How to look for records of... Towns and cities

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to researching records of towns and cities. This guide will help you to identify the key sources of information that 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

The UK has 69 official cities: 51 in England, six in Wales, seven in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland. [Correct as of April 2020,]. 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.

Town and country planning at a national level developed largely from the public health legislation of the 19th 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.

Online records

Online Historical Population Reports (1801–1937)

Search the Histpop website to consult historical population reports based upon statistics gathered through the census and civil registration.

Charles Booth Online Archive (1886–1903)

Browse the London School of Economics’ Charles Booth Online Archive to view original records from Booth’s survey of life and labour in London.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Board of Health correspondence (1846–1871)

Browse Discovery, our catalogue for records of the General Board of Health and the Home Office in MH 13.

This series contains correspondence with local authorities and government departments relating to the provision and administration of public health, sanitary and other services under the several Public Health and Local Government Acts passed between 1848 and 1871. A few volumes relate to special subjects such as cholera, yellow fever, and metropolitan nuisances.

Housing and Local Government records (1919–1970)

Browse our catalogue for records of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and related bodies such as the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Health in HLG.

Records of the Department of the Environment (1951–2006)

Browse our catalogue for records of the Department of the Environment and other related bodies in AT.

The records concern housing, planning, new towns, inner city matters, finance and local government, environmental protection and services, the countryside, sport, recreation and parks, water services, ancient monuments, estate management, construction, and traffic and transport.

Records in other archives and organisations

Local authority records

Consult records of local authorities and parishes in local archives and libraries.

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources

Local libraries and local history societies

Contact the relevant local library or local history society for information on specific towns or cities.