Photograph of Victoria Embankment, London, 1903 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/460/f415)

This is a brief guide to researching records of towns and cities. This guide will help you to identify some key sources of information which will help you with your research.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • any former names of the town or city
      • any counties the town or city may have been in
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Local authority records

      Consult records of local authorities and parishes in local archives and libraries. Use the ARCHON directory to find their contact details.


      Search the Access to Archives (A2A) catalogue for information about records held in local archives in England and Wales, dating from the eighth century to the present day.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

Did you know?

Despite what many people believe, a town becomes a city only by the award of a royal charter - not by having a cathedral. Dunblane has a cathedral but is not a city. Brighton and Hove is a city but does not have a cathedral.

The UK has 66 official cities; 50 in England, five in Wales, six in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland.

Town and country planning at a national level developed largely from the public health legislation of the nineteenth century. The first piece of legislation to contain general planning as distinct from housing provisions was the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act 1909, which permitted local authorities to draw up planning schemes in connection with the development of new housing areas.

In 1909 the central authority for planning was the Local Government Board and, after 1919, the Ministry of Health. From 1919 district councils were empowered to join together in joint planning committees, and from 1930 county councils were allowed to join such committees or to undertake powers relinquished by district councils.