holborn Library, for more than a century occupied by the Gray’s Inn bowling green and cockpit on the King’s Way passing through the Red Lyon Fields, likewise  on the very skirt of the metropolis. Both establishments have a wealth of local resources, the most important for our purposes books and collections of old newspaper cuttings and ephemera.

Several articles from the Camden History Society’s Camden History Review, and other of their  publications have proved equally useful. The site of the Westminster City Archives (WCA) in St Ann’s Street SW1 would not have been in the Spy’s sight. It has collections relating to historic public houses across the capital and activities in the Marylebone Fields: but even these later were once located at Marylebone Library, a fine neo-classical building on a section of the originally rural New Road (Marylebone Rd) just beyond Marylebone/ Regent’s Park.

Similarly due west, but lying at about a third of the distance from the brow of the Mantells,  the Brill farmstead could be seen standing in the fields just beyond the Battle Bridge, where now stands the British Library. As well as a wealth of published items crucial to the writing of these volumes (many beautiful and rare old books and pamphlets, modern histories, digitised copies of old newspapers and academic journals etc), its manuscript room contains the collections of the Rev Randolph Yearwood’s private letters to the absent owner of a local freehold, and also copies he made in his own hand of legal documents concerning his conflict with the Confederacy (affidavits, petitions etc).

The Confederate’s side in the affair is related in documents from Chancery and the Court of Exchequer held in the National Archives at Kew south-west London, along with the records of Yearwood’s various legal disputes and the probate copies of the wills of several local residents; with the originals also of state papers otherwise accessible through calendars held on the shelves of the British Library. The National Archives (with the Clerkenwell-based Family history centre) were transferred to Kew during the 1990s, originally established in 1838 as the Public Record Office in Holborn in the mediaeval Rolls Chapel on Chancery Lane, its roof another landmark on the historic cityscape.

And southwestwards from King’s Cross St Pancras, on what was once the Long Fields, is located the University of London-based Institute of Historical Research (IHR, Senate Hse, Malet Street WC1), a world renowned history hub whose rapidly expanding open access digital library includes records, histories and surveys of London (and the rest of the UK) previously only available at specialist libraries, including copies of the 1694 king’s aid roles for all London.

The websites of all these bodies provide detailed information about their publicly available resources and services, with plans to publish further resources on the web. For more than a decade the ways local history collections are presented has seen considerable changes, rising in particular to the challenge of the growth in interest in family history. And in both local and family history the role of the Internet has grown exponentially, developments in the increased availability of digital resources well illustrated by access to research for b4kxstp.

Proceedings of the Old Bailey (contemporary accounts of the major criminal trials held at the Middlesex session between 1674 and 1913, with also copies of the Ordinary’s Accounts of the lives and crimes of men and women hanged at Tyburn from 1679 to 1772) are available at Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

A collaboration between a number of academic institutions funded by Lottery money and research councils, over five years the project grew into a freely accessible, fully searchable digital archive comprising nearly 200,000 pages of the Proceedings and Accounts linked to essays, documents, maps etc. And the launching on 28 June 2010 of the website London lives 1690 to 1800: crime, poverty and social policy in the metropolis only the latest addition to an ever-growing resource of digitized and publicly accessible historical records.

The London lives database “makes available, in a fully digitised and searchable form a wide range of primary sources about C18 London, with particular focus on plebeian Londoners”. Drawing on  the Proceedings and Accounts and linked to scanned copies of further original sessions papers held at the LMA, it includes over 240,000 manuscript pages from eight London archives, with further datasets, providing access via a simple word search facility to more than three million name instances.

A new method of studying London’s history has been developed, with crimes that took place within the suburbs able to be further investigated on the website Locating London’s Past, which allows their location to be mapped onto a mash-up of a fully rasterised and geo-referenced edition of John Rocque’s Survey of London, Westminster & Southwark (1746) and the first accurate modern Ordinance Survey Map (1869), with also further reference to “a modern Google Maps environment”. 

The site was launched in December 2011, and among many topics highlights research into crime and punishment; the distribution of wealth, poverty and occupations; the ownership of consumer goods; and mortality. However, Rocque’s Survey does not reach as far as the rural Battle Bridge on which Gray’s Inn Lane crossed over the River Fleet. The following year, however, he also produced the half scale London and the country 10 miles round from which this augmented map of the Battle Bridge area is reproduced.

And in addition to a growing archive of core texts made available online by the Institute of Historical Research, the Connected Histories website provides a wide range of digital resources relating to early modern and C19 London (and British) history which besides providing a portal for access uses “natural language processing techniques (also used in London Lives) in order to remotely tag previously unstructured texts and allow consistent structured searching of names, places and dates”.

Users are able to customise and save search results linked between documents in the separate resources, the connections including access to London Lives, the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, British History Online, the Burney Newspaper Collection, the Parliamentary Papers, and British Museum Images etc. And further digital explorations may be undertaken on the Grub Street Project site.


Links to Other Websites

King's Cross homepage

London Borough Camden King's Cross Central website (with many further links)

Camden local history & archive centre

Islington local history centre

Westminster archives & local history centre

City of London Guildhall library & archives services

Metropolitan Archives

British Library

Institute of Historical Research home: with links to Bilbliography of British & Irish history; British History on Line; Connected Histories; History of Parliament; and History Online

University of the Arts London (Central St Martin's campus)

National Archives

Old Bailey Proceedings Online


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