The Dictionary of Labour Biography Archive (1972 - 2000)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive covers the first ten volumes of the Dictionary (1972 - 2000), recording the lives of over nine hundred people.

There are research files for nearly everyone who appears within the pages of the Dictionary, as well special notes files, which are organised by volume [U DLB/1-10]. U DLB/11 contains correspondence files, generic newspaper cuttings and various bibliographies and these help to trace the development of the Dictionary, from its inception in the early 1960s. In addition there are files for over a hundred people who were not selected for publication - for example, RH Tawney, GDH Cole and Victor Gollancz all have files in U DLB/11 but were never published in the first ten volumes [U DLB/11/16, 15 & 39].

The files for each entrant vary in the richness of their content. Many offer valuable additional material to the published biographical entry. The file of Clem Edwards is one such example [U DLB/3/24]. Not only does the file contain valuable correspondence with his family, but it also contains the only copy of his unpublished memoirs, 'Life as I have seen it'. All the files contain at least one draft, allowing the reader to chart the progress to the final entry. Many files also contain a draft for inclusion in the French version of the Dictionary [Dictionnaire biographique du Mouvement ouvrier International (Paris: Les Editions Ouvrieres, 1979)]. Sources such as reproductions of birth, death and marriage certificates, news cuttings, writings and speeches of the entrants and various contemporary articles on the subject are also available. Much of the correspondence proves significant. Correspondence from Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1916-1995) is present in several files, including that of his Aunt, Mary Sutherland, in the file of Leah Manning, as well as in a letter of condolence sent to the wife of John (Jack) Bailey by the Prime Minister. A similar letter of condolence from the Queen, Elizabeth II, appears in the file of John Wilson. Harry Hamson's file includes copies of letters from Keir Hardie and Lady Cynthia Mosley's file contains correspondence with her husband and leader of British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley. [U DLB/6/63, 7/47, 2/7, 1/220, 5/35 & 5/57]

Administrative / Biographical History

The origins of the Dictionary of Labour Biography lie in the work of G.D.H Cole (1889-1959), the socialist historian and political thinker. Upon Cole's death, John Saville (1916-), then lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Hull, acquired numerous manuscript volumes from his widow Margaret Cole that came to form the skeleton of the Dictionary. Each of the many hundreds of names that were listed, from the 1790s until the present day, had a brief biographical account attached. Funding to develop a biographical dictionary was initially received from the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam in 1961. As well as the modest grant received from the Institute, Hull University provided a full time research assistant for an initial period of three years. Dr. Joyce Bellamy (1921-2002), then senior research officer in the newly formed Department of Social and Economic History, was employed to work with Saville in what proved to be a major long-term collaboration. More permanent funding was eventually secured from the Social Science Research Council as well as generous donations from various organisations.

As well as Bellamy, Saville employed the services of a wide range of researchers. Barbara Nield, Margaret 'Espinasse, Ann Holt and David Martin all worked as research assistants in Hull. The project was not confined to Hull however, and Vivien Morton and Marion Kozack (wives of historians AL Morton and Ralph Miliband respectively) were commissioned to check London-based sources. Dame Margaret Cole played an important role in the first few volumes of the Dictionary. Throughout the late 1960s through until late 1976, Cole was in regular correspondence with John Saville, writing several entries and sitting alongside Asa Briggs, HL Beales and other recognised scholars on the central editorial board. Each volume contains a list of contributors in the introductory pages. Naturally, academics from the University of Hull were approached for contributions, including Dr Alan Lee, Dr David Rubinstein and Anthony Topham. The first five volumes also owe much of their content to the work of HF Bing, lecturer at the Cooperative College, Loughborough, and Dr Eric Taylor of Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

The original plan was to produce a Who's Who of the labour movement. However, it was soon realised that several volumes would be necessary in order to encompass the ever-growing register of names. After the realisation that no dictionary would be complete without the inclusion of the rank and file of the movement as well as renowned labour leaders, the main difficulty became limiting the number of entrants. Those who were still alive were excluded from the scope of the project, although further problems of who to include remained. For the majority of candidates, their membership of a trade union, cooperative organisation, working-class party or movement ensured their inclusion. However there was also scope for the editorial flexibility which allowed the inclusion of Dr Josiah Court, six times unsuccessful Tory candidate and staunch Conservative who held for a long period the position of medical advisor to the Derbyshire Miners Association [DLB/1/54].

Each volume of the Dictionary is organised on an A-Z basis, with the first few volumes being more narrowly focused than the later ones. Volumes I and II were dominated by miners and co-operators. As the research moved on, it was realised that such subject headings were limiting and so while each volume had a broad theme (for example volume VI paid particular attention to the radicals, the Chartists and the Owenites of the pre 1850s), they widened in definition with time.

Over nearly thirty years, Saville and Bellamy produced ten volumes of what has become the definitive guide to the labour movement and its members since the late eighteenth century. Despite the retirement of Saville and Bellamy from the University in 1982 and 1985 respectively, it was not until during the compilation of volume X (published in 2000), that Bellamy and then Saville retired from the Dictionary. It is now under the joint editorship of Professor David Howell and Professor Neville Kirk of the University of York and Manchester Metropolitan University respectively.

The ten volumes of the Dictionary of Labour Biography were published by Macmillan in 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1993, 2000 respectively.


U DLB/1 Volume I, 1839 - 1994

U DLB/2 Volume II, 1825 - 1996

U DLB/3 Volume III, 1841 - 1995

U DLB/4 Volume IV, 1839 - 1994

U DLB/5 Volume V, 1869 - 1990

U DLB/6 Volume VI, 1816 - 1991

U DLB/7 Volume VII, 1839 - 1993

U DLB/8 Volume VIII, 1836 - 1995

U DLB/9 Volume IX, 1841 - 1995

U DLB/10 Volume X, 1840 - 1999

U DLB/11 Miscellaneous, 1863 - 1992

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation

Related Material

Hull University Archives:

Papers of John Saville [DJS], especially files DJS/8, 22-25

Other repositories:

Papers of GDH Cole [MSS.GDHC], Nuffield College Library, University of Oxford [GB 0163]


Bellamy, Joyce & Saville, John eds., Dictionary of Labour Biography, Volume I (London: Macmillan, 1972), introduction and preface Obituary of Joyce Bellamy in Labour History Review, vol. 67, no. 3., winter 2002, pp. 261-262 Martin, D E & Rubinstein, D eds., Ideology and the labour movement: essays presented to John Saville (London: Croom Helm, 1979)