Graphical version

Brunel University Library

Working Class Autobiographies Collection


Reference code(s): GB 1975 Working Class Autobiographies

Held at: Brunel University Library

Title: Working Class Autobiographies Collection

Date(s): Created 1790-1945; copied 1984-1989

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 6 linear metres

Name of creator(s): Burnett | John | b1925 | historian
Mayall | David | b1953 | historian
Vincent | David | b1949 | historian


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 The autobiography indicates the location of unpublished items (over 230), which comprise the archive kept at Brunel. A few others of more marginal relevance are also available upon request.


Scope and content/abstract:

Photocopies of c230 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.


Language/scripts of material: English.

System of arrangement:

Arranged alphabetically by surname of individual author.

Conditions governing access:

Readers should apply at the issue desk of Brunel University Library, Uxbridge Campus, during normal opening hours.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Single photocopies of up to 10% of an autobiography may be made for private study; readers wishing to make more extensive reproduction of particular items may need to obtain permission from the present copyright owners, where applicable.

Physical characteristics:

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 in hard copy at Brunel Library, or online at

Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited by the authors, 1984-1989.


Existence and location of originals:

The original unpublished material is held in libraries and record offices or remains in private ownership. The autobiography of the working class (Harvester Press, 1984-1989) give details of location.

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

Publication note:

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).



Archivist's note: Compiled by Robert Baxter as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Source: Working Class Autobiographies webpage, Brunel University Library at

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: July 2001

Autobiographies | Prose | Literary forms and genres | Literature
Childhood | Age groups | Age distribution
Working class | Social class | Social stratification
Working class cultures | Cultural systems
Working life | Career development

Personal names
Burnett | John | b 1925 | historian
Mayall | David | b1953 | historian
Vincent | David | b 1949 | historian

Corporate names

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe