Contents of this article
The Charles Booth Online Archive is a searchable resource giving access to archive material from the Booth collections of the Archives Division of the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE Archives) and the Senate House Library. The Booth collection at LSE Archives contains the original records from Booth's survey into life and labour in London, dating from 1886 to 1903. The survey was published initially in two volumes in 1889, with the full and final version published as Life and Labour of the People in London (17 vols., London, 1902-3).
The online material includes 450 original survey notebooks recording information about households, as well as notebooks of observations and interviews carried out on police 'walks' in 47 districts of the capital. The archives of the Senate House Library contain Booth family papers from 1799 to 1967. In total, the resource contains some 7,000 individual documents. The survey and notebooks relate principally to metropolitan London, while the family papers include references to London, other parts of the UK, and other parts of the world including India and the Americas. Almost all the material is in English. The family correspondence, 6,000 items, is largely concerned with domestic and personal details of the lives of the Macaulay and Booth families. Approximately 1,000 of the letters were written by Charles Booth to members of his family or business associates.
The resource comprises a database catalogue of the notebooks, letters and other documents, which contains summary information about each entry or item. The summaries are fully searchable, and can be browsed by location. In the case of the notebooks, these searchable, item-level descriptions are linked to associated items, to images of the original documents, and to the Booth poverty maps.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Charles Booth Online Archive is a key source for the social and economic history of 19th-century London, and one of the earliest examples of a comprehensive social survey carried out in a metropolitan context. The archive provides a mass of data and observations on living and working conditions, the lives and employment of women, the organisation of trade and industry, the effects of national and international migration, leisure activities, and the religious life of the capital. The 450 survey and police notebooks provided the statistical information for the famous Booth poverty maps, which can also be viewed online here. Additionally, the notebooks contain a huge amount of incidental detail and observations, as well as interviews with individuals. Much of this material, for reasons of privacy, was never published in the survey volumes.
It is not possible to view the original documents for some of the categories of source material, especially the family papers. These are catalogued and indexed. Full images are, however, provided of the survey and police books, maps and photographs. The family correspondence is rich in detail and comprises letters from 359 individuals providing information on family and business dealings.
About the project
The Charles Booth Online Archive project was funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme. The project partners were the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of London Library. The project's technical officer was Andrew Morrison, the project manager was Caroline Shaw and the project archivist was Caroline Ferris.