There’s never been a better time to be a historian. Huge numbers of out-of-copyright books and other resources have been digitised by various organisations and made available to the public. Although I also make use of repositories such as the British Library when doing research, most of the sources I use when researching the articles on Flickering Lamps are freely available online. I’ve listed the best of these sources below as a handy guide for those wishing to carry out their own research.
British History Online is fantastic. It’s a digital library founded by the Insititute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust, and contains accurately digitised, text-searchable versions of over 1,000 publications from about 1300 to the present day. It includes records of legal proceedings, histories of towns and counties, maps and even some personal diaries. It also includes past volumes of the Survey of London , and a digital version of John Stow’s famous Survey of London, which gives a wonderful insight into late Tudor London.
John Strype published an updated version of John Stow’s Survey of London in 1720. In the years that had passed since Stow’s Survey, parts of the City of London had been burned to the ground in the Great Fire of London, so Strype’s work is a great resource for comparing how London’s streets looked before and after the Great Fire. The entirety of Strype’s survey has been transcribed and made available digitally by the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield. The site also contains all of the illustrations and detailed maps of London and Westminster that appeared in Strype’s Survey.
Layers of London is a wonderful website developed by the Institute of Historical Research, providing an ever-growing collection of historic and modern maps of London, plus ‘pins’ added with additional information, photographs and stories about individual places and buildings. Beware – you can lose hours browsing on this site!
The National Library of Scotland Maps site is another incredible repository of historic and modern maps and images. Although it’s hosted by the National Library of Scotland, it also includes many historic maps of other parts of the UK, and a wonderful collection of old Ordnance Survey editions. Like Layers of London, it’s easy to lose hours perusing this wonderful website.
One source that’s a little more specific, but incredibly useful for anyone interested in the history of London’s graveyards, is Isabella Holmes’ book The London Burial Grounds. The book – published in 1896 – is long out of print, and copies of the book are few and far between, but fortunately the book has been digitised and is available to view for free, in a number of digital formats, on Archive.org.
I also subscribe to the wonderful British Newspaper Archive, which isn’t free but is an absolute goldmine of old newspapers.
Almost all of the pictures that appear on Flickering Lamps are ones that I take myself, but I also use public domain and Creative Commons-licensed images from other sources. These sources are especially helpful for old photographs or images that are in the public domain.
Wikimedia Commons is part of the same family as Wikipedia. It’s a great source of public domain and Creative Commons-licensed images on a vast range of subjects, places and people. I’ve found it to be especially good for reproductions of images from out of copyright books, and old paintings of people and places.
The Commons on Flickr brings together a huge number of public domain image archives from all over the world. Many leading institutions are involved with the project, including the National Archives and the National Galleries of Scotland.
The Flickr Creative Commons page also provides a good starting point to look for photographs that have been made available for reuse under the Creative Commons licence by Flickr users.