Booth family papers

Scope and Content

Includes letters from Charles Booth to Antonia Booth, c1882-1895, subjects include family matters, travels to Brazil and North America; photographs, c1840-1940; plans, photographs, papers on Gracedieu Manor; travel diary of Mary Booth in Brazil, 1876; watercolours, c1890; items relating to the Privy Council, c1904-c1912.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles James Booth was born the son of a Merseyside coal merchant on 30 March 1840. He was educated at the Royal Liverpool Institution and became apprenticed to a trading company, Lamport and Holt. Charles went on to set up a steamship company trading between Liverpool and Northern Brazil. Beyond his commercial aspirations, Charles wished to do something for the under-privileged of Victorian England and he joined the Birmingham Education League, founded to promote secular education. Charles married Mary Catherine Macaulay (1843-1939), on 29 April 1871. Charles decided to move the merchandising arm of Alfred Booth and Company, the family firm, to London and extended his trade in leather to New York where he spent three months of each year. These long voyages led to the daily correspondence between Charles and Mary. Mary, by this time, was a partner in the company in all but name. In 1884, Charles assisted in the analysis of statistics for the allocation of the Lord Mayor's Relief Fund and attempted to establish a Board of Statistical Research. In Spring 1886 he presented a paper, The Occupations of the People of London, 1841-1881, to the Royal Statistical Society. Mary helped her husband in his 'Inquiry' into poverty in London. She was also associated with a circle of intellectual women, many of whose husbands were MPs. In April 1889, Charles' first work, Volume 1 of the Poverty Series of Life and Labour of the People of London: Trades of East London, was published. The survey of Central and South London followed in volume 2, published in May 1891, while all the time Charles was involved in commerce and social science. Charles was made President of the Statistical Society in 1892 and set about researching for a survey into the condition of industry in England and its impact on poverty. This was followed in 1899 by an investigation into old age pensions and The Aged Poor. In 1912, Charles ceded the chairmanship of Alfred Booth & Company to his nephew. On 23 November 1916, following a stroke, Charles died. A memorial to Charles Booth was erected in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral on 15 December 1920.

Mary Catherine Booth was born on 4 November 1847 at Clifton, Bristol, the second of the three children and only daughter of Charles Zachary Macaulay (1816–1886), civil servant, and Mary, née Potter (daughter of Richard Potter [see under Potter, Thomas Bayley], known as Radical Dick). Her father was serving abroad as colonial secretary in Mauritius and her mother, Mary, and older brother, Thomas, were living in her grandfather Richard Potter's home in Manchester. Hers was, to say the least, an unorthodox upbringing. She was reading Plutarch's Lives at the age of three. Her father, married to an unstable wife, was devoted to, and became emotionally dependent upon, his only daughter. Mary attended Hyde Park College, London, and Miss Marshall's boarding-school, Kensington. During her holidays she was entertained alongside her several Potter girl cousins at Standish, Gloucestershire. She left school at the age of sixteen and took over the housekeeping, but continued her self-education. After a lengthy courtship, on 29 April 1871 at East Teignmouth Mary married Charles Booth (1840–1916), a partner in the Liverpool-based Booth Steamship Company, who was to become renowned as a social investigator. In Liverpool she was unhappy among hostile Booth relatives. In 1873 Mary gave birth to the first of seven children, Antonia Mary (known always as Dodo). At this point Charles took his family to Europe for his health, and from there went with Mary to Brazil on business. On their return to England Charles set up an office of the company in London, and social relations with most of his family were severed. This stage of the Booth family life was spent at 6 Grenville Place, South Kensington. In 1878 Charles effectively took command of the family business and split his time between London, Liverpool, and America. Because of these long separations Mary's relationship with Charles was frequently expressed in lengthy correspondence. As her granddaughter wrote: ‘She was a partner in business in all but name, weighing every decision, and giving sensible advice’ (Norman-Butler, 49). Diminutive in stature, she was ever large in personality. The two shared a great mutual respect and understanding and achieved a remarkable partnership. Mary's own concern for the social problems of the age seems to have been inspired by a visit to Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at St Jude's, Whitechapel, in 1878. ‘Boy, Boy, I must do something, put out a hand to help in all this misery. I do so long for strength and health’, she wrote to Charles (letter, 1878, Booth correspondence). Her friendship with the Potter sisters, and especially Beatrice, was nurtured at least in part by a common interest in philanthropy. Few have noted how important Mary's help was in furthering and sustaining Booth's major works in the field of social investigation. This was not simply the support of a helpmeet (support which she certainly afforded in plenty), but an active intellectual and practical contribution. During the 1880s and 1890s there is ample evidence that Mary was reading widely and drawing to Charles's attention a number of important books—for example, the works of Marx. Associates and friends, such as Alfred and Mary Paley Marshall and the Barnetts, became valued visitors at the Booth table. In January 1892 the first evidence of her active involvement in Booth's work occurs: she interviewed J. A. Spender, author of The State v. Pensions in Old Age, in connection with the Booth's Pauperism: a Picture, and The Endowment of Old Age: an Argument. Her diary for this period is full of references to her work on the book. So close was Mary to Booth's social investigative work that she and Jesse Argyle saw this work on the pauper through proof and press. But it was in connection with the third and final series of Life and Labour of the People in London, the Religious Influences series, that Mary's role is best documented: she played a major critical role during the authorship of the Religious Influences books and was left holding the ultimate responsibility for publication of the Star volume. Her children recognized her literary style in parts of the work. Mary's philanthropic work was notable. She spent a good deal of her time helping the families of local miners through the difficult times of a strike in the mid-1890s and a pit accident in 1897. The Booths had founded clubs for the women and men of Thringstone, near Gracedieu Cottage, Whitwick, Leicestershire, which was their home for many years. They also established a district nurse scheme. From her Macaulay income she financed from 1910 onwards the St Andrew's Home for invalid children. During the years after her husband's death Mary made an important contribution to keeping his memory and that of his great work alive, publishing in 1918 the retrospective Memoir. The friendships she had built with Charlie dwindled as she retreated into the life of a Leicestershire lady and grandmother. She died on 25 September 1939.

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Related Material

Senate House Library holds another collection of Booth family papers, reference MS.797.

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