TitleRecords of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Extent2,695 items
AdminHistoryThe London Borough of Tower Hamlets is the local authority providing publicly funded services in Tower Hamlets. The Council is one of 32 boroughs in Greater London providing the following services to local residents:
- Billing, i.e. collecting council tax and business rates
- Education
- Environmental health and waste collection and disposal
- Health and social care
- Housing
- Leisure and culture
- Planning applications and building control
- Transport and streets

As at 2020 the Council operated an elected Mayor and Cabinet form of executive decision-making, with an overview and scrutiny committee, a standards committee and various other decision-making and regulatory committees. At the time of writing, the Council employed some 10,500 staff in its five directorates:
- Governance directorate, comprising the Democratic Services, Legal Services, including Electoral Services, Communications and the Strategy and Performance Team.
- Resources directorate, covering financial, human and ICT resources functions.
- Place directorate
- Health, Adults and Community directorate
- Children's Services directorate

Origins and purpose:
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets was formed on 1 April 1965 to replace the three Metropolitan Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. Having operated separately since November 1900 Metropolitan Boroughs were abolished as part of the major reorganisation of local government in London that followed the passing of the 1963 London Government Act; the three boroughs each became recognised districts in the newly created London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The new Borough was intended to be of sufficient size in terms of population and administrative weight to engender a distinct civic identity and enable the performance of a wide range of functions, while remaining small enough for officers and elected members to be easily accessible to local residents.

Statistics from 1965 record that the Borough comprised 4,994 acres (just under 8 square miles) with a population of 206,080:
- 91,130: Stepney
- 68,530: Poplar
- 46,420: Bethnal Green

The history of the Borough since its creation falls into three distinct phases as set against the overall structure of metropolitan government: 1965-1986, during the existence of the Greater London Council (GLC); 1986-2000, the period following the abolition of the GLC under the 1985 Local Government Act; and 2000-date, following the creation of the Greater London Authority (GLA) under national legislation passed in 1999.

A number of internal reorganisations have been undertaken by the Council itself. The most important innovation occurring in 1986 with the introduction of a Neighbourhood system. This controversial experiment in local governance was abandoned in 1994, when the Council reverted to a more traditional local authority structure.

The local government system in place between 1965 and 1986 meant that the Borough of Tower Hamlets was the main provider of services, especially those of a personalised nature such as housing and social welfare.

In 1968, departments consisted of:
Town Clerks Department
Borough Treasurers Department
Borough Architect and Planning Officers Department
Public Health Department
Childrens Department
Welfare Department
Housing Department
Libraries Department
Public Control Department
Baths Department.

In 1971 a major reorganisation to the committee and departmental structure took place, see L/THL/A for further details and L/THL/A/23/1/1 for minutes of the Special (Re-organisation) Committee.

This period saw the Borough assume new powers and responsibilities previously exercised by the GLC. Ministerial controls exercised from Whitehall and tight political, organisational and financial constraints impacted decisions and activities.

From 1986-1994 Liberal Democrats brought in a period of Decentralisation. A new Neighbourhood system led to services being provided from the town halls located in the seven neighbourhoods of the borough or via centralised departments. A new structure consisted of the following central departments:

Chief Executive
Borough Secretary
Borough Personnel and Management Officer
Borough Treasurer
Borough Valuer
Borough Building Services Officer
Borough Engineer
Social Services

and the seven Neighbourhoods. These were Standing Neighbourhood Committees (SNC) with their own decision-making. Each was independent with Neighbourhood Chief Executive and offices. The clerking for meetings was often done centrally by Corporate Services, London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Neighbourhood Committees were (in brackets are assigned collection archive reference codes):

Bethnal Green (L/BGN)
Wapping (L/WAN)
Bow (L/BON)
Globe Town (L/GTN)
Isle of Dogs
Poplar (L/PON)
and Stepney.

Their names were later simplified from SNC to Neighbourhood. This system remained until 1994.

The post-2000 period has seen the reintroduction of two-tier government in London, with the GLA now forming the upper tier of administration. Mayoral governance has also been introduced, with the first election for the post of London mayor taking place on 4 May 2000, and the creation of a Borough mayoralty in May 2010 following a referendum on the issue.

Tower Hamlets Borough Council directly inherited a number of functions previously exercised by its three predecessor Metropolitan Boroughs, and it is probably the case that the administrative burden imposed on the new body was considerable. The administrative functions carried out by Tower Hamlets in the period 1965-86 involved the management of:
- Allotments
- Cemeteries and crematoria
- Children's services
- Control of vermin and pests
- Elections and voter registration
- Food and drugs
- Housing
- Information services relating to the borough
- Inspection of premises in connection with health and overcrowding
- Libraries
- Licensing (certain functions)
- Local parks and open spaces
- Noise and smoke abatement
- Personal health services - maternity, mental health, etc.
- Planning - applications and local development plans
- Rates collection
- Refuse collection
- including the removal of commercial and domestic rubbish (the GLC was responsible for waste disposal)
- Registration of births, deaths and marriages
- Registration of local land charges
- Sanitation
- Street cleansing
- Street markets and slaughterhouses
- Swimming baths and wash-houses
- Trading standards and consumer protection
- Weights and measures
- Welfare services - care of the aged, handicapped, blind and homeless
- Working conditions in shops, offices, etc.

In addition, there were a number of concurrently held functions where responsibilities lay with both the Borough and the GLC:
- Economic development
- Emergency planning and civil defence: mainly handled by the GLC with some input from the Borough.
- Grants to voluntary organisations
- Highways and traffic management: the overall strategic planning authority for the city until 1986 was the GLC, with the Borough managing local roads and initiating
small-scale traffic management schemes and parking schemes for GLC approval; these were often refused or suffered lengthy delays, inevitably causing tension between the two authorities.
- Historic buildings and monuments: managed concurrently by the Borough and the GLC, with the latter having special powers over listed buildings.
- Housing: provision mainly fell to the Borough, but the GLC had extensive housing stock in Tower Hamlets (inherited from the London County Council) and strategic powers
for managing large projects and slum clearance. The GLC began to transfer its housing stock to Borough control during the 1970s.
- Licensing: the Borough carried out most licensing, but the GLC did so for places of entertainment, betting tracks, storage of petroleum and building control.
- Museums, art galleries and support for the arts: managed concurrently by the Borough and the GLC, although the bulk of spending was undertaken by the Borough.
- Parks and open spaces: the Borough managed local parks, many of which were transferred from the GLC; the GLC itself dealt with larger 'strategic' parks.
- Planning: the GLC drew up the strategic land-use plan, while the Borough produced its own local plan and exercised development control, with the GLC intervening in major
schemes. The Borough also took decisions on individual planning applications to build, demolish or alter buildings.
- Promotion of tourism
- Sports and recreation: input from both the Borough and the GLC, although the bulk of spending was undertaken by the Borough.

Key activities, events and personalities:
Since 1965, Tower Hamlets has seen many developments and events which are of local, regional and national importance. Among some of the important personalities and key events to have occurred in the last 50 years are:

- The closure of the East India Docks in 1967 and St Katherine's Dock in 1968, part of the former eventually being repurposed as a nature reserve and the latter as a marina
with surrounding offices, flats and shops
- The Council licensing squatting in some of its properties in the 1970s to help ease the housing crisis
- The Rock Against Racism festival headlined by The Clash staged in Victoria Park in 1978
- The murder of Altab Ali in 1979, and the political emergence of the Bangladeshi local community leading the struggle against racism
- The closure of the West India Docks in 1980, and the subsequent redevelopment of Canary Wharf throughout the 1990s
- Local boxer Charlie Magri becoming WBC flyweight champion in 1983
- 30,926 GLC dwellings handed over to the Council on 1 July 1985; with its own stock of 19,044 dwellings, the Council became landlord of eight out of every ten homes in the
- The 50th anniversary celebrations held in 1986 of the Battle of Cable Street
- The opening of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery declared a nature reserve in 2000
- The opening of the Museum of London Docklands in 2003
- The election of Rushanara Ali as MP in 2010, the first person of Bangladeshi origin to sit in the House of Commons
- The 2012 Olympics

Upon its creation in 1965 the London Borough of Tower Hamlets occupied the old Bethnal Green Town Hall at Patriot Square (facing Cambridge Heath Road). The Town Hall at Patriot Square was sold to a property developer in the early 1990s, and the Council moved to its current quarters at Mulberry Place in Poplar. Plans to move the Council's town hall to the former Royal London Hospital building in Whitechapel were initiated in the mid-2010s and approved in March 2018. The building is set to open in 2022.

Departmental offices were spread throughout the Borough, e.g. the Baths Department was based at York Hall, the Children's Department in Backchurch Lane (E1) and the administrative offices of the Housing Department in White Horse Road (E1) with three local offices at the main Town Hall, Poplar Town Hall in Bow Road (E3) and Stepney Town Hall in Cable Street (E1).

Sources of information:
- Michael Hebbert and Tony Travers (eds), The London Government Handbook (London: Cassell, 1988) and GLC/ILEA, Greater London Services (1971-1974)

- London Borough of Tower Hamlets Year Book 1965-1966

- Roger Bowdler, Bethnal Green Town Hall, English Heritage Historical Analysis & Research Team, Reports and Papers First Series (14), (1996)

- Tower Hamlets Official Guide (London: E. J. Burrow & Co Ltd, 1966)
Related MaterialMost printed material such as the Borough's annual reports, brochures and handbooks, together with relevant maps and plans, are in the Local History Library.

For maps and plans of the Borough's boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * - i.e. LCM* - to search across these formats].

Transfer of responsibilties for education from the Inner London Education Authority to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets took place during the mid-late 1980s. For an introduction to and records of Tower Hamlets Adult Education Service which joined LBTH, see I/THI.
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