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These are a place of early, and repeated, resort in investigating all aspects of local history. For Oxfordshire the main local studies library is the Oxfordshire Studies in Westgate, Oxford. It offers open access to a wide range of secondary, printed material with a comprehensive collecting policy that bridges the parallel worlds of publishing, the local, and the national and academic. It is also a source of primary evidence: newspapers, directories, printed maps, historic photographs, oral history recordings, and ephemera. It also holds copies of material the originals of which are elsewhere, and offers access to some subscriber websites. This may make it a convenient way to consult parish registers, 19th-century census enumerators’ returns, and other original sources. Some branch libraries hold small collections of locally relevant copied materials. The Heritage Search facilities on this site enable combined searches of Oxfordshire’s local studies, archives, museum and Historic Environment Record, including direct access to photos and some museum objects.

Although Berkshire ceased to exist as a county council area in 1974, succeeded by 6 district authorities, the principal local studies collection for the county continues at the Central Library, in Abbey Square, Reading. See Reading Library.



These are the starting point for finding local primary manuscript sources dating from the 12th century to the present day. Their collections, created in the 20th century, have transformed local research. Typical contents are the main categories found in Berkshire Record Office ( BRO):

·         Records of local government: including the former Berkshire County Council and district and parish councils, and their predecessors, including Quarter Sessions, Poor Law unions and turnpike trusts.

·         Records of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire: including church court records and wills.

·         Records of Anglican and nonconformist churches: including registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.

·         School records: including log books and admissions registers.

·         Private records: including manorial and estate records, family papers, and the records of businesses and societies.

·         Maps and plans: including, tithe, enclosure and estate maps; Ordnance Survey and other printed maps.

·         Printed sources: including trade directories, electoral registers, sales catalogues and an extensive library of books and pamphlets.

·         Copies of some national sources: including indexes of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and census returns (Berkshire only).

Until 1974 Berkshire included the Vale of White Horse and parts of what is now South Oxfordshire. In 1974 Slough, Eton and some surrounding villages were transferred to the county. BRO collects records relating to both the old and the new Berkshire and works with Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Record Offices. Records relevant to research may therefore be found in more than one county record office. BRO has brief online research guides to a variety of topics, including house history, the River Thames, and world war two. Oxfordshire Record Office holds parallel collections.


Despite developments in cataloguing, not all material in record offices will yet be fully listed. Once online and paper catalogues have been exhausted it is always worth asking staff if there may be other relevant evidence to search. County record offices operate a shared system of reader’s tickets. For information see Berkshire Record Office and Oxfordshire Record Office.



The Bodleian is the main library of Oxford University. It originated in the 15th century, and was re-founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602. It is a national copyright library, and holds accumulated collections of printed and manuscript material of international importance. It has also historically collected, or been given, significant amounts of Oxfordshire  (and some Berkshire) material. The holdings potentially important for local history are:

·         Printed materials. All new books and periodicals published in the UK . Rare and early books and pamphlets. The John Johnson collection of ephemera. See Cordeaux and Merry (Published Histories - bibliography) and the OLIS catalogue.  

·         Topographical manuscripts. The Department of Western Manuscripts has many papers of antiquaries from the 17th century onwards. Notable examples include Anthony Wood (1632-95), Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755), Richard Gough (1735-1809), Henry Hinton (1749-1816), W.H.Turner (1833-80), Percy Manning (1870-1917), W.J.Oldfield (1857-1934), and H.E.Salter (1863-1951). Their papers include notes, comments, transcriptions, drawings, photographs and original documents. From 1884 some such material was referenced MSS. Top. Oxon. or Berks. It is catalogued in two printed sets of catalogues of Western Manuscripts, and (for acquisitions since 1915) in P.S Spokes, Summary catalogue of manuscripts….relating to the city, county and University of Oxford (1964).

o   See Bodleian Library on-line catalogue of Western Manuscripts 


·         Deposited collections, including private papers of families and estates, from solicitors, from local organisations, and from a small number of colleges.

·         Deeds and rolls. Medieval and post-medieval property deeds and manorial court rolls and accounts. Those acquired before 1878 are calendared and indexed (W.H.Turner and H.O.Coxe, Calendar of charters and rolls preserved in the Bodleian Library (1878)). Later acquisitions have a manuscript index. See also the index of Oxfordshire people mentioned in these documents, published by the Oxfordshire Record Society (vol.44, 1966).

·         Topographical views. Drawings, engravings and photos, for which there is a manuscript index by parish.

·         Maps, both printed and manuscript (see Maps section

·         Unpublished Oxford theses, in history and archaeology.

The Bodleian is a reference only library. Non-members of the University may apply for a reader’s ticket, and will need a recommender and to say why they need to use the library. If Oxfordshire Studies is the library of first resort, then the Bodleian is the one to use for specific research not possible elsewhere.



The British Library, in Euston Road, London, incorporates the printed book and manuscript collections of the former British Museum Library, and these are at the heart of its potential use for local history. To these have been added other materials, like oral history archives. The main categories of material at the BL are:

·         Manuscripts. Over 80,000 Additional Manuscripts, and almost as many Additional Charters. The main collections relevant to local history include the Cotton and Harleian manuscripts (antiquarian collections of the 17th and early 18th centuries)

·         Printed books. Like the Bodleian this is a copyright library.

·         Maps

·         Topographical drawings and prints

·         Newspapers. The national collection. (see British Library British Newspapers

·         Seals

·         National Sound Archive

The BL is another place to use material not accessible elsewhere. Reader’s tickets are issued on that basis. See the British Library.


The National Archives at Kew, in west London are a source of key information, both online and by visiting the search rooms. The points of contact between localities and central government are legion, and a key source for every period of written record. A checklist is provided by the list of topics covered by TNA’s Research Guides ( see National Archives). Examples of locally-relevant national records are provided by online educational materials (e.g. Domesday Book), and resources on document categories (e.g. MH12, the correspondence between the central department, created to run the new poor law from 1834, and local poor law unions). Help with the skills needed to use early documents is available through online palaeography and latin tutorials. On site there is an excellent library of publications on records and localities.

A reader’s ticket is needed.



Despite the expansion of local and national archives, including deposits of private records, many records may remain in private hands, amongst them estate and family, business, school, church and chapel, club and society papers. The National Register of Archives  (NRA) was established in 1945 to collect and disseminate information about such records outside the public domain. It has more than 35,500 unpublished lists and catalogues of manuscript collections. It has computerised indexes , including persons, business, subjects, locations and manorial records. Copies of its reports on particular collections are held by the record office(s) to which the documents relate.


Records of local interest may be held in specialist and non-local archives. Access to Archives, part of the UK Archives Network, lists some 400 archives. See also The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History

One category of private archive of particular relevance to Oxfordshire is that of the Oxford Colleges, many of which maintain their own archives and can be viewed at the Oxford Colleges Archive



Evidence of contemporary and recent history needs to be actively collected with an eye to future generations of historians. Some initiatives are taken by public bodies and professionals, but that can cover only limited ground. The local creation of community archives has become an increasing activity, collecting, organising, indexing, storing and making available evidence. Some may be recent and original. Some collections may also conveniently bring together copies of material from elsewhere and earlier periods. See Community Archives website for a national directory of community archives developed by the Community Archives and Heritage Group.


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