Howell Library

Howell as a young man, c1855During his life and career as a politician, journalist and trade union activist, George Howell (1833-1910) collected an important library of books, pamphlets, trade union reports and papers.

Politicians at that time were not paid, and by 1902 ill-health prevented Howell from continuing to support himself through journalism. After attempts to sell the collection through auction failed, Robert Applegarth, another prominent trade unionist, arranged a public subscription in 1904 to purchase the library and provide Howell with a pension. The library was presented to the Governors of Bishopsgate Institute in 1905. Following Howell's death in 1910 his archive was also donated to the Institute.

The Howell collection comprises a rich variety of material covering the political, social, philosophical and religious questions that concerned nineteenth-century trade unionists and social reformers like Howell. On top of his other activities, Howell was a historian of organised labour movements, including Chartism, and his personal library contains the materials he collected in the course of this work.  The collection contains over six and a half thousand books, pamphlets, and organizational reports. The scope of the collection encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Trade unions, friendly societies, co-operatives and industrial organizations: official reports and statements of national and local groups, including miners, sailors, engineers, and textile workers.
  • Parliamentary reform movement: the fight for working-class political representation, including the Chartist movement and the Reform League.
  • Education for the poor: the campaign for educational reform, access to education for all, and the development of technical and vocational instruction.
  • Land reform: reform of the system of land ownership.
  • Social conditions and standard of living: the Poor Laws, destitution, housing, public health, law and order, prison reform and rehabilitation of offenders.
  • British Empire: especially the attitude of Liberals, Radicals and trade unionists to foreign and colonial policy.
  • Irish Question: the debate over Home Rule and the established church in Ireland.
  • Church and state: the role and privileges of the Church of England, the rights and freedoms of religious dissenters, and the influence of religion on public laws and customs.
  • Woman Question: extensive holdings concerning women’s participation in the workforce and political life. Also covered are issues pertaining to sex, the family and domestic life. Important campaigns for women’s rights are reflected in the Collection, such as polemical works on the Contagious Diseases Acts.
  • Abolition of slavery: including the response of the trade union movement in Britain to the American Civil War.
  • Free trade and commercial and financial reform: including reports and tracts of the Financial Reform Union and Financial Reform Association.

The Howell collection has been electronically catalogued and can be searched via our online catalogue.