Memoir of Henry Price: "The diary of a working man long resident in Islington"

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This handwritten volume exists because Henry Price, having kept personal financial accounts as a contribution to a Board of Trade study of tradesmen's earnings, decided to set down on record some of the story of his life, "knowing it to be something out of the common".

Most of this book was written in 1904, Price's 79th year. He describes his memories from the age of two, up to a final entry on his 80th birthday. The volume also includes pictures, poems and newspaper articles that he had collected for many years, as well as three letters received in America from friends (1846-1848) and two received later from his father (1851 and 1853). Although Price himself refers to the book as a diary, it is more properly described as both a memoir and a commonplace book.

Price describes many episodes from his life, including his life in America and his struggle to earn a living on his return to England. He records his thoughts and opinions on subjects ranging from poverty to racism and from trade unions to religion. He had a particular interest in the way that the cabinet making trade was organised, including training, apprenticeships and the sweating system of subcontracting and piecework. References to his work for William Morris can be found on p151-153.

The volume also includes the published Board of Trade statistics, as well as Price's handwritten annual accounts for the years 1887-1901. The memoir includes very little coverage of the last three decades of the 19th century, but these accounts provide some information on these years.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Edward Price was born illegitimate in Warminster in 1824. Abandoned by his family, he spent much of his youth in the workhouse. In 1842, aged 17, he emigrated to America, where he spent some time learning aspects of the furniture-making trade, both in New York and in Oswego on Lake Ontario. He returned to England in 1849, although he was in poor health and suffered poverty for the next few years while he travelled the country looking for work. He became skilled as a cabinet maker and has been identified as one of the craftsmen who made furniture for William Morris based on some of his earliest designs. From 1877 onwards, he mainly lived in Islington, north London.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation by appointment.

Acquisition Information

Unknown.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Fragile; handling restrictions may apply.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying is carried out at the discretion of staff, depending on the condition of the materials and according to the Local History Centre's photocopying policy, which is available on request. No photographs over 50 years old and no material over 100 years old may be copied. Copies of material still in copyright can be supplied for research use only. Written permission must be obtained from the archivist to publish or reproduce any material held in the Local History Centre. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearance from the copyright holder.

Custodial History

Unknown.

Related Material

Account books of Henry Price (1842-1901) are held in the British Library manuscripts collection (ref. Add MS 36603).

Bibliography

Pat Kirkham, 'William Morris's early furniture' (Journal of William Morris Studies, summer 1981, pp25-28).

See also 'A guide to manuscripts relating to America in Great Britain and Ireland' (John W Raimo, 1979).