Victoria Research Web

Archival Sources

Archives are collections of documents, usually ones created by members of a group--a government department, for instance, or a society of some kind--or by an individual, and normally not intended to be published in their original form. For 19th-century researchers, that generally means handwritten documents: letters, diaries, notes, ledgers, applications, drafts, and so on. A huge amount of scholarly effort over the past several decades has gone into preparing and publishing reliable transcriptions of manuscripts written by prominent Victorians, hence the still ongoing projects associated with the letters of Carlyle, Gladstone, Dickens, Darwin, Eliot, Nightingale, and others. Several of those projects have now moved online, where they can readily be searched. In some cases, you can consult scans of original manuscripts.

For the most part, though, these kinds of materials are not available online. As admirable and useful as these well-known online projects are, they represent only a tiny fraction of the surviving manuscript heritage of 19th-century life. For everything else, you will physically have to travel to where the documents are kept, or else get someone there to make copies for you. This is the "offline penumbra" into which many scholars never venture. And yet those who have worked with rare manuscript materials will tell you that such encounters have been among the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of their scholarly lives.

An ongoing research project at the University of Reading under the direction of David Sutton has created "location registers" of the literary manuscript materials associated with British writers, thus rescuing researchers from many a wasted fishing expedition and fruitless inquiry-letter.  The first register to appear was the Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and Letters: 18th and 19th Centuries.  This register has now been integrated into OCLC's WorldCat, the archival section of which is searchable free through the Library of Congress's NUCMUC site. Note, however, that some writers whom one might expect to find there, including many whose first works were published in the latter part of the 19th century (e.g., Thomas Hardy, Rider Haggard, and many others) are instead in the Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and Letters: 20th Century. In 2003, this location register of 20th-c. literary manuscripts, including all additions and corrections since their publication in 1988, was made freely available online by the University of Reading.  Some other online sources for archival literary material may be found in the next sections.
Scholars wishing to photocopy, quote from, or otherwise make use of manuscript materials (or, for that matter, printed ones) will find helpful David Sutton's guide to "Locating UK Copyright Holders," which also summarizes the application of current copyright law in Britain. Sutton's guide, links to other copyright resources and, most importantly, a searchable database of copyright holders in the U.S. and U.K., are all part of the WATCH (Writers and Their Copyright Holders) project, a collaborative effort of the University of Texas and the University of Reading. Particularly given recent extensions of copyright protection, it is never safe to assume that the published work of a Victorian author is in the public domain, while unpublished manuscripts remain in copyright indefinitely.
Despite the growing reach of digitized resources, it is worth remembering that another alternative to on-site inspection of manuscript material may be to borrow from among the large collections of documents still available on microfilm at various research libraries. Some libraries, for instance, will still own collections once sold by Adam Matthew, which is now exclusively a digital publisher; these include Harriet Martineau's papers in Birmingham, the Margaret Oliphant papers at the NLS, and the Browning, Eliot, Thackeray and Trollope mss. held by the British Library. The University of Delaware Library, for instance, thanks to the early advocacy of veteran researcher Charles Robinson, possesses and loans out the 124-reel set of microfilm of the entire Royal Literary Fund Archive, an invaluable resource (now held at the British Library) for any research on the 19th-century literary world. Although now available online from Gale Cengage though its Nineteenth Century Collections Online, that database can be hard to find if your nearby research library doesn't subscribe.  With research travel so expensive, it's always worth checking to see if materials like these are available to you through Inter-Library Loan.
Transcription of 19th-century manuscript material has gone on for years, particularly in the big letters projects for such prominent Victorians as Darwin, Thomas and Jane Carlyle , Arnold, and Swinburne, all of whom have impressive websites dedicated to them. Most scholars, however, dealing with letters or diaries by less exalted figures, wind up doing their own transcribing. A new tool, T-PEN, has emerged as an aid to such transcription. Although developed for early modern manuscripts, it is easily adaptable for more modern projects, such as the Chesson Diaries Transcription Project under way at Northwestern University under the direction of Tracy C. Davis.

