The archive consists of two principal elements: the records of the newspaper as a business, also including business records of the Manchester Evening News; and editorial correspondence and dispatches from reporters.
The business records include key partnership contracts and legal documents relating to the foundation and subsequent ownership of the paper, such as the original agreement between John Taylor senior and a group of Manchester merchants and gentlemen for the financing of the launch of the paper in 1821, as well as leases of properties (1887-1960s) and papers relating to libel actions. Financial records include ledger books for the periods 1821-1823, 1828-1834, 1839-1900, and cash books for 1827-1828, 1830-1832, 1838-1841 and 1845-1848. There is also a wide range of more recent financial records including balance sheets and financial correspondence. There are circulation and distribution records, including detailed sets of statistics, and files relating to circulation figures. There is an important body of records relating to the production of the newspaper, containing information on developments in printing technology, changes of premises, working conditions, wage rates and trade union employment agreements. Payment books detail the employment conditions of machinists, electricians, cleaners, cooks, and other ancillary workers. There are many photographs depicting staff, working premises and equipment. The general series also includes material on the Guardian's Manchester headquarters in Cross Street and, later, Deansgate. Records exist for the activities of journalistic staff, including payment records, reporters' diaries and listings of books reviewed.
The correspondence and dispatches are a source of immense importance for studies of almost every aspect of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The period of Scott's editorship (1872-1929) is represented by two classes of correspondence. There are nearly 4,400 personal letters to and from Scott, exchanged with some 1,100 individuals (GDN/118-132 and 334-8). This general correspondence includes separate series for J.E. Taylor, (GDN/129-30), G.B. Dibblee, a manager at the Guardian (GDN/131), and the academic and journalist, L.T. Hobhouse (GDN/132).The second class comprises editorial correspondence, extending to 13,000 letters exchanged with over 1,300 people (designated the 'A' series). Scott's correspondence reveals his close personal and political contacts with many of the leading statesmen and politicians of his time, such as Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Lord Haldane, Lord Grey of Fallodon, Ramsay MacDonald, Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Beveridge, Sir Samuel Hoare and Leslie Hore-Belisha. His interest in causes such as women's suffrage, Irish nationalism and the establishment of a Jewish homeland is illuminated in correspondence with the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement, and Zionists Chaim Weizmann and Sir Lewis Namier. Leading literary figures also feature in the correspondence, such as George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, John Masefield and Arthur Ransome.
In the post-Scott era, the correspondence of W.P. Crozier (1932-44) is particularly rich in material relating to European politics, Zionism and the Second World War. Most of this material can be found in the 'B' series of editorial correspondence, but there is also some highly significant material in the European Foreign Correspondence series covering the years 1912-1939 (GDN/204-221). In addition, Crozier's Confidential Foreign Affairs Correspondence (GDN/145/30-44) contains much valuable material on Palestine and Zionism.
In correspondence dating from the post-war period, under the editorships of Alfred Powell Wadsworth (1944-56) and Alastair Hetherington (1956-75), Labour politicians figure prominently, such as George Brown, James Callaghan, Richard Crossman, Hugh Gaitskell, Roy Jenkins and Harold Wilson, while Jo Grimond represents the Liberals. Among the prominent Guardian staff members who feature in the correspondence are Neville Cardus, Alistair Cooke, Bernard Levin, Malcolm Muggeridge, Peter Preston, Terence Prittie, Arthur Ransome and Brian Redhead. Wadsworth's editorial correspondence is designated the 'B' series and Hetherington's the 'C' series.
The 'D' series comprises the paper's of the Guardian's Deputy Editor, Patrick Monkhouse, dating from the 1950s-60s. Monkhouse was the son of the distinguished Guardian journalist, Allan Monkhouse. A number of significant journalists are represented in these papers, and in terms of subject matter there is some interesting material relating to economic planning in the North West, and the development of the Peak District National Park, a particular interest of Monkhouse.
Overall, almost every major event and crisis of the 20th century is represented in the archive: the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Abdication Crisis of 1936, the rise of Fascism and the Second World War, the founding of Israel and the later Middle East conflicts, the Suez Crisis, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Cold War, the development of the European Economic Community and more. There are also files on industry, technology, transport, the churches, the police, and social issues such as housing, employment and poverty.