Sources for Local History

P19374 View of town from Tory, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, 1906

Getting Started

A lot will depend on the aspect of local history that you are researching but it will often be useful to start with printed sources.

Check the library catalogue with a keyword or subject search. We also have a printed classification on our local studies search room tables to help you find relevant shelf mark locations. Note that the majority of our collection is housed in our environmentally controlled strong room, you just need to ask at the help desk and we will retrieve it for you.

See if there is a Victoria County History volume covering your area of interest. You may find that the research you require has already been covered! All volumes of the Victoria County History are available on the open shelves in our search room along with an index. It can also be found online at British History Online 

Try our Community History Pages

Using the archives:

Search our archive catalogue


We hold printed and manuscript maps dating from the 17th century. Maps are useful for landscape history, history of buildings or geographical features, study of transport, history of major movements such as industrialisation, studying changes to a locality over time. The below guides may help you decide what kind of map you might need to consult:

Research Tools - Archived Maps

A multitude of maps blog

Estate and Manorial records:

Estate collections can hold a large variety of records including deeds, maps, surveys, plans of properties and land, estate books (rental, wage, accounts), correspondence, wills, photographs, family papers, farm records. Some collections can hold information about businesses and companies (for example the Radnor archive collection (under reference 1946) has some trading accounts of the des Bouverie’s dealings within the Levant or Turkey Company, and Lacock archive (2664) includes a large number of East India accounts and correspondence. Manorial records are often found within estate collections – they will be able to be more easily accessible once Wiltshire is uploaded to the Manorial Document Register

Parish records:

Parish records include records from the parish church (including registers, records of the incumbent, churchwardens, charities, vestry, parochial church council, history of the parish, any societies and organisations, and overseers of the poor.

Although not many records were created for non-conformist groups you can find information in our local studies material (Kelly’s Directories and the Victoria County History are good starting points). From the 19th century there are more records including registers, minutes of church meetings, property and finance, societies, histories and magazines. It is a national policy for the records of Quakers and Methodists to be held at local Record Offices but records for Roman Catholics, Baptist and Independents may still be held at individual churches.

P2649 Old Meeting House in Chapel Street, Horningsham, Wiltshire c1908

Local government:

Local government records can be useful for tracing the history, ownership and occupation of private properties, the history of public buildings and publicly owned facilities, transport, public health and consumer protection, the administration of justice, welfare provision, education, statistics, and the history of local government itself. Records for authorities include civil parish councils, urban and rural district councils, municipal boroughs, Wiltshire County Council, and District Councils.

Since 1834 poor relief was shared as parishes grouped into unions which administered the poor law, providing a single workhouse (which frequently continued through to the 1930s administered by local authorities). NB poor law unions are mostly comparable to later civil registration districts.

Quarter Sessions:

Justices of the Peace attended Wiltshire Quarter Sessions (held four times a year; Hilary, Easter, Midsummer (Trinity), Michaelmas) to oversee the running of the county; roads and bridges, gaols, management of the Poor Law administration, and to deal with minor criminal cases below the level of Assizes. The working papers are known as the Great Rolls and they survive virtually complete from 1600-1972 (75 year closure). Devizes, Salisbury and Marlborough has separate sessions for which records do survive.

The court of the Quarter Sessions was also used for the enrolment, registration and deposit of other documents including deeds and enclosure awards; land tax returns (1780-1832); electoral registers (1832-date); oath and declaration rolls (1688-1864); alehouse-keeper’s recognisances; gamekeepers appointments (1711-1939); surveys of Papists’ estates (1717-1788); Meeting House certificates (1689-1852); documents relating to diversion and closure of highways and footpaths (1774-1813), public undertakings from 1792 (including canals, turnpike roads, railways, tramways, water and gas supply).

There are also administrative and financial records including those relating to prison buildings, vagrants passes, coroner’s bills, militia (1778-1817).

Diocesan and probate:

This can be a complex collection to navigate but includes records on ecclesiastical buildings, clergy, curates’ licences and nominations to cures, schoolmasters, surgeons and midwives (1620-mid 19th century), churchwardens presentments (late 16th century-1893), parish clerks, church courts, and modern records (including Diocesan Council of Education (from 1838), Diocesan Directories (from 1858), and the Diocesan Gazette (from 1888).

D5/28/4 Churchwardens presentment for Calne

Businesses and local industries:

We hold trade directories including Kelly’s (from 1848), some deposited business collections - see a summary list of our holdings and catalogue for further information. See VCH Volume 4 for industries up to the mid 20th century. We also hold Goad plans which give very detailed, commercially published, town plans starting from the mid-20th century. Local newspapers from 1736 (mostly available on microfilm) may also be of interest.

Cloth industry: there are books on the industry in general (under AAA.677) as well as specific mills in our local studies collection. See the library catalogue.

There will be books relating to individual businesses and various industries (for example you would find material relating to quarrying under AAA.622 (and 566,731)). The Wiltshire Classification is available on the local studies search room tables to aid you.

Inns and Alehouses: See local studies collection classification (AAA.647 (643,646,663)). As above, the quarter sessions records include alehouse recognisances and deeds. There are transcripts of many of these available on our open shelves.


See our separate advice on researching a building

British Girls School, Bradford on Avon


Good starting places:

Our Community History pages give a summary of information about schools, with photographs.

Volume 5 of the Victoria County History (as well as the individual place volumes)

The survival of records is patchy and records may still be held at the school. However we do hold records for a variety of schools; endowed, charity, private, dame, national and Sunday, British, boarding etc. Post-1800 you may find admissions registers, minutes, correspondence, photographs, plans, HMI reports and log books (from 1862), which were kept by the head-teacher and recorded day-to-day events at the school. We also hold some records for Technical/Further Education; Mechanics Institute, Swindon, Salisbury School of Art, College of Agriculture Downton, Adcroft School of Building, Trowbridge, Lackham College, Salisbury Diocesan Training College.

Other records include those of Wiltshire County Council Education Department minutes, files, and reports.



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