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National Life Stories: City Lives

City Lives explores the little-known world of the financial capital.  Support from the City enabled National Life Stories to make one hundred and fifty detailed recordings with representatives from the Stock Exchange, the merchant and clearing banks, the commodities and futures markets, law and accounting firms, financial regulators, insurance companies and Lloyd’s of London.

George Nissen [19KB]

George Nissen (photo: Cathy Courtney)


The first City Lives recordings were made in 1988, in time to capture a substantial body of memories of the days when London’s financial sector was concentrated in the Square Mile and British family banking dynasties conducted business in a manner handed down from the previous century. By the time the project ended in 2000, the effects of Big Bang and the geographical pull of Canary Wharf had changed the landscape completely, some of the great names had vanished – Barings Bank being only one of them – and the shift to screen-based trading had swept away traditional working methods and relationships.

City Lives documents personal accounts and pivotal moments, among them the British Aluminium Battle, the arrival of women traders at the Stock Exchange, the privatisation of British Telecom, the 1987 Crash, the creation of LIFFE and the rise in power of the American banks in London. Inadvertently, the project caught the zeitgeist of the City before 9/11, an atmosphere that, even at this short distance, seems unlikely ever to return.

For more detailed information see the book resulting from the project City Lives: The Changing Voices of British Finance, Cathy Courtney and Paul Thompson (Methuen, 1996).

Partners and sponsors

  • ANZ
  • Allen Overy
  • The Baltic Exchange
  • The Bank of England
  • The Bank of Scotland
  • Barclays Bank plc
  • The Baring Foundation
  • James Capel
  • Sir John Craven
  • The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust
  • The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation
  • The Drapers’ Charitable Company
  • The Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust
  • The Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust
  • Euromarket Trading Consultants Limited
  • Freshfields
  • Gerrard National Holdings plc
  • The Goldsmiths’ Company
  • Hambros plc
  • Henderson Administration Group plc
  • The Joint Exchanges Committee
  • KMPG Peat Marwick
  • Lazard Brothers Co. Ltd
  • Linklaters and Paines
  • Lloyds Bank plc
  • Lloyds of London
  • Mercantile General Reinsurance
  • National Westminster Bank plc
  • Nikko Europe
  • George Nissen
  • PosTel Investment Management Ltd
  • Price Waterhouse
  • Prudential Insurance
  • The Rose Partnership
  • S.G. Warburg Group plc
  • Salomon Brothers International
  • Schroder PLC
  • SIB
  • Slaughter and May
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord Swaythling
  • TSB Group plc
  • The Stock Exchange
  • The Wellcome Trust
  • Mr and Mrs T.R. Winser

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)