Family History in London: Growth, Administrative Changes and Where to Find Records

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Early years
Westminster
London records on Genhound
Growth of the city
Administration of London
Locating London records

Early years of the City of London

London was established by the Romans in the 1st century AD. In the late 2nd century the city was enclosed by a wall, which still contained the city as late as 1300. Growth during the later mediaeval period saw the city expand beyond the city gates to include the areas of Fleet Street, Holborn, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. In the mid 12th century the city was given county status with the citizens constituting an single community. This community was the origin ot the City of London Corporation which, with some modifications, still governs the area of the City of London today. The City was composed of wards governed by Aldermen who were elected by the members of the London livery companies (trade guilds or associations). Membership of a livery company was gained through completing an apprenticeship in the relevant trade or through a father's membership.

Westminster

The construction of Westminster Hall to the west of the city was begun by William II in the late 11th century. Over time it developed into the Palace of Westminster, the main royal residence throughout the mediaeval period. Thus Westminster became the centre of the royal court while the City of London was the centre of trade and commerce. This functional separation continues today with "The City" operating as a modern financial district while the Houses of Parliament occupy the Palace of Westminster. Westminster was administered as an independent liberty, initially by Westminster Abbey, then after the dissolution, by a court of burgesses formed in 1585. The court of burgesses and liberty continued in existence until 1900.

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Title Period Added Search
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Growth

During the later years of Elizabeth's reign, some of her courtiers and some of the wealthier citizens of London built themselves country residences in Middlesex, Essex and Surrey but London itself was still very a compact city. Agas' Map of London from the end of the 16th century shows only a narrow strip of occupation along the river joining the City of London with Westminster, a dense area of occupation around the Port of London on the south east border of the city and another concentration at Southwark - a strip along the southern bank of the River Thames across London Bridge.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed 60% of the City of London, but it was mostly rebuilt on the existing mediaeval street plan. However many aristocratic residents never returned, preferring the new houses in the West End, where fashionable new districts such as St. James's were built close to the main royal residence of Whitehall Palace. Mansions were also built along the previously rural lane of Piccadilly. London's docks began to extend downstream, inhabited by working people who worked on the docks or in associated industries. Thus the areas of Whitechapel, Wapping, Stepney and Limehouse in the East End of London consisted of tightly packed poor quality housing. This contrast between the upmarket West End, commercial City and poorer East End still exists today.

After the first fire at Whitehall Palace in 1691, William III purchased Nottingham House and transformed it into Kensington Palace, continuing the momentum of the westward migration of London's wealthier occupants. During the Georgian period the spread of London ever further beyond the old walls continued at an increasing rate. New districts such as Mayfair were built for the rich in the West End, new bridges over the Thames encouraged an acceleration of development in South London and in the East End, the Port of London expanded downstream from the City.

A map from the 1740s shows how London continued to grow westwards along the banks of the Thames extending as far west as Chelsea on the north bank and Vauxhall on the south bank. On the east side the city extends to Mile End, Stepney and Shadwell north of the river and Rotherhithe south of the river. The north of the city is bounded by Marylebone, Holborn and Hoxton.

Spurred by continuing industrial progress and the development of the railways during the 19th century, the expansion of the city went into overdrive. In 1800 London's population was 1 million and by 1900 it had reached 6.5 million, becoming the world's largest city in 1831, a position it retained until it was overtaken by New York in 1925. By 1850 the city extends to St. John's Wood, Regent's Park, and Islington in the north, Hackney, Bethnal Green and Poplar in the east, Camberwell, Peckham, Lambeth and Kennington in the south and Brompton and Kensington in the west. By the late 19th century Greenwich, Lewisham and Woolwich in the south east, Wandsworth in the south west, Hammersmith and Fulham in the west, Hampstead in the north west, and Islington and Stoke Newington in the north had become part of London.

Population of London

1851 - 2,363,000
1901 - 6,506,954
1951 - 8,196,978
2001 - 7,322,400
2007 - 7,600,000 (approx)

1300 - 50-100,000
1500 - 50-75,000
1600 - 200,000
1700 - 550,000
1801 - 959,300

Administration

Until reformed in 1855, London had no single administrative body in charge of the whole city but was administered piecemeal. Apart from the the City of London and the City and Liberty of Westminster which had their own independent administrations, the rest of the city was part of the three surrounding counties and was administered in the same way as the rural areas, by the each parish for local matters and by the county administration for wider concerns. Middlesex covered the area north of the Thames and west of the River Lee, Surrey the area to the south and south-west, and Kent the far south east. As the infrastructure of the city developed, numerous ad hoc bodies covering different portions of the city came into existence, with no overall coordination. To remedy this the Metropolitan Board of Works was created in 1855 to administer the sewers, roads, bridges, Thames embankment and the fire brigade. Other functions such as poor law and education remained with the parishes.

Unelected, unpopular and corrupt, the MBW was abolished in 1889 and replaced with the London County Council which governed all aspects of London and covered the area now known as Inner London. Those portions of the three surrounding counties that were part of London were removed from the county jurisdictions and placed in the new county. In 1900 the County of London was divided into 27 Metropolitan boroughs - Battersea, Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Camberwell, Chelsea, Deptford, Finsbury, Fulham, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith, Hampstead, Holborn, Islington, Kensington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Paddington, Poplar, St Marylebone, St Pancras, Stoke Newington, Shoreditch, Southwark, Stepney, Wandsworth, Westminster, Woolwich; plus the City of London.

London, however, continued to grow and by the 1930's had effectively absorbed almost the whole of Middlesex, though the county still existed as an administrative unit until 1965. During this period the suburbs of London also extended further into Kent and Essex and began to encroach on the southernmost parts of Hertfordshire. In 1965 the County of London was abolished and replaced by the larger administrative area of Greater London, adminstered by the Greater London Council. The area was subdivided into 32 London boroughs plus the City of London which, with occassional minor boundary changes, still exist today. The GLC was abolished in 1986 with its powers devolved to the local boroughs. London-wide government was restored with the creation of the Greater London Authority in 2000, albeit with a different structure and without some of the responsibilities that were passed from the GLC to the boroughs in 1986. A table of the current London boroughs can be seen below showing the earlier metropolitan boroughs that they replaced and the county in which they were historically located.

A useful list of the districts of London which are mostly derived from the names of the original parishes, giving the name of the London borough it is now located in and the postcode can be found on the Wikipedia website. Also on the site is a map of the modern London boroughs.

Locating London Records

The records for London on the Genhound website are listed above. Because of the overlap between London and the surrounding counties, records for relevant counties, eg Middlesex, will appear in both London and county lists. Links to the main relevant archives and family history societies can be found in the left hand menu under "Useful sites" near the top of this page.

Many of the records for those researching London genealogy can be found at the London Metropolitan Archives including the archive of the City of London, Middlesex Sessions records, records of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the London County Council and the Greater London Council. The family history archives for each of the London boroughs will also contain relevant records, there is a list of the local archives with links in the London section of the Genuki website.

Parish registers and records for parishes in the City of London and for all other parishes in the Diocese of London are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. The Diocese of London covers a large part, but not all, of Greater London and covers the City of London and the boroughs of Camden, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Richmond upon Thames, Ealing, Harrow, Brent, Barnet, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Enfield, Westminster. Registers and records for parishes within the boundaries of the City of Westminster before 1964 are held at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. Parish records for the other boroughs are most probably held at the record office of the historic county in which the parish was originally located, the relevant borough archive will be able to confirm this. The table of London boroughs below gives the name of the relevant historic county for each borough.

Table showing the modern London boroughs and their corresponding administrative areas from earlier periods

Modern London Borough (post 1965) Metropolitan/Urban Boroughs from 1900 Historic County
Barking & Dagenham Barking, Dagenham Essex
Barnet Barnet, East Barnet Hertfordshire
Bexley Bexley, Erith, Crayford, Sidcup Kent
Brent Wembley, Willesden Middlesex
Bromley Bromley, Beckenham, Orpington, Chislehurst, Penge* Kent *split between Kent & Surrey
Camden Hampstead, Holborn, St. Pancras Middlesex
City of Wesminster Paddington, St. Marylebone, Westminster Middlesex
Croydon Croydon Surrey
Ealing Ealing, Southall, Acton Middlesex
Enfield Southgate, Enfield, Edmonton Middlesex
Greenwich Greenwich, Woolwich (excluding North Woolwich) Kent
Hackney Hackney, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington Middlesex
Hammersmith & Fulham Hammersmith, Fulham Middlesex
Haringey Hornsey, Wood Green, Tottenham Middlesex
Harrow Harrow on the Hill, Hendon, Wealdstone (these 3 districts were merged in 1934 to form Harrow Urban District) Middlesex
Havering Romford, Hornchurch Essex
Hillingdon Uxbridge, Hayes & Harlington, Ruislip-Northwood, Yiewsley & West Drayton Middlesex
Hounslow Brenford & Chiswick, Feltham, Heston & Isleworth Middlesex
Islington Finsbury, Islington Middlesex
Kensington & Chelsea Kensington, Chelsea Middlesex
Kingston-upon-Thames Kingston-upon-Thames, Malden & Coombe, Surbiton Surrey
Lambeth Lambeth plus Streatham & Clapham previously in Wandsworth borough Surrey
Lewisham Lewisham, Deptford Kent
Merton Mitcham, Wimbledon, Merton & Morden Surrey
Newham East Ham, West Ham, plus North Woolwich previously in Woolwich borough Essex
Redbridge Ilford, Wanstead, Woodford Essex
Richmond upon Thames (1)Twickenham, (2)Richmond, (2)Barnes (1) Middlesex (2)Surrey
Southwark Southwark, Camberwell, Bermondsey Surrey
Sutton Sutton & Cheam, Beddington & Wallington, Carshalton Surrey
Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green, Poplar, Stepney Middlesex
Waltham Forest Chingford, Leyton, Walthamstow Essex
Wandsworth Battersea, Wandsworth (excluding Streatham & Clapham) Surrey

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