Charles Booth Papers on the Life and Labour of the People in London

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Booth papers comprise manuscript and typescript copy, corrected proofs, maps and other material by Charles Booth and others for the study Life and Labour of the People in London. The typescripts include Ernest Aves' amendments and unpublished material, the collection also includes all 17 volumes of the published version of Life and Labour of the People in London.

Administrative / Biographical History

For details of the books used to write the administrative/biographical history, see the bibliography.

Charles Booth was born in Liverpool on 30 March 1840 . The son of Charles Booth, a corn merchant, he was the fourth child in a family of five. The Booth family lived in Liverpool and Charles enjoyed a comfortable and happy upbringing, from the age of ten Charles attending the Royal Institution School. After leaving school, Charles Booth started working for the shipping firm Lamport & Holt Ltd. In 1862  Charles and his eldest brother took over the running of the company after the death of their father in 1860, and established Alfred Booth & Co. Ltd which specialised in shipping skins and leather and had offices in Liverpool and New York. Charles held a great interest in steamships and the brothers soon embarked upon another business adventure and the foundation of the Booth Steamship Company. Booth married Mary Macauley on the 29th April 1871.

Outside work, Charles Booth developed an interest in sociology. In 1885 Booth objected to the claims made by F.D. Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, which had conducted an inquiry into the working classes of London, that a quarter of the population of London lived in abject poverty. Booth was not happy with the S.D.F and Hyndman's claims and believed them to be exaggerated sensationalism. Booth decided that he would investigate Hyndman's claims to disprove the results of the Federation's survey and recruited a team of researchers including his wife's cousin Beatrix Potter. Work began on the study in 1886 and went on until 1903. However, it must be noted that Booth's interest in sociology and the use of statistics was not solely inspired by the desire to prove Hyndman's facts wrong (O'Day and Englander,1993, p.31). Booth funded the inquiry himself and the investigation resulted in 17 volumes of Life and Labour of the People in London. The research revealed that the poverty statistics suggested by Hyndman had in fact been rather conservative. Charles Booth took his role as a student of the social condition of the poor very seriously&#59; in the memorial address by the Rev. Charles Craddock after Booth's death, the Reverend refers to the depth of Charle's research, "When we learn that for weeks together he dwelt as a lodger in a poor family in one of the populous parts of the city, we begin to understand how carefully Mr Booth collected the evidence on which those definite conclusions were based which have proved of such immense value to the poor of the country."(Craddock, ?1916, p.6) Booth lived in several homes in the East End during the winter of 1888-1889.

The research team began their work from Charles Booth's office in Talbert Court, off Gracechurch Street but in 1893 they moved into the spare premises of the Royal Statistical Society in Adelphi Terrace. Booth worked relentlessly at the inquiry, at night and at the weekend whilst running his expanding business by day. Simey noted in his biography on Booth, "As in business, he insisted on making himself thoroughly conversant with every aspect of the work, actively supervising the organisation of the small secretariat of paid workers, and advising and assisting each of his collaborators in the collection of material for their special subjects."(Simey p.102). The research team for the project included: Beatrice Webb, Arthur Baxter, Clara Collett, David Schloss, George Duckworth, Hubert Llewllyn Smith, Jesse Argyle and Ernest Aves. The study took the form of a number of series&#59; The Poverty Series offers details about the occupants of London streets and how they live and to what class they belong&#59; The Industry Series explores the world of the work place and The Religious Influence Series looks at organised religion in London and attitudes to problems and the poor. Booth upon preparing the study for publication made no attempts to censor or change his findings and reported them with a detached and thorough method. The study lead Booth to believe that the State should assume responsibility for people living in poverty. He proposed that the State should introduce Old Age pensions as a form of limited socialism.

Many of the researchers (including Beatrix Potter) on Life and Labour of the People in London became socialists as a result of what they had seen whilst working on the study. Booth supported the need to adopt a limited socialism, but he became more conservative as he grew older and feared a socialist revolt in Britain. In 1904 Booth was made a Privy Councillor and in 1907 he served with Beatrice Webb on the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. In 1908 the Liberal government passed the Old Age Pensions Act, an Act Booth had been arguing for, ever since the results of Life and Labour of the people in London. Despite the Acts limitations (one being the use of means testing) many saw Booth as one the influences behind the introduction of state pensions. Charles Booth was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and was awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Cambridge, Liverpool and Oxford. Booth died on the 23rd November 1916 following a stroke. Although Life and Labour of the People in London has often been criticised, Charles Booth's work has been recognised as of great importance to social policy and of highlighting the need for social reform by showing the level of poverty through scientific methods.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged according to the chapter orders of Life and Labour of the People in London

Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to bona fide researchers

Acquisition Information

The collection was given to the University of Liverpool by Charles Booth's family in 1948

Note

For details of the books used to write the administrative/biographical history, see the bibliography.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for consultation in the reading room

Archivist's Note

This collection-level description was created for the Archives Hub in November 2003  by Roy Lumb.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and licensing rules available on request

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised

Accruals

There are no anticipated accruals

Related Material

London University London School of Economics Library holds papers relating to Life and Labour dating from (1886-1903) and correspondence relating to the Royal Economic Society (1893-1899)

London University Library holds correspondence and papers dating from 1870-1916. The Charles Booth Online Archive contains details of the archive collections from LSE and London University Library collections.

The Royal Statistics Society holds MS from census returns from 1831-1881.

Bibliography

Craddock, CharlesThe late Right Hon. Charles Booth: address by Charles Craddock, at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, Liverpool, on 29th November, 1916s.n., Liverpool?, 1916?O'Day, Rosemary and Englander, DavidMr Charles Booth's Inquiry Life and Labour of the People in London ReconsideredHambledon Press, London, 1993Simey, T.S. and Simey .M.BCharles Booth social scientistOxford University Press, 1960