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.
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
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.
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
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.