Papers of George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906)

Scope and Content

The collection contains approximately 4,410 letters and papers written by and to George Jacob Holyoake between 1830 and 1906. The correspondence is with those involved in various labour movements of the early nineteenth century including Chartism, co-operation and socialism

Administrative / Biographical History

George Jacob Holyoake was the son of an engineer and was apprenticed as a tinsmith. In 1831 he joined the Birmingham Reform League, beginning an active participation in political and social movements. This involvement led him to attend meetings addressed by Robert Owen (1771-1858). Owen was a leading social reformer and he greatly influenced Holyoake, who went on to collect his papers (see associated Hub entry). Then in 1837 Holyoake gave own first lectures on socialism and co-operation.

Holyoake became a writer and journal editor, bookseller and publisher. He was prominent in the campaigns for removal of tax on newspapers and for electoral reform. He was an outspoken reformer, becoming one of the last people to be tried for blasphamy in England.

The Archive's collection covers his life-long active association with the co-operative movement and his association with all the leading figures in it. As one of the promoters of the first of the modern Co-operative Congresses in 1869 he attended and spoke at many Congresses, editing the reports of the third to the fifth and presiding at the seventh. Holyoake was an eloquent orator who addressed most noteworthy co-operative occasions.

He wrote numerous journal articles, books and also wrote many pamphlets on co operative subjects. As a journalist, his main aim in writing about the co-operative movement was to inspire, rather than to record history and many of his writings seek to imbibe supporters with verve for co-operation. His autobiography Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life gives an interesting view of the nineteenth century's radical movements.

In his later years, the co-operative movement viewed Holyoake as a link with their own heritage and the movements past. On his death, societies contributed to provide a memorial, a building to provide a headquarters for the Co-operative Union in Manchester. The Co-operative Union for the first 30 years of its existence had worked from rented offices, the Holyoake House, which was opened in 1911, was designed to include offices, meeting rooms and a library.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Holyoake arranged for the Robert Owen correspondence collection to be deposited with the Co-operative Union. He also collected his own correspondence, which passed to the Co-operative Union after his death.



Access Information

The collection is available to view at the archive with an appointment. The collection is currently being catalogued though there is a list available upon request.

Acquisition Information

Donated by the family.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Karyn Stuckey, Assistant Archivist, Mar 2007. Updated by Jane Donaldson, Apr 2024.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital photography (without flash) is permitted for research purposes on completion of the Library's Copyright Declaration form and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Custodial History

Mrs Holyoake-Marsh sent bundles of her father’s letters piecemeal to the Co-operative Union Library. Most of the bundles she had made up herself, but a few had been prepared by her father, chiefly in the form of autobiographical chapters. The result was that, in general, the letters had neither chronological nor subject matter, and the situation appeared to have been made more confused by the efforts of subsequent researchers.

The present catalogue, completed in 1967, was an attempt to rearrange all the materials in a chronological sequence, and to include in the original collection, other letters donated later, or found in other parts of the library. A permanent record has been kept of the original order of the documents, and this is marked on a catalogue kept at the archive.

Undated letters have been put in an approximately chronological position, to the nearest month, year or decade, according to the accuracy of the information available. Sometimes this positioning is based on internal evidence, sometimes on the estimate made by Mrs Marsh where this was not obviously wrong. A few letters have remained undated, and these are filed towards the end of the collection.


None expected.

Location of Originals

Papers of George Jacob Hoake are also held at Bishopsgate Institute.