The London Collection
Guildhall Library is the Library of London History
Our core collection covers London and its history and is the largest collection in the world devoted to the history of a single city. We hold over 200,000 printed materials dating from the 15th to the 21st centuries. The collection focuses on the City of London and the Inner London boroughs, but covers the whole of London including the Outer London boroughs.
Our collection covers all aspects of life in London, past and present, its trade, people and buildings. You can search the catalogue of the holdings of all the City of London’s libraries online. It is possible to limit the search to find only items held at Guildhall Library.
Guildhall Library’s resources to trace Londoners, past and present, include:
Trade and telephone directories
Guildhall Library holds the best collection of trade directories in any UK public library. These date from 1736 although there is one “pioneer” London directory for 1677. We also hold an excellent collection of UK trade directories and provincial telephone directories from the 1880s onwards.
Contact Guildhall Library Team if you would like the complete list of London trade directories sent to you.
Poll books and electoral registers
We hold a large collection of poll books for London as well as many other cities, towns and counties. Before the days of the secret ballot, lists of people entitled to vote and, in many cases, the names of candidates for whom they voted, were published in poll books. These can be a useful source for family, local and political history. The library also holds the electoral registers for the City of London, 1832 to date.
Contact Guildhall Library Team if you would like further information or call 020 733 1870.
Biographies and autobiographies
We hold an extensive collection of published biographies and autobiographies relating to Londoners. We hold biographies of the great and the good - novelists and poets, politicians and Prime Ministers, royalty. We also hold works by and about ordinary people who lived in London - the autobiographies of individuals who lived through the blitz in London, the autobiographies of headmasters, civil servants alongside East-End gangsters, as well memories of people living in the diverse parts of London. These biographies give insight into the lives of Londoners which complement the histories of areas and buildings that we also hold.
Reflecting the City’s long pre-eminence as a financial and commercial centre, we hold an extensive business history collection, the Stock Exchange Daily Official List from 1899 to date, and the records of the London Stock Exchange, including the annual reports of quoted companies from 1880-1965 and the Course of Exchange from 1698 – the first printed list of securities and their prices. The library holds historical files of commercial periodicals, company histories, London property sales catalogues and the Financial Times from 1888 to date.
City Livery Companies
Guildhall Library holds a wealth of published material on the City Livery Companies including histories of most of the companies. In addition, the archives of over 80 of the Livery Companies, including the Waterman and Lightermen Company, can also be consulted at Guildhall Library. The archives include apprenticeship and freedom records for their respective companies as well as the commercial and administrative interests of the livery companies.
Clock and watch makers
Guildhall Library houses the library of the Antiquarian Horological Society and the library and archive of the Clockmakers' Company. In addition, we hold many published reference sources which provide biographical information on clock and watch makers and technical information on their clocks and watches.
Crime and criminals
Guildhall Library holds an excellent collection of contemporary materials relating to London and London events, including broadsides. A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. From the 16th to the 19th century broadsides were the common format used for posters, announcements of events or proclamations, or simply advertisements. They would have been created for a specific purpose and were intended to be thrown away.
Dating from the early 17th century, the library holds many broadsides relating to sensational events - including suicides off the Monument and public executions. Execution broadsides, typically sold at the site of the execution by street pedlars, give a sensationalised account of the murder and trial, a confession from the guilty parties and are often accompanied by a ballad set to a popular tune. Broadsides are a vivid illustration of past Londoners’ view of executions as entertainment spectacle attracting crowds of thousands.
You can find our broadside collection on the library catalogue.
London guides and maps
We hold historic (and current) London guidebooks, which can be fascinating in the information they provide, but also for what they tell us about leisure, tourism and travel at the time. Our earliest guides date from the 18th century, we hold many 19th and 20th century London guidebooks as well as current guides.
We hold published maps including the A-Z series published by London Topographical Society and Alan Godfrey maps. The original map collections are now held at London Metropolitan Archives. We also sell selected maps in our bookshop.