Burnett archive of working class autobiographies

Scope and Content

Over 230 manuscript and typescript autobiographies of English, Welsh and Scottish working class individuals, c1790-1945, collated and copied by John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent for their The autobiography of the working class (Harvester Press, Brighton, 1984-1989). The majority of authors recall memories of their childhoods and early working lives in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Another 130 autobiographies containing similar material and continuing on into the later 20th century have also been acquired.

Administrative / Biographical History

The archive of working class autobiographies at Brunel University Library was gathered together by John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent during their compilation of their three volume annotated bibliography The autobiography of the working class (Harvester Press, Brighton, 1984-1989). The authors "sought to identify not only the large numbers of printed works scattered in various Local History Libraries and Record Offices, but also extant private memoirs, many of which remain hidden in family attics, known only to the author and a handful of relatives" (introduction to volume 1, p29). The criteria for inclusion in the autobiography were that the writers were "working class" for at least part of their lives, that they wrote in English and that they lived for some time in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945. The autobiography indicates the location of unpublished items (over 230), which comprise the archive kept at Brunel, many of these are photocopies of the originals, which were then returned to the authors. Approximately 130 others have since been added to the collection.


Arranged in alphabetical order by author, as outlined in the bibliography.

Access Information

Available to researchers, by appointment. Please email: special.collections@brunel.ac.uk , giving at least two working days notice.

Further details about access to our collections are available on our website.

Access to archive material is subject to preservation requirements and must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the authors, 1984-1989.

Other Finding Aids

Most of the autobiographies are listed in The autobiography of the working class (Harvester Press, Brighton, 1984-1989). A complete list of holdings, giving details of author, memoir, date and provenance, is available on the Brunel University Library website .

A list of autobiographies collected subsequently is available from Special Collections .

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some more fragile autobiographies have a surrogate available.

Archivist's Note

Originally compiled in 2002 by Robert Baxter as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Updated by Katie Flanagan in 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

The material, unless otherwise indicated, is protected by copyright. You are unable to publish, in full or in part, without the permission of the copyright holder. However, you may use the material as permitted under statutory exceptions in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, e.g. quote for purposes of scholarship within the limits of fair dealing.


Although the collection by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent is complete, further autobiographies of working class individuals are acquired as they become available.

Location of Originals

Some of the original autobiographies were copied and then returned to their authors.


Excerpts from some of the autobiographies have been published in Destiny obscure: autobiographies of childhood, education, and family from the1820s to the 1920s , edited by John Burnett (Routledge 1994 and A Lane 1982).