The Peter Townsend Collection

Scope and Content

The Peter Townsend Collection comprises a set of personal papers relating to his career, 1952-1996, and a series of sub-collections of papers relating to specific research projects carried out in the course of his academic career.

Personal papers, which span over forty years, concern his research and research interests, his position on various Labour Party Committees and the academic posts he has held. They include:

  • General correspondence (1953-1980)
  • Select correspondence (1956-1979)
  • Press cuttings (1952-1994)
  • University of Essex papers covering his work as Professor of Sociology (1963-1982) and as Pro-Vice Chancellor (1975-1978)
  • Talks, lectures, seminars and conference papers (1954-1988)
  • Miscellaneous thematic files encompassing issues such as deprivation, housing and community care
  • Committee papers, press cuttings and correspondence relating to the Post-Ely Hospital Government Working Party (1969-1970)
  • Labour Party correspondence and committee papers (1954-1985)
  • Papers of the Disability Alliance (1970's-1990's)
  • Papers of the Child Poverty Action Group (1965-1996)

Sub-collections or 'datasets' relating to Townsend's research projects include the following: (please note that sub-components of this EAD collection level record describe the content of datasets in further detail)

  • The Family Life of Old People
  • The Last Refuge
  • Katharine Buildings
  • Old People in Long-Stay Institutions
  • Poverty in the UK
  • Inequalities in Health

These studies relate to the period 1885 to 1995.

Administrative / Biographical History

After early years as Research Secretary and Research Officer of Political and Economic Planning and at the Institute of Community Studies (1952-57) Peter Townsend became Research Fellow and Lecturer at the London School of Economics (1957-63). He was appointed Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex upon its foundation in 1963. He held this post for 18 years (including three years as University Pro-Vice Chancellor, 1975-1978). Since then he has held posts in social policy and development at the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has been Chairman of the Child Poverty Action Group since 1969 and of the Disability Alliance since 1974. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of research on poverty in the United Kingdom. Townsend is presently Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow of Social Policy, Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice, University of Bristol and Centennial Professor of International Social Policy, LSE.

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.


Entry compiled by John Southall and Emma J. Barker of Qualidata, UK Data Archive using entries from the NSPSCA information pack and Qualidata's online catalogue.

Record entered by Nadeem Ahmad of Qualidata, UK Data Archive, University of Essex.

Other Finding Aids

A collection level record for all materials in the Peter Townsend data collection is available via Qualidata's online catalogue, Qualicat.

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.

Sub fonds for each collection stipulate further access conditions.


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. 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 library special collections acquisitions staff evaluate collections by assessing their relevance to the teaching and research interests of the University.

Custodial History

The collection was held by Peter Townsend as part of his personal papers until 1996. Then it was prepared for archiving by Qualidata and deposited in the NSPSCA. A life story interview with Townsend lasting 20 hours was conducted as part of the archiving project.


Additional material continues to be added.


Townsend, P. (1979) Poverty in the United Kingdom, a Survey of Household Resources and Standards of Living, (London: Penguin Books and Allen Lane) .

Townsend, P.(1962) The Last Refuge, A Survey of Residential Institutions and Homes for the Aged in England and Wales, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul) .

Townsend, P. The Family Life of Old People, (1957) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul) .

Additional Information

National Social Policy and Social Change Archive (NSPSCA), Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex.