This research guide is intended as an introduction to the key records for labour history held at The National Archives and other archives in the UK. It also includes other useful links and works of reference.
2. Records held at The National Archives
The National Archives holds the records of the government of the United Kingdom and all its departments. A number of the research guides produced by The National Archives contain advice that can be helpful for people researching labour history; those listed in 'related guides' may be of particular use.
3. National Register of Archives (NRA)
The National Register of Archives (NRA) is a register of archives relating to British history. It contains information on collections held in hundreds of locations in Britain and overseas. The NRA can be searched online to locate collections of interest to your research. The paper NRA is located in the Open Reading Room at The National Archives and contains catalogues of collections.
It is possible to search the NRA for records relating to labour history using the corporate name search. The advanced search of the organisations index may also be helpful, because it allows you to search for certain categories of organisations, for example Labour and Trade Union Movement. Information about prominent individuals can be found by carrying out a personal name search. It is not possible to use the indexes to search for single letters or papers relating to a certain theme, such as popular unrest.
The majority of historic business and trade records in the UK are held by local county record offices. See the ARCHON section below.
4. Accessions to repositories
Each year The National Archives contacts over 250 of the major collecting institutions in the British Isles in order to discover which major and unusual accessions have been received. This information is added to the indexes to the NRA. It is also edited and used to produce a number of thematic digests, including one relating to labour history. The digests are made available online and distributed for publication in a number of learned journals and newsletters. Further information about accessions is available on our website.
The ARCHON directory is the central contacts directory for record repositories in the United Kingdom and also for institutions elsewhere in the world that have substantial collections that relate to British history. Details of over 3,000 archives are included.
The majority of historic business and trade records in the UK are held by local record offices, details of which may be obtained from the ARCHON directory.
6. General and specialist repositories
The following list includes some of the repositories and institutions that hold important archival collections relating to the history of the labour movement.
Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 0PW
Holds records of both Houses of Parliament.
National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW
Has extensive collections of records of Scottish trades unions.
Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4QH
Holds papers of George Howell and Charles Bradlaugh, together with extensive printed materials relating to the history of labour and political radicalism in the 19th century.
London School of Economics Library, Archives Division, Lionel Robbins Building, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD
Has collections relating particularly to Fabian and Labour Party thinkers, including Hugh Dalton, George Lansbury, RH Tawney, Graham Wallas and Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
National Co-operative Archive, Co-operative College, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester M60 OAS
The central record repository in the UK for records of the Co-operative movement, the archive also holds papers of prominent individuals such as Robert Owen, GJ Holyoake and Edward Greening, and extensive printed collections.
Hull History Centre (Hull University Archives), Worship Street, Hull HU2 8BG
The labour archive includes papers of prominent left-wing individuals and several national organisations: the Co-operative Women's Guild and International Women's Co-operative Guild, the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Socialist Medical Association and the Union of Democratic Control.
Labour History Archive and Study Centre, People's History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER
One of the most important record repositories in the UK for the study of labour history, the centre holds the archives of the Labour Party and the Communist Party, and personal papers of nationally important figures in the labour movement. There are also materials relating to Chartism and the Labour and Socialist International.
Trades Union Congress Library Collections, The Learning Centre, London Metropolitan University, 236-250 Holloway Road, London N7 6PP
One of the major research libraries in Britain for the study of all aspects of trades unions and collective bargaining. The collections are largely printed, but the archival holdings include personal papers of several prominent trades unionists, records of a number of individual unions, the Workers Educational Union, and the London Trades Council.
Swansea University Archives, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP
Holds the South Wales Coalfield Collection (SWCC) which was established in 1969 as an attempt to preserve the documentary records of the mining community of South Wales. The majority of records relate to the South Wales Miners' Federation, later the NUM (South Wales Area) and its individual lodges. The archive also contains records from miners' institutes, co-operative societies and individuals connected with the mining community. There are also some colliery records and documents relating to political parties.
Warwick University: Modern Records Centre, University Library, Coventry CV4 7AL
Holds records of the Trades Union Congress, numerous national trade union collections and papers of leading trade unionists. Also has collections relating to the Communist Party and Marxist left. See its published guides (1977, 1981, 1986, 1992) and the Summary Guide on its website.
Working Class Movement Library, Jubilee House, 51 The Crescent, Salford M5 4WX
Holds records particularly of trades unions and shop stewards in the North West of England and in the engineering industry; also extensive printed collections.
7. Useful links
In many cases the records of trades unions branches and organisations connected with the labour movement are held at the appropriate local record office; contact details can be found on the ARCHON Directory.
For advice about oral history and information about existing oral history resources, you should first approach the Curator of Oral History at the British Library Sound Archive, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Access to Archives (A2A) The A2A database contains catalogues describing archives held locally in England and Wales and dating from the eighth century to the present day.
Archives Hub - The Archives Hub provides a single point of access to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges. At present these are primarily at collection-level, although where possible they are linked to complete catalogue descriptions.
Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) - AIM25 is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area.
South Wales Coalfield Collection - The South Wales Coalfield Collection (SWCC) gives an insight into the experience of the South Wales Valleys during a period of industrial turmoil both from an institutional and personal perspective. It contains records of trade unions (notably the South Wales Miners' Federation, later the National Union of Mineworkers (South Wales Area) and the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, South Wales Division), miners' institutes, co-operative societies, and individuals connected with the mining community.
Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) - The Scottish Archive Network allows online searching of over 20,000 collections in 52 Scottish repositories.
8. Further reading
J Bellamy and J Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, 9 vols (Macmillan, 1972-93)
C Cook (ed), Sources in British Political History 1900-1951, 6 vols (Macmillan, 1975-85)
C Cook (ed), The Longman guide to Sources in Contemporary British History, 2 vols (Longman, 1994)
JFC Harrison and D Thompson, Bibliography of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1976 (Harvester Press, 1978)
C Hazlehurst, S Whitehead and C Woodland, Guide to the Papers of British Cabinet Ministers 1900-1964 (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Labour History Review (formerly the Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History)
Since 1974 the second issue each year has included a list of archives deposited in record offices and libraries during the previous year. (Since 1991, this list has been provided by the HMC, and since 1994 it has been made available on our website.) The Review also publishes an annual bibliography and list of theses and occasionally more specialised surveys.
I MacDougall, Catalogue of Some Labour Records in Scotland and Some Scots Records Outside Scotland (Scottish Labour History Society, 1978)
A Marsh and V Ryan, Historical Directory of Trade Unions, 3 vols (Gower, 1980-94)
John Saville, The Labour Archive at the University of Hull (Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, 1989)