The Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 301 FLWE
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Approximately 24 linear metres 454 typed, paper-based transcripts of interviews (originally recorded on reel to reel tape). Contextual materials, correspondence and documentation are also paper-based.

Scope and Content

Content includes:

454 paper based interview files containing: typed transcripts of in-depth, life history interviews; additional correspondence between researchers and interviewees; autobiographical notes, essays, newspaper cuttings and miscellaneous private papers supplied by the interviewees.

Thematically coded transcript extracts for the full collection of 454 interviews. Themes include:

  • Household
  • Domestic routine
  • Meals
  • Influence and discipline
  • Recreation in the home
  • Recreation outside the home
  • Weekend activities and religion
  • Politics
  • Parents' interests
  • Children's leisure
  • Community and social class
  • School
  • Work, except domestic service
  • Life after leaving school
  • Marriage
  • Childbirth and infancy
  • Domestic service
  • Institutions and boarding schools
  • Occupational history (factual compilation of all that is known about the occupational history of interviewees and their kin)

The collection also contains paper based background documentation for the original research project, including: the original grant application; notes on methodology used; interview schedule(s)/topic guide; interviewer instructions; communication with informants relating to confidentiality; interview summaries.

In addition, there is a transcript of an in-depth interview with Professor Paul Thompson, the depositor and principal investigator of the project. Parts of the interview refer directly to this project.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in 1935, Paul Thompson was educated at the University of Oxford, graduating in 1958 with First Class Honours in Modern History. He obtained a D. Phil, (also at the University of Oxford), in 1964. This was entitled London Working Class Politics and the Formation of the London Labour Party, 1885-1914. In 1964, having spent three years as a Junior Research Fellow at Queen's College, Oxford, Thompson was appointed Lecturer in Sociology (Social History), at the newly established University of Essex. He was to continue his research and teaching in sociology and social history at Essex, being appointed Research Professor in Sociology, in 1988. Thompson is regarded as one of the pioneers of oral history as a research methodology. He is founding editor of the journal Oral History and founder of the National Life Story Collection at the British Library National Sound Archive, London. Between 1994 and 2001, as Director of Qualidata, University of Essex, Thompson actively pursued his interest in the preservation of qualitative research materials for secondary use, depositing his own datasets and overseeing the development of this archival service.

Paul Thompson's, The Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience before 1918, carried out between 1970 and 1973, was the first national oral history interview study to be carried out in Britain. Thompson had first become aware of the need for a project of this kind in the late 1960s, while in the process of writing a book about the social history of Britain between 1900 and 1918 (see Publications field for details). There was little direct evidence from the working class perspective of life during this period and, recognizing the value of oral testimonies, Thompson recognized that such evidence must be gathered immediately, while members of the Edwardian generation were still alive.

Receiving funding from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Thompson and a team of part-time interviewers were subsequently to carry out a series of life history interviews with c450 men and women who had lived in Edwardian Britain (all were born before 1906, the earliest in 1872). Thompson had wanted to select a group representative, as far as was possible at the time, of the Edwardian population as a whole. He therefore used a 'quota sample' based upon the 1911 census. (A sampling method in which the sample population is divided up into categories of various proportions. The researcher then selects persons matching these criteria until the quota for each category is filled). Thompson's sample totalled 444 people and categories included six major occupational groups and three classifications of location, gender and regional distribution. The respondents were chosen by a variety of means, including through social workers, care homes, personal contact and advertisement. The final total of interviews eventually numbered in excess of 444, partly because some people belonged to a different occupational group than that anticipated and because some interviews were not sufficiently complete.

The interviews were carried out by a number of part-time interviewers. They followed a detailed interview schedule to ensure that the data collected were appropriate for comparison and to facilitate the collection of the most complete story possible. At the same time, the interviewers were encouraged to keep the interview 'open' and, where appropriate, to follow the flow of the interviewee-in other words departing from the schedule and expressing questions listed in the schedule in different ways. Consequently, the results are examples of 'loosely structured' interviews.

The topics in the interview schedule included: domestic routine, including the roles of husbands and children; meals; the upbringing of children; emotional relationships and values in the family; leisure; religion; politics; school; courtship and marriage; the wider family; relationships with neighbours and perception of the community structure; experience of work and the occupational history of the whole family.

Two or three sessions per interview were normally required in order to complete the schedule, with the average length of interview being four hours. The interviews were recorded on open-reel tapes, resulting in usually two or three 5 inch spools for each interview, but in the longer, more exceptional cases, this could amount to six or seven spools.

