Thomas Willan papers

Scope and Content

Papers of the economic historian, Thomas Willan. There are two components to this collection, namely, Willan's lectures and his correspondence.

The lecture notes include some of the standard lecture series delivered by Willan for the University of Manchester history undergraduate course. None of the lectures are dated but it is assumed they date between the 1940s and 1970s .They include

  • /1 British History, 1485-1815 (in manuscript).
  • /2 Economic History of England from 1500, (typescript).
  • /3 British History 1815-1914, 40 lectures on political history, (manuscript).
  • /4 Lectures (?) "The early 18th century" (typescript).
  • /5 "Transport in the nineteenth century" (typescript).
  • /6 "Transport developments" (typescript).
  • /7 Miscellaneous notes (these may have been used for lectures) including "The social and economic theories of the eighteenth century", "The Crimean War", early 19th century British history, Austro-Hungarian Empire.


  • /1 Correspondence with George Ramsay (fellow in history, St Edmund Hall, Oxford re. the "Tudor book of rates" [1582 Book of Rates which dealt with customs duties and the Isham accounts, 1961.
  • /2 Correspondence with John Barnicot (British Council) concerning the Muscovy Company, includes a typescript [by Willan?] "Further scraps relating to the Muscovy merchants of 1555", 1954-1961 and two later letters (1971) from re John Sparke.
  • /3 Correspondence re. the Muscovy Company from J S G Simmons, P H Vigor, Michael Florinsky, A Williamson and Christopher Lloyd (Navy Records Society), 1953-1957
  • /4 Correspondence (1968-1975) from J H Parker Oxspring, M J T Lewis (University of Hull) and Charles Hadfield, concerning the 17th century engineer Andrew Yarranton.
  • /5 Miscellaneous correspondence re. Willan's research, 1949-1975.

Also present is Willan's notebook bibliography, dated 1943.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Willan was a historian who specialised in the economic and transport history of early modern Britain.

Willan was educated at the Queen's College, Oxford. He was awarded his D. Phil. in 1934 for a thesis on river transport in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. He was appointed lecturer in history at University College, Dundee in 1934. In 1935, Willan became assistant lecturer in history at the University of Manchester, and remained here for the rest of his career. He was promoted to lecturer in 1945, senior lecturer in 1947, reader in 1949, and finally, professor of economic history in 1961. He retired in 1974.

Willan was an acknowledged expert on the history of Britain's inland waterways in the pre-Canal Age, and also published on early modern international trade. His many publications included: River navigation in England, 1600-1750 (Oxford 1936), English coastal trade, 1600-1750 (Manchester 1938), The navigation of the River Weaver in the eighteenth century (Chetham Society, 1951), The Muscovy merchants of 1555 (Manchester 1953), Studies in Elizabethan foreign trade (Manchester 1959), The early history of the Don navigation (Manchester 1965) and The inland trade: studies in English internal trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Manchester 1976). Willan died in 1995.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Acquisition Information

It is assumed that the collection was donated to the Library by Professor Willan or by his executors following his death.

Conditions Governing Use

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

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


None expected

Related Material

Willian's chair appointment file, Vice-Chancellor's archive, VCA/7/489

The Library has custody of the personal papers of several University of Manchester historians, including T. F. Tout, (TFT); James Tait (TAI), Maurice Powicke (FMP), Mark Hovell (HOV), George Unwin (UNW, Lewis Namier (NAM) and Eric John (EJP).

Geographical Names