How to look for records of... Labour history records held by other archives

1. Why use this guide?

The National Archives holds the records of the United Kingdom’s central government departments, including those responsible for labour and employment matters. The records cover a wide range of topics including labour disputes, regulations, health and safety, training and trade unions. This guide provides advice on where and how you might find related records beyond The National Archives.

Though we have not published a guide covering The National Archives labour and employment records, we do provide guidance on the records of specific industries, such as mining and the railways.

2. How to search for records

The majority of historical business and trade records in the UK are held by local county record offices. Use our Find an archive tool to find contact details of archives/repositories across the UK.

Alternatively, search Discovery our catalogue to find records from The National Archives and over 2,500 archives across the UK. Your search results will display details from a range of archives and you can then refine your results. Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab. Use the ‘held by’ filter to distinguish between records held at The National Archives and those found at other archives.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab.

For further tips on searching see our catalogue help pages.

3. New accessions: records recently collected by other archives

Many archives regularly take in new records to add to their collections – this process is known as accessioning. Every year, The National Archives collects information about new accessions from 250 archives across Britain and Ireland. This is known as the annual Accessions to Repositories survey.

This information is added to Discovery, our catalogue. 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.

4. Major collections

The following list includes some of the repositories and institutions that hold important archival collections relating to the history of the labour movement.

4.1 General repositories

Parliamentary Archives
Holds records of both Houses of Parliament.

National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division
Has extensive collections of records of Scottish trades unions.

4.2 Specialist repositories

Bishopsgate Institute
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
Holds records particularly of trades unions and shop stewards in the North West of England and in the engineering industry; also extensive printed collections.

5. Useful resources

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 via the Find an archive tool.

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

Archives Hub
The Archives Hub provides descriptions of collections held at archives in UK universities and colleges. At present the descriptions are primarily of the broad themes and subject matters of the collections, although where possible they are linked to more detailed descriptions of the records that make up each collection.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) – AIM25 provides online descriptions of collections held at the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and other academic and cultural organizations 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.

6. Further reading

J Bellamy and J Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, 9 vols (Macmillan, 1972-1993)

C Cook (ed), Sources in British Political History 1900-1951, 6 vols (Macmillan, 1975-1985)

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, 1980-1994)

John Saville, The Labour Archive at the University of Hull (Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, 1989)