Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section


Details of access arrangements can be found here.

New accession - Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance

In 2009, we received 65 linear metres of additional archives of Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance. These were formerly held at the company's administrative offices at Lytham Hall, near Blackpool.

The records include life policy registers from 1870s and further archives of companies absorbed by Guardian Assurance and Royal Exchange Assurance including Atlas Assurance Company and Caledonian Insurance Company. Highlights are two volumes of Guardian Assurance Surveyors reports and maps of houses in London 1820s, pen and ink sketches of Fire Office and other staff by an employee of the Royal Exchange, 1860s-70s, and life policy of Benjamin Disraeli.

Royal Exchange Assurance was established by royal charter in 1720. Its business comprised marine, fire and life insurance, and general accident insurance in Britain and overseas. In 1968 the company combined with Guardian Assurance Company Limited to form Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance. The company had offices at the Royal Exchange until circa 1999 when Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance was taken over by AXA.

The records complement existing catalogued records which contain fire policy registers, minutes and other records, and expand further the City's existing holdings of insurance companies and associations. For further details of these see our guide to business holdings. Access to these uncatalogued records is currently by appointment only.

New Accessions

The Manuscripts Section makes an annual return of new accessions to The National Archives - Historical Manuscripts Commission. The returns for 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 200120022003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 are also available here.

Conservation of Sun Insurance Office policy registers [Guildhall Library Ms 11936]

We are currently working through a major programme to conserve these enormously popular records and ensure their preservation for future generations. Unfortunately, this means that certain policy registers will be unavailable for short periods of time. For further advice, please contact the Manuscripts Section by email or by telephone on 020 7332 1862/3.

Talk on the records of Lloyd's Marine Collection

The text of the successful talk on the records of the Lloyd's Marine Collection which formed part of the 2008 Archive Awareness Campaign is available here.

General Guide to Collections

We are in the process of updating the General Guide to records held in the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library. This is a major project which includes

A) adding all the significant new catalogued collections since November 1994,

B) removing entries for items which have been transferred elsewhere or which we now consider too minor for inclusion in the Guide,

C) amending entries to indicate additions to existing collections or to reflect recent research and/or work to improve catalogue entries.

In addition, we want to make the relationship between the Guide and our online catalogue as close as possible. We have added in Ms numbers for each collection, with instructions for carrying out classification searches online using those Ms numbers. We have changed the form of name of collections so that they are exactly the same as the catalogue.

This work is on-going. The website will be updated on a gradual basis, section by section. As the project continues, there will be further small changes to sections which have already been updated. Whenever a section is altered, the date of the update is given in brackets against the name of the section.

St Katharine by the Tower Marriage Licence Records

For the past two years, volunteers have been working hard on a name index to the marriage licence records of the Royal Peculiar of St Katharine by the Tower. The index is now finished and is available in hard copy in the Manuscripts Section reading room. It has been compiled from Ms 9664, Ms 9740, Ms 9741, Ms 9772 and Ms 20954, which cover the period 1686-9, 1698-1704, 1720-1802 (with gaps).

If you are interested in a marriage by licence, it is always worth looking for surviving licence records, as they nearly always give more information than the marriage registers. A marriage licence was issued after a written allegation of intention to marry was made, stating that there was no legal impediment to the marriage. The applicant for a licence also had to sign a bond. The allegations and bonds of St Katharine by the Tower generally give names, condition (spinster, bachelor or widowed), occupation of the prospective bridegroom, parishes to which they belonged, the signature or mark of the bridegroom, and occasionally also their ages. For further information on marriage licence records, please see our leaflet.

Ancestors magazine

The Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library has contributed two series of articles about its records to Ancestors magazine. The most recent:

“Paying for St. Paul’s” by Matthew Payne about the St Paul’s briefs, the late 17th century returns from parishes throughout England and Wales recording collections towards the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire in issue 49, September 2006;

“Mysteries Unravelled” by Philippa Smith about City of London livery company records in issue 51, November 2006;

"A Peculiar Marriage" by Dr Stacey Gee about the marriage licence records of St Katharine by the Tower in issue 54, February 2007:

"Welcome to the World of Work" by Charlie Turpie about business records for family historians in issue 61, September 2007;

"Bravery Rewarded" by Matthew Payne about the records of awards made by Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund and the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire in issue 65, January 2008;

“Cap’n ahoy” by Dr Stacey Gee explains the best way to tackle Lloyd's Captains Registers in issue 67, March 2008.

The earlier series of articles:

"Where there's a will" by Philippa Smith about probate records at Guildhall Library in the March 2005 edition.

"Born or buried abroad" by Philippa Smith about records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials overseas at Guildhall Library in the May 2005 edition.

"The answer to your prayers" by Dr Stacey Gee about sources for tracing clergy at Guildhall Library in the July 2005 edition.

"A Burning Issue" by Dr Stacey Gee about fire insurance records at Guildhall Library in the September 2005 issue.

"Back to the Classroom" by Matthew Payne about school records, particularly pupil records, at Guildhall Library in the November 2005 issue.

"The Sailors' Shining Beacon" by Charlie Turpie about Corporation of Trinity House family history sources at Guildhall Library in the January 2006 issue.

Details of Ancestors magazine can be found at

All Hallows Barking

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section has recently acquired microfilm copies of the parish registers, vestry minutes and churchwardens’ accounts of All Hallows Barking. They have been catalogued as Ms 38526-36.

The microfilm copies of the parish registers (Ms 38526-33) contain:

There are also microfilm copies of vestry minutes 1628-1829 (Ms 38534-5), and of churchwardens’ accounts 1628-1900 (Ms 38536).

The microfilms are available in the Manuscripts reading room microfilm cabinets and can be consulted without appointment.

Probate inventories index

A project to calendar the probate inventories of the Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's 1660-1725 has recently been completed and the index made available.

Venture Abroad: Images from Guildhall Library's Business Collections, c1868-1929

Guildhall Library's successful exhibition of early overseas photographs from its business collections has now closed. The Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library holds an unrivalled collection of archives of insurance companies, merchant banks and general merchants many of whom traded overseas. The six companies whose photographs were selected for display had their head office in the City of London but were active in all parts of the globe. They had a wide variety of business interests including gold mining, rubber tapping and teak extraction. 

The photographs showed places from Accra to Zanzibar and include streets scenes in Shanghai and Puerto Rico, the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople and elephants in Burma. The illustrated catalogue produced for the exhibition is available for sale in Guildhall Library Bookshop, price £3-00.

Lord Mayors

A list of Lord Mayors of the City of London from 1189 is available on the City of London Corporation's website.

John Maynard Keynes

Papers giving a fascinating insight into the economist John Maynard Keynes have recently been acquired by the Manuscripts Section.  Further information is available here.

Russia Company display

The Russia Company celebrated the 450th Anniversary of the granting of its Royal Charter on 26th February 1555. To mark this occasion the Manuscripts and Printed Books Sections of the Library organised a small display of material. The leaflet which accompanied the display and the text of the captions are available. 

Black History Month - October 2005

In 2005 Guildhall Library held its second exhibition for Black History Month. It comprised a small display of material relating to parish register entries for black people in the City, and two particular men whose famous cases gave slaves legal rights in England and changed public opinion. The accompanying leaflet is available.

Black History Month - October 2004

In 2004 Guildhall Library held its first exhibition for Black History Month. The leaflet which accompanied the exhibition is available here.

Lords of All They Survey: Estate Maps at Guildhall Library

In 2004 Guildhall Library held a  successful exhibition of original 16th to 19th century estate maps. As well as covering London and the south east of England (in particular Kent and Essex), maps from Knighton in Staffordshire and plantations on the island of St Kitts were also displayed. All of the maps are illustrated in the full colour catalogue which is still available for sale in the Guildhall Library Bookshop, at the special exhibition price of £3.50. The text of a talk about estate maps at Guildhall Library, given by Stacey Gee, is available here.

Last updated March 2010

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section