Skip to content
Date updated: 17/05/2022

London has always been known as a centre for culture and society - but how are these activities reflected in archive records?

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) holds a wide variety of collections relating to the provision of food and drink, clubs and associations, and entertainment. For example, J. Lyons and Company (ACC/3527) ran a popular chain of tea shops, corner houses and restaurants, reflected in hundreds of photographs, menus, advertisements, scrapbooks, films and cartoons.

Other catering records include those of several large breweries: Truman, Hanbury Buxton (B/THB), Watney Combe Reid and Company Limited (ACC/2979), Allied Breweries (Ind Coope) (LMA/4433) and Courage, Barclay and Simonds Limited (ACC/2305).

Dancing at the 'All Together Now' festival, 1978
Dancing at the 'All Together Now' festival, 1978

Records relating to clubs and other societies include gentlemen’s clubs such as the Union Club (A/UNC), Brooks’s Club (ACC/2371), Army and Navy Club (LMA/4179), Oriental Club (LMA/4452), Travellers’ Club (LMA/4519), Boodle’s Club (LMA/4572) and Carlton Club (LMA/4609).

There are several collections relating to religious societies such as the Victoria Club (ACC/2996) founded in Whitechapel for Jewish youths or the London Methodist Districts Women's Luncheon Club (ACC/2948). Many musical and theatrical clubs can be consulted, including the City Glee Club (CLC/047), the London Salzburg Society (ACC/2092), the Royal Choral Society (ACC/2370), the Ancient Society of College Youths (CLC/001), and the Enfield Operatic and Dramatic Society (ACC/1287). City of London wards often have their own clubs which have deposited records at LMA, as have some sporting societies including the Polytechnic Harriers (ACC/2677). Various businesses, hospitals and local government offices had staff clubs for sport, music and drama, such as the Greater London Council Staff Dramatic Club (ACC/1337).

Children dancing around the Maypole,  Greenford Avenue School, 1923
Children dancing around the Maypole, Greenford Avenue School, 1923

The Remembrancer’s Department of the Corporation of London was responsible for organising grand civic entertainments such as the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, and their papers contain many menus, tickets, ball programmes, entertainment cards, orders of procession and speeches (COL/RMD/CE). The Corporation of London archives also contain papers relating to the management of open spaces bought and preserved for recreation and sports, notably Epping Forest (CLA/077).

The Print Collection and Photograph Library (SC/PHL, SC/PC, SC/PZ) include many illustrations of London at play, including theatres, music halls, street musicians, pleasure gardens, gambling, restaurants, fairs, clubs and pubs, as well as a large number of playbills and programmes.


Crowds in St John's Road, Battersea, 1912
Crowds in St John's Road, Battersea, 1912

The records of local government and court sessions include papers relating to the licensing of theatres, cinemas and dancing, and the control of their architecture. For example, see the London County Council Theatres and Music Halls Committee, 1889-1931, Entertainments (Licensing) Committee, 1931-1941, and Public Control Committee, 1941-1965 (LCC/MIN), the Architect’s Department Building Act case files and plans (GLC/AR/BR), or Middlesex Sessions papers relating to music hall licencing and indecent performances (MJ/SP and MR/L/MD).

Other collections at LMA detail the Londoner’s experience of attending and participating in social activity. For example, the Cook Collection of Theatrical and Miscellaneous Papers (ACC/595) comprises playbills, programmes, librettos and newspaper cuttings for several London theatres, dating from 1859 to 1865, while the diaries of Anthony Heap (ACC/2243) include reviews of theatre performances from 1928 to 1985.