Increasingly, specialized databases of archival materials are bringing together location information for particular subject categories. One example is MUNDUS, a guide to missionary collections in the United Kingdom that is particularly rich in 19th-century materials. Others include the Medical Archives and Manuscripts Survey undertaken by the Wellcome Trust.

The National Archives

The National Archives, occupying the stunning quarters in Kew once known as the Public Record Office, now oversees the whole of the governmental documentary heritage of the United Kingdom, consolidating under one heading what had been the PRO and the Historical Manuscripts Commission. The Archives' fine website should be the first online port of call for general enquiries about where to find government records. (See especially the leaflet and map as well as the jazzy animated guides.)

The best place to begin a search for archival material in the UK is with Discovery, the catalog of the National Archives, which has replaced the former National Register of Archives. The National Archives site also lists materials that have recently been added to archive repositories all over the U.K., organized by topic. (The list of 2013 additions, for instance, has a separate listing for literary history that tells of an accession of manuscripts by the poet John Clare at the Peterborough Archives and a Coleridge letter acquired by the Somerset Heritage Centre. Interesting accessions like these can be found in almost every year's listings.) Although a few important manuscripts are online, most are not; if you are unable to visit the National Archives in person, you might consider employing one of the many independent researchers who can look up and copy records for a fee.

The National Archives puts out scores of research guides to help people make use of their vast holdings, as well as to help them determine if the records they are seeking (such as birth, marriage, or death certificates) are someplace else altogether. Whether you are looking for a person or a subject, a search among the guides, and a close reading of the most relevant ones, is an excellent place to begin. The NA (and before it, the PRO) used to feature a number of guides addressed to specifically 19th-century matters (e.g., a guide to the Ecclesiastical Census of 1851, now gone), but those guides -- which were essentially leaflets -- have all been replaced by more general guides that have useful links to sub-sections of the online site. Among the guides that Victorianists may find particularly interesting are:


The NUCMC, or National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, is a free-of-charge cooperative cataloging program operated by the Library of Congress. This gateway offers searching through OCLC Worldcat..

Family and Census Data

The boom in family history is making a splendid array of resources available to all historical researchers, but a fee or subscription is almost always involved. (An exception, thanks to hard-working volunteers, is FreeCen, though not all counties are available for every census.) Useful tips can be found at the GENUKI site, while links to birth, marriage, and death information can be found at UK BMD. Individual family historians are also sharing their research findings online, as Mark Crail has done with his Chartist Ancestors site.

After the first attempt failed due to an overwhelming demand, the National Archives made some adjustments and has now succeeded in making fully available not only the 1901 Census of England and Wales but also (in association with the censuses for 1841 through 1911. Easy to use, the service is a boon to genealogical and historical researchers alike. The searching itself is free, but there are charges for viewing the full results of your search in printable form or as saveable images. (Read the FAQ's about charges at both sites carefully, as the fee scheme is a bit complicated.) If you use any of the censuses in person at the National Archives in Kew, viewing the transcripts is free; you pay only for copies.

Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales began on July 1, 1837, in the first year of Victoria's reign. A company called FindMyPast has put online the parish registers in which this information was recorded. For a fee, researchers can search for, view, and print these indexes. A limited but growing number of free version of these index entries is also available. Keep in mind that 19th-century registration could be spotty and the process of conversion to electronic form is necessarily imperfect, so the records do contain a number of mistakes and omissions.

The graphic illustration of 19th-century data of various kinds has steadily advanced since the pioneering 1990s "Mapping the Life Course" project by Humphery Southall and Ben White, as part of the Great Britain Historical GIS Programme. Presentations using animated mapping of Victorian cholera epidemics and infant mortality help to demonstrate just how much this approach has to offer. A remarkable offshoot of this program is the lottery-funded Vision of Britain site, which allows visitors to obtain comparative historical statistics (1801 to 2001) about social class, religion, industry, population, language, and mortality. One of many fun features is the complete text of William Cobbett's classic Rural Rides whose profuse sprinkling of place-names is linked to information in the database.

Selected Archives with Victorian Materials

Most manuscript materials created in the 19th century -- letters, diaries, ledgers, rosters, meeting minutes, handwritten originals of books/essays/poems, notebooks, scrapbooks, sketches, and the like -- are not available online in digital facsimile, and most of them never will be. Yet much of what we want to know about the Victorians can only be found in these kinds of records. This makes it imperative that researchers be able to locate the manuscripts relevant to their projects. For mss. that are not in private hands, the work of special collections librarians is crucial to this effort. Most repositories with major collections have worked hard to create finding aids, and to put these online. What follows are links to a selection of online catalogues that include significant manuscript materials of interest to students of the long 19th century. (Note, however, that several major repositories of such materials--including the Houghton Library at Harvard, the New York Public Library's Berg Collection and the National Library of Scotland--have yet to establish detailed Web-based guides to their holdings.) The highlighted name of the library connects to an overview of that library's manuscript holdings, while links to more specific descriptions, where available, can be found in the entry that follows.

Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University
While the ABL's holdings of material related to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are unsurpassed, the library also contains many other collections of Victorian literary material, including signifiant manuscripts of Mathew Arnold and John Ruskin. A collaboration with Wellesley College has resulted in an online collection of Browning love letters.

Beinecke Library, Yale University
Famous for its collection of George Eliot and George Henry Lewes papers (the original catalogue description is by Gordon Haight), the Beinecke also holds significant mss. for J. M. Barrie, Max Beerbohm Mrs. Humphry Ward, and many others, as well as a large collection of Swinburne letters and manuscripts. Despite its bewildering interface, a Finding Aids Database makes it possible to find descriptions of individual collections, though calling up a list of 19th-century literary manuscript collections appears to be beyond its abilities.

University of Birmingham Library
The Library's Victorian collections include not only the papers of Joseph Chamberlain and his descendants, but thousands of letters, prints, photos, and paintings associated with artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema and over 1500 manuscript items in its Harriet Martineau archive, the world's largest collection of her papers.
Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
Nineteenth-century manuscript materials can now be accessed in the wonderful new Weston Library in its rare books and manuscripts reading room. In addition to its extensive literary collections (which include the original ms. of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as well as the papers of such luminaries as Gerard Manley Hopkins), the Bodleian maintains an archive on modern politics that features the papers of Benjamin Disraeli and other Victorian political figures. They also have a fascinating collection of the correspondence of Bradbury and Evans, the publishers and printers best known as the proprietors of Punch. Faster than searching the catalog of manuscripts for some purposes is a browse of the listing of modern manuscript collections.
University of Bristol Information Services
The gem of Special Collections at Bristol is its vast trove of the papers of the remarkable Brunel family of entrepreneurial engineers, though other items of Victorian interest include the family records of John Addington Symonds.

British Library
The massive 19th-century manuscript holdings at the BL include the Royal Literary Fund papers and the gargantuan India Office Records. The catalogue of the BL's entire manuscript collection is now searchable online. Manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Cambridge University Library
Home of the Darwin Correspondence Project, the CUL also has important collections for such Victorian notables as Lord Acton, the Eyre family, and Edward Fitzgerald. Students of empire will find an astounding range of manuscript and photographic material in the library of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Centre of South Asian Studies (University of Cambridge)
A principal gem of the Centre's holdings of private papers concerning the Raj in the 19th and 20th centuries is a fascinating collection of unpublished memoirs that includes a number of first-hand accounts, by both men and women, of the 1857 Mutiny.
Glasgow University Library
The collections of the University of Glasgow library includes the largest collection anywhere of papers and correspondence by artist James McNeil Whistler as well as the papers of poet Thomas Campbell and his family. The library also hosts an electronic illustrated catalogue of 1840s photographs by the legendary team of Hill and Adamson.
Greater Manchester County Record Office
The GMCRO is set up to provide guides to family history, including its microfilm records of the . The Documentary Photography Archive contains thousands of Victorian photographs, and can be searched through A2A. The Pathfinder database consolidates thousands of descriptions of the holdings of local government offices in the Manchester area.
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas
Of particular interest to Victorianists is the HRC's catalogue of manuscripts in the Robert Lee Wolff Collection of mss. and correspondence to and from 19th-century women authors (Note that this file is quite large [300K] and may take some time to retrieve.)
University of Huddersfield
A descendant of the Young Men's Mental Improvement Society of 1841, the University maintains archives of the Huddersfield Mechanics Institution from 1843-1884 as well as those of the associated Female Educational Institute and the Literary and Scientific Society (1857-1882).
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Rare Book and Special Collections Library at UIUC contains a large assortment of the papers of two giants of the Victorian book business: Richard Bentley, the publisher, and Charles Mudie, the subscription-library proprietor. The library also holds many of the papers of William Allingham (1824-1899), poet, folklorist, editor, and diarist, as well as those of novelist and publisher Grant Richards (1872-1936).

Institution of Civil Engineers
The ICE has substantial archives on such feats of Victorian engineering as the Forth Railway Bridge and the Thames Tunnel, as well as assorted manuscripts about individual engineers like William Mackenzie, Thomas Telford, and the Stephensons; additional manuscripts are held by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Institution of Electrical Engineers
The IEE's London archives contain not only its own papers (it was founded in 1871), but an extensive collection of manuscript materials relating to Victorian science and scientists, including notebooks of Michael Faraday.
John Forster Collection, National Art Library
Housed at the NAL, which is a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the vast collection of Dickens' friend and literary executor ranges from the 17th to the 19th century. In addition to letters and a short diary by Dickens, the collection includes almost all of the original mss. of Dickens' novels. As described by Annette Lowe in "The Conservation of Charles Dickens' Manuscripts," recent efforts to preserve and restore these mss. are revealing corrections and additions that have heretofore remained hidden.
John Rylands University Library, Manchester
Among the Rylands' extensive holdings of 19th-century manuscripts is a vast trove of material from the archives of the Manchester Guardian and recent additions to its collection of Charles Dickens' books and papers, including his letters to Elizabeth Gaskell, while its huge collection of materials on the history of Methodism spans the 18th and 19th centuries.
University of Kent at Canterbury
The university's Templeman Library houses several truly extraordinary collections of documents reflecting the life of Victorian and Edwardian theatre. Including an introductory essay by noted scholar Louis James, the website for these collections features an enormously useful online catalogue of playbills from both London and provincial theatres.
King's College London
The archives of the KCL library include the papers of such Victorian notables as F. D. Maurice, F. J. Furnivall, and George Macdonald, as well as records of the College and Hospital going back to, respectively, 1828 and 1839.
Lambeth Palace Library
The official repository for material concerning the Church of England, the historic Lambeth Palace Library's manuscript holdings include not only Gladstone's diaries and other papers but also the papers of such luminaries as Richard Whately, A. C. Tait, John Keble, and Roundell Palmer, those of a range of other 19th-c. bishops and churchmen and their families, and the records of various Church societies.

Lilly Library, Indiana University
The Lilly's extensive collection, whose index can be searched online, includes materials on the Bloomsbury Group and World War I, as well as British poetry.
University of Liverpool Library
In addition to its collection of the papers of reformers Charles Booth and Josephine Butler, the Library also has a large collection of early Victorian literary annuals and keepsakes as well as a complete set of Kelmscott Press books.
Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
The MRC's 19th-century holdings (summarized here by archivist Alan Crookham) includes extensive records of Victorian trade unions, builders, the YWCA, and other groups. The complete database of descriptions can now be searched online.

National Archives of Ireland, Dublin
Formerly the Public Record Office of Ireland, the NAI's collections are full of 19th-century material, including records of persons transported from Ireland to Australia between 1788 and 1868 (the index to which can now be searched on-line), administrative and other records of the Great Famine, and sources for women's history.

National Portrait Gallery
The NPG's Heinz Archive and Library contains a number of autograph letters and other documents besides its extensive printed resources on British portraiture. The NPG's website features images and transcriptions of correspondence involving various 19th-c. subjects of portraits.
National Library of Scotland
Though detailed descriptions of the NLS's manuscript collections are not yet online, the library's still-evolving manuscript catalogue includes a small sampling of descriptions from its massive archive of the papers of the Blackwood's publishing firm. The NLS's extensive literary collections include holdings for Burns, Scott, Stevenson, the Chambers brothers, and of course the letters of Jane and Thomas Carlyle. In 2006, the library succeeded in acquiring the fabulous John Murray Archive for the nation.

Newcastle University Library
The collections devoted to Victorian traveller, writer, and diplomat Gertrude Bell and to several members of the prominent Trevelyan family are among the library's largest.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
UNC's library contains collections of materials relating to publishing firms J. M. Dent and John Murray, as well as papers of the powerful late-Victorian literary agent A. P. Watt. (The other major collection of Watt's papers is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.)
Princeton University Library
The great jewel of Princeton's collection is the enormous Morris L. Parrish collection of books by Victorian novelists. Archival holdings include many drawings, mss., and letters by George Cruikshank, the Rossetti family letters (most by Christina) to the Heimann family, a collection of Trollope's papers, and an assortment of letters by such notables as Walter Besant, John Bright, R. D. Blackmore, John Davidson, "George Egerton,", G. P. R. James, Coventry Patmore, and G. A. Sala.
University College London
UCL's major 19th-century holdings include its own college archives as well as enormous collections of the papers of Jeremy Bentham, Henry Brougham, Sir Edwin Chadwick, and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
University of Reading
Reading has assembled an unparalleled set of the business records of Victorian publishers, including George Bell, Routledge, and Longman. (Note that some of these are available on microfilm.) The library also has a number of letters and papers associated with Aubrey Beardsley.
St Deiniol's Library
This remarkable institution, Britain's only residential library, was founded by William Ewart Gladstone from his own vast collection assembled over a long lifetime of extraordinarily wide-ranging reading, and contains as well a number of the statesman's manuscripts and letters.
University of Southampton
The largest collection in the world (100,000 items) of papers relating to the life and career of the Duke of Wellington is accompanied by a splendid searchable database of document descriptions. Southampton also holds extensive materials about 19th- and 20th-century Jewish communities in Britain. In 2007 the library began work on a project to digitize 23,000 19th-c. pamphlets, now available as (what else) 19th Century British Pamphlets online.
University of Sussex
The collection at Sussex includes letters concerning the periodical Household Words as well as extensive holdings for Rudyard Kipling and the Bloomsbury Group. Of unusual interest are the papers of the Vizetelly family, Victorian printers, publishers, and journalists.

The Women's Library
A major repository of materials for the study of British feminism and women's history, the Women's Library--formerly and still better known as the Fawcett Library--has been expanding into new quarters in Old Castle Street. Of particular interest among its extensive holdings is its Josephine Butler Society Collection, which illuminates Butler's life and work and contains important documentary sources on Victorian prostitution. The Library opened in its new building in February of 2002.

Other Archival Records

Victorian Publishers' Archives

Banking Records

One exciting and under-utilized source of information about the Victorians is banking records. Writer Jenny Woolf has discussed the potential of such records in "Victorian Bank Accounts as Material for Research," a subject she came to know while investigating Lewis Carroll's surviving bank records. The British Bankers' Association list of mergers may help to trace which current bank may hold the records of its Victorian precursor. A search for "corporate name" in the National Register of Archives can then be most helpful. The Barclays Bank Group Archive where Woolf found the Dodgson/Carroll material, for instance, is located in Wythenshawe, near Manchester, and the NRA records list the subsidiary banks whose records may be found there. As Woolf points out, a bank account record is considered to be in the public domain 100 years or more after the death of the account's owner, so many of these kinds of records for the Victorians are only now becoming available to researchers.

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