Thompson continued to work with the materials collected in the project over much of the decade. His experiences with the Edwardians were important in pioneering the methodology of oral history, and the research contributed to his later publication on method, The Voice of the Past: Oral History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1988) .

For further background information to this collection see Qualidata's Edwardians Online and also the online user guide, which contains copies of the original grant proposals, project progress reports, notes on the interview schedule and methodology, provisional findings.


Interview transcripts, summary sheets and associated correspondence for each, particular interview are collected in individual files. These files are numbered.

The 'cut-and-paste', thematically coded extracts of the transcripts are ordered in boxes, by theme, such as household, domestic routine, school etc. [For each interview, extracts of text coded in a particular theme -including the transcript page numbers- were pasted in sequence, as they appeared in the transcript. These individual, 'themed files' were then grouped together and ordered by interview number].

Access Information

By written application to either the Librarian or Deputy Librarian. A letter of introduction may be required and prospective users will be obliged to sign an undertaking outlining the terms and conditions of access to the research materials.

Acquisition Information

The collection was deposited by Professor Paul Thompson in 1973.


This record was created by Emma J. Barker, Qualidata, UK Data Archive, based largely on personal knowledge of the collections. Information was also acquired from the collection level record for The Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience before 1918, in Qualidata's online catalogue, Qualicat . Additional information relating to the methodology used in the original research project was drawn from Thompson's, The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society, (London: Weidenfeld&Nicholson, 1975; London: Routledge, 2nd edition, 1992) .

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue of the interviews, containing summary information, is available at the Edwardians Online website. Interview summaries include: socio-demographic fields, e.g. date of birth, sex, social class ; brief description of interview content summarised by themes, e.g. family, work, education, politics, religion.

A small number of electronic texts are also available at the Edwardians Online website and these can be searched via a free text search, or via a thematic browsing facility. Digitisation of the entire collection will be ongoing over the next 3 years.

The thematically coded paper transcripts are also used as a finding aid for thematic content in the paper collection.

Alternative Form Available

High quality microfiche of the transcripts is available at the National Sound Archive. Electronic transcripts are kept by the UKDA and Qualidata, University of Essex.

Conditions Governing Use

No part of the NSPSCA collections may be reproduced, published, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Albert Sloman Library. This may be obtained by application to the Librarian or Deputy Librarian.

Users may quote text up to a maximum of 300 words in total from the whole collection of interviews in any one single article or chapter in a book.


The materials held in the collection contain personal and identifying information. It is essential that the privacy of all respondents is not infringed. No real names or any other identifiable information used in the studies may appear in public and no attempt may be made to contact respondents directly. Use of the materials to derive information relating specifically to an identified individual or to claim to have done so is prohibited.

Appraisal Information

In consultation with academic colleagues, the Albert Sloman Library special collections acquisitions staff evaluate collections by assessing their relevance to the teaching and research interests of the University.

Custodial History

The open-reel interview tapes, transcripts, thematically coded transcripts, associated correspondence and project documentation from Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 were first archived at the Oral History Archive at the University of Essex, in 1973. In 1996 Qualidata, the Qualitative Data Service (University of Essex), facilitated the transfer of the audio tapes to the British Library's National Sound Archive (NSA). In 2002, the original transcripts, documentation, correspondence and thematically coded transcripts, were transferred to The National Social Policy and Social Change Archive (NSPSCA) at the Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex.

Recently, the UK Data Archive (UKDA), (University of Essex) and Qualidata have undertaken the digitization of the transcripts and the thematically coded transcripts. These are available with background about the original project and an account of the online project at Edwardians Online.


No additional material is expected.

Related Material

The Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience before 1918, Middle and Upper Class Families in the Early 20th Century. Paper transcripts and associated correspondence for this collection are available at The NSPSCA, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex. Audio interviews, on open reel tapes for this collection were deposited with the National Sound Archive, at the British Library.

Location of Originals

The original 454 interviews in the Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 collection were recorded on c1200 open reel tapes, comprising c1800 hours of audio material. These were deposited at The National Sound Archive (NSA), The British Library, 96, Euston Rd., London NW1 2DB. Details of the individual interview recordings have been entered into the NSA online catalogue.


The main publication arising from this collection of interviews was:

Thompson, P., The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society, (London: Weidenfeld&Nicholson, 1975; London: Routledge, 2nd edition, 1992) .

Other related works include:

Thompson, P., and Harkel, G., The Edwardians in Photographs, (London: Batsford, 1979) .

Thompson, P., The Voice of the Past: Oral History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1988) .