Sources for the History of London, 1939-45: A Guide and Bibliography

Heather Creaton
Institute of Historical Research
Subject Areas


This volume aims to point readers to the enormous variety of primary sources available to the historian of the period, covering every conceivable aspect of London life. It also lists as many as possible of the printed works likely to be useful for information and analysis.

An introduction outlines the guide's aims and coverage; there is a brief resume of the chief events of the war as they affected London; the main types of records relevant to this subject - national and local government, businesses and institutions, diaries, letters, sound recordings, paintings, film and photographs - are discussed; a section looks at records documenting the ways in which London life was visibly changed by the war (evacuation, Air Raid Precautions, bomb damage and clearance, firefighting, post-raid welfare provision, large military presence, etc); a further section looks at records for 'business as usual' - the economy and work, morale, social life, food, entertainment and sport, law and order, education, health care, religion and the arts; and finally the guide examines sources about wartime planning for the future, and for the victory celebrations. Extracts from the documents are quoted wherever possible, to give a flavour of their coverage and the use that might be made of them. There is a subject index and a list of useful addresses.

The accompanying bibliography runs to over 950 items and includes contemporary writings as well as historical assessments. Some items are serious academic studies, others take a more popular approach. Many are personal accounts of wartime domestic or working lives written much later than the events they describe. All have something to offer the historian of London at this period. The bibliography follows the same subject groupings as the guide, and has its own index.

Neither the guide nor the bibliography can claim to be comprehensive, given the size of the subject, but they try to provide a starting point to stimulate others to further investigations.

'An excellent source work... it will become a standard work on the subject' — Mary Wilkinson, Imperial War Museum
'...a work that is much more than the modest "guide and bibliography" that the title suggests. There are few such works I can recall taking a pleasure in reading, but this one is spiced with quotations from the sources and period illustrations....a guide that no London local history library and record office can do without and one that should grace the shelves of anyone interested in the history of the capital.' — David Mander, London Archive Users' Forum Newsletter 41
'A list of facts and figures is excessively boring although very necessary. The wealth of information that survives on this period and place makes excessive facts essential. When they are dressed up in an entertaining and informative text, however, they become not only palatable but act as signposts to where you can rush off and find out more.... The book has a wealth of information on what life was like, at the time of ration books and doodle-bugs, in the capital which will be mirrored in other urban bombing targets. Knowing how things worked and what organisations existed enables you to make an intelligent guess at what to look at - as long as you know where to look for them. Heather Creaton has packed a lot of information into a slim volume covering work as well as leisure, and crime as well as defence....It is very thorough, very informative, well presented and is a very good read even if you do not want to use the records it recommends.' — Susan Lumas, Family History News and Digest, April 1999
'...this is not just a list of sources. Heather has written a lucid and entertaining account of the various aspects of life on the home front... I recommend it as a starting point for the study of the Second World War in London' — Mick Scott, London Journal, 24 no. 2 1999
'Local Historians from Cornwall to Northumberland would do well to read this extensive guide — or, even better, emulate Creaton by producing similar volumes for their own counties' — Stuart Raymond, The Local Historian, February 2000

Published by the British Records Association
ISBN 0 900222 12 3; Paperback, 246x172mm; xii, 196pp.; illus.
Price: £12.50 (£10.00 BRA Members).

Available from: British Records Association, c/o London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB. Please add p&p £1.75 UK, £2.75 overseas. Sterling cheques made payable to 'British Records Association'

NOTE: This volume provided some of the core data for London's Past Online: a free, searchable online database of books, articles and other published material relating to the Greater London area from the Anglo-Saxon period.

ISBN: 0900222123