Death, Taxes and Local History

Local Studies Library
Local Studies Library

Kensington and Chelsea’s Local Studies collection is housed at Kensington Central Library.

Have you ever wondered what our Local Studies Library is and what we do? It’s a question we sometimes get asked by the casual reader as they explore our newly refurbished library. The title may sound a little vague if you have never encountered a Local Studies Library before, but effectively what it actually means in its broader sense is that Local Studies is a collection of written and illustrated records that depict the history of a specific area or locality. It is the study of our local environment, our social history and all manner of local subjects past, present and future.

Local Studies Library team
Local Studies Library team

We house and archive a large collection of material pertaining to Kensington and Chelsea; everything from census records, local newspapers that go as far back as 1855, Vestry/Council records, manuscripts and electoral registers to photographs, illustrations, local books/publications and general ephemera that have been collected and carefully catalogued over many years. Part of the team’s job is to maintain and store this precious material appropriately. Some of our oldest items date back to the 16th century and in order to ensure their continued longevity we keep them in a temperature maintained room and ensure their preservation in archival boxes. Other historical sources dating back to the 18th century are still used regularly today such as rate books, which show the rates paid by owners of some of the first properties to appear in Kensington and Chelsea. It goes to show that even in the 18th century tax was recorded meticulously. Death and taxes is the saying…
Many of our visitors are interested in researching their family history, or simply want to find out how old their house is. Others may be authors or curators researching material for a specific book or exhibition. The enquiries we get are always broad and fascinating and on many occasions stretch our research skills in the most unexpected ways: did you know that Charles Dickens was married in St Luke’s Church, Chelsea? That Henry VIII built his riverside mansion at Chelsea and was a regular visitor of the area? That the name of Kensington is actually Saxon, first recorded in the Domesday Book as Chenesitun? That the ‘Royal’ in the borough title was bestowed upon Kensington by Queen Victoria, herself born in Kensington Palace? I have to admit, prior to my years working for the department I knew very little of these historical facts. It is true that sometimes we pick up a book and come across some interesting snippets of information. But it was only when I began to acquaint myself with the wonderful items in the collection that I began to learn in earnest – a most satisfactory endeavour for anyone who has an interest in knowledge and preserving it.

The nature of Local Studies is that we keep adding to the records and enhancing our sources. Sometimes we are a repository for other collections too which enriches our own. We as a team are committed to keeping and preserving this treasure trove that ultimately presents us with a picture of the local community as it was, as it is and how it will be. Should curiosity be in your nature you are very welcome to visit the Local Studies Library where you may find secrets waiting to be discovered as one lady did when she found out one of her ancestors was a duke, to the surprise of all her relatives.
For more on Local Studies please see the wonderful blog written by the Local Studies Librarian, Dave Walker. It’s called The Library Time Machine

We had an Open Afternoon on the 8th December, people were treated to a tour of our archive rooms and had a look at some of the treasures in them. It was a great success and we will be having some more in 2013. We’re open six days a week from 1pm- come in and meet the team: Senior Customer Services Assistants, Isabel Hernandez, Katrina Wilson, Tim Reid and our Local Studies Librarian, Dave walker. We will try to answer any questions you may have regarding the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s local history.

Isabel Hernandez in action!
Isabel Hernandez in action!

Isabel Hernandez, Senior Customer Services Assistant
Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies Library

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