Guide to the Research Collections



The library's extensive collection of materials on the history of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Man numbers approximately 52,100 volumes; it is rich in pamphlets, and supplemented by an outstanding collection of British public documents. Approximately 33,900 volumes representing British general and national history are located in the general collections; another 18,200 volumes in the Local History and Genealogy Division cover British local history at the county, city, or township level.

Both the Astor and Lenox Libraries had good collections relating to the subject. Dr. Cogswell of the Astor Library secured in 1851 a gift from the British Record Commission of all available volumes of its documentary publications. James Lenox made an extensive collection of old and valuable works relating to the great Age of Discovery. Mr. Tilden had in his private library books on English political history, English political parties and administration, parliament, and the constitution, as well as on English social life, antiquities, and biography. The library has continued to develop these subjects, emphasizing local history and topography, political history, and biography.

The estimated growth of the collections in this subject is indicated in table 3.

Serial publications form an important group which includes a large collection of British almanacs dating from 1665 to 1816. Early periodicals of historical interest range from seventeenth-century publications such as Kingdomes Weekly

TABLE 3. Growth of the History of Great Britain Collection

British general
and national
British local

 Intelligencer and Mercurius Politicus through The Anti-Jacobin and Political Register and London Museum of the eighteenth century to titles of the present day. Substantially complete runs of the publications of the Oxford Historical Society, the Pipe Roll Society, and the Surtees and Royal Historical societies are also available. Other items include the Archaeological Journal of the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and directories, among them Dod's Parliamentary Companion (1833-), Thom's Official Directory (1855-), and Whitaker's Almanack (1869-).

In 1948 the library purchased the Earl of Lonsdale's collection of seventeenth-century English "newsbooks," covering the period from 1646 to 1665, and bound in 22 volumes.6 These provide a fine representation of newspapers published during the twenty years preceding the establishment of the official government newspaper, the London Gazette, of which the library has a complete file from its inception (1665). With the exception of the London Chronicle, which is fairly complete from 1757 to 1798, the newspaper holdings from the eighteenth century are uneven until the period of the American Revolution.

The collection of travel literature is extensive; of special interest are older illustrated works, such as Richard Ayton's A Voyage Round Great Britain (1814-25) with views by William Daniell. The holdings of geographical materials also contain books on topography, accompanied by a rich collection of guidebooks. Geological surveys are housed in the Science and Technology Research Center; atlases and maps, of which the library has an excellent collection including ordnance maps, are found in the Map Division. The strong collection of general systematic histories contains numerous editions of the works of the older historians.

Archives of early England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are present in printed form. The principal sources are the publications of the antiquarian societies and the various compilations of the Public Record Office, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. Nearly all official archival publications of governmental bodies issued for public distribution are available.

Works on archaeology and antiquities are best represented in the local history collections. The publications of general British archaeological societies are classed with archaeology in the general collections; however, those of local historical and antiquarian societies are in the Local History and Genealogy Division, where they form a very important archive. Questions relating to the antiquities

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and archaeology of Great Britain should be referred to this division.

Later periods of British history are well covered; particularly strong are the collections of materials related to the seventeenth century, when British history was closely involved with American exploration and settlement. These sections contain not only systematic works, but also memoirs, personal and official papers, etc. Printed materials for the study of parliamentary history are held in strength. New works and revised editions of older works on British history are acquired on a comprehensive basis.

Biography and history are closely related: the personal records of public men are generally classed with biography in the general collections. In the case of specialized materials, biographical works may be classed in the subject field; for example, naval biography is found with materials on naval science.

An interesting collection of biographies and other materials on monarchs has been established. Biographies of Mary, Queen of Scots, for example, (an extensive group), form a subdivision of the holdings on Scottish history. To augment its holdings on coronations, the library made a special attempt to acquire all available materials on the investiture of Queen Elizabeth II.

Historical portraits are described in chapter 55 of this Guide.

British local histories number some 18,200 volumes, and form one of the richest collections of printed materials in the library, supplemented by heraldric and genealogical archives.7 The collections include town and county histories, parish registers, guidebooks to points of interest, publications of local history societies and patriotic associations, etc. Also included are most of the vast number of transcripts of records which have been published by the Public Record Office and its predecessor, the Record Commission. The city of London is represented by more than 2,500 histories and guides (excluding pamphlets), among which are the Post Office London Directory (1800-, incomplete) and the Anglo-American Year Book (1913-61).

Related materials for the study of British history are found throughout the collections. They include such diverse items as the public documents housed in the Economic and Public Affairs Division, printed works on the American Loyalists during the American Revolution, an outstanding collection of Loyalist transcripts from the British Public Record Office, and British army lists which date from as early as 1754. The holdings which deal with the relationship of church and state are important for the study of British political history, and the special collections devoted to Bunyan, Milton, and Shakespeare include writings delineating sixteenth-and seventeenth-century English life and thought. The collections covering military and naval art and science also contain a great deal of British historical material in regimental histories and personal narratives.


British history collections are very rich in ephemeral pamphlet material. In the general collections are more than 10,000 items in the larger groups alone: the group for the Hanoverian period numbers more than 3,000 items. In 1880, John Jacob Astor gave the Astor Library the William Hepworth Dixon collection of approximately 500 English pamphlets ranging in date from 1582 to the mid-eighteenth century, the majority of them published during the period of the English Civil War and the Protectorate.8 Twenty-three English Civil War pamphlets, all published between 1642 and 1645, were added to this collection in 1944.


Two major archives in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are important to the study of British history: a group centering on British and American Loyalist activities during the American Revolution, and British diplomatic papers of the eighteenth century in the Hardwicke collection. Transcripts of the manuscripts, books, and papers of the Commission of Enquiry into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists during the Revolution, conducted from 1783 to 1790, make available copies of documents from the Audit Office Records of the Public Record Office in England. The Hardwicke collection of original materials and transcripts was formed during the eighteenth century by Philip, Lord Hardwicke, and his sons. It was given to the Astor Library in 1884 by John Jacob Astor. Included are the papers of Sir Luke Schaub, British diplomat and ambassador, dealing with state matters and diplomatic negotiations of the first half of the eighteenth century. Transcripts of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century historical letters and documents in British archives center on the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

British historical materials bearing on the American Revolution in the Myers collection include documents and autograph letters of British and Hessian officers who served in the war. Additional items are in the Montague and Harkness collections. Outstanding in the Montague collection is Sir Walter Raleigh's signed petition to the Lord High Chancellor requesting that a commission correct abuses relating to his royal authority for the retail sale of wines. There are two documents signed by Queen Elizabeth I and other royal autographs. Materials from the reign of Queen Victoria include thirty-seven letters from the Queen, most of them addressed to Sir Evelyn and Lady Wood, and eight documents with Victoria's signature. Among prominent Victorian figures represented by holographs in the collection are Disraeli, Gladstone, and Sir Robert Peel. The Harkness collection contains English historical autographs, including a letter of Mary, Queen of Scots, dated March 31, 1568. Additional royal autographs are to be found in the Arents Tobacco Collection and the Berg Collection.

Public Documents

The collection of British public documents is exceptionally large, and most of the important files are complete. The library secures nearly every British government publication; exceptions

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include minor materials such as amendments to regulations and other information that ordinarily appears in later revisions or compilations. Over a long period the Parliamentary Papers contained nearly all administrative and other reports of government offices and agencies; in some cases duplicate copies have been cataloged and classified according to subject classes. When subject files are incomplete, catalog cards locate items in the public documents set.

In the field of international relations--treaties, diplomatic papers, consular reports, and similar items--the library has made every effort to secure all published materials available for distribution.

The collection of publications national in scope is very rich. The London Gazette is complete from its beginning in 1665 as the Oxford Gazette. The British Gazette, published by the government during the general strike of May 1926, when other newspapers were forced to suspend publication, is also in the holdings. The files of the Belfast, Dublin, and Edinburgh gazettes begin about 1900. Parliamentary publications form another strong group, including a bound set of the Parliamentary Papers from 1731 onward. The set covering the years 1731 to 1800 (incomplete for the earlier years) is excessively rare, and at one time was the only known set in the United States; some numbers are missing for the period 1800 to 1830, but otherwise the run is complete. There are complete sets of the journals of the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the Parliamentary Debates. Another important group is composed of proceedings and reports of royal commissions; the library has an extensive collection of these items.

The collection of laws is very strong.9 It includes the compilations of the Record Commission, as well as the general acts; also included are the rare English session laws. 1690 to 1806 purchased in their original bindings in 1937.10 There are good but incomplete files of Statutory Rules and Orders (from 1890), and Local and Personal Acts (from 1824); the latter is especially important as a record of British corporation legislation.

The administrative publications of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales form a strong group, as do the public documents of the Irish Free State and the Isle of Man.11

The collection of local documents is also extensive and important.12 Representative publications for the larger English cities include the Minutes of the Town Councils, the Abstracts of Accounