Charles Booth Online Archive Charles Booth and the survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903)

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Biography of Charles Booth

Charles Booth was born in Liverpool on the 30th of March 1840, the son of Charles Booth and Emily Fletcher. Charles attended the Royal Institution School in Liverpool. In 1862, Charles joined his eldest brother Alfred establishing the firm was Alfred Booth and Company which specialised in shipping skins and leather, they set up offices in both Liverpool and New York. On 29 April 1871 Booth married Mary Macaulay, daughter of Charles Zachary Macaulay and Mary Potter, and niece of the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay.

The first meeting to organise the inquiry into poverty in London was held on 17 April 1886: the work would last until 1903, resulting in the publication of three editions of the survey, the final edition of Life and Labour of the People in London (London: Macmillan, 1902-1903) running to seventeen volumes. The work would absorb both Charles and Mary Booth and employ a team of social investigators including, at various times, Beatrice Webb, Arthur Baxter, Clara Collett, David Schloss, George Duckworth, Hubert Llewllyn Smith, Jesse Argyle, and Ernest Aves.

In 1893 Booth served on the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor. In 1904 Booth was made a Privy Councillor and in 1907 he served with Beatrice Webb on the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. In 1908, many years after he first began writing and speaking about the need for state pensions to alleviate poverty amongst the elderly, the Liberal government passed the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. Although Booth had argued for a universal old age pension rather than the means tested system which the act introduced, he was recognised by many as one of the progenitors of the pension. He was also made a fellow of the Royal Society and awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Cambridge, Liverpool and Oxford.

Early in 1912 Booth handed over the chairmanship of Alfred Booth and Company to his nephew, but in 1915 returned to work under wartime exigencies despite growing evidence of heart disease. On 23 November 1916 he died following a stroke, at his country home of Gracedieu in Thringstone, Leicestershire.

The survey into life and labour of the people in London (1886-1903)

The inquiry was organised into three broad sections: poverty, industry and religious influences. The poverty series gathered information from the School Board visitors about the levels of poverty and types of occupation amongst the families for which they were responsible. The notebooks from this part of the survey contain a lot of household level information for the East End of London. Special studies into subjects such as the trades associated with poverty, housing, population movements, the Jewish community and education were also included.

The industry series, working as a complement to the information already gathered about occupations from the School Board visitors, investigated every conceivable trade in London, from cricketers to wigmakers, to establish wage levels and conditions of employment. The series also covered the "unoccupied classes" and inmates of institutions, including named case histories giving the causes of pauperisation for Bromley and Stepney workhouse inmates and recipients of outdoor relief from the Stepney Union. The survey notebooks contain several thousand interviews with named workers, managers and trade union officials, and questionnaires completed by firms and trade unions.

The series on religious influences - perhaps better described as social or moral influences - sought to describe these other forces acting on the lives of the people. As well as religion and philanthropy, it also covered such things as education, health, housing, local government, family life, crime and policing. The survey notebooks contain interviews with ministers of all denominations: Church of England, Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish and Roman Catholic ministers were consulted, as well as Salvation Army officers and missionaries. The reports of the interviews contain printed material of the church organisations including parish magazines, service sheets, printed accounts, printed photographs of clergy and annual reports.

The Booth archive at the London School of Economics

For more information concerning the Charles Booth archive, or if you would like to request photocopies of archive materials which are not available online, contact:

    Archives Division
    British Library of Political and Economic Science
    London School of Economics
    10 Portugal Street
    London WC2A 2HD

    Tel.: 020 7955 7223
    Fax.: 020 7955 7454
    email: document@lse.ac.uk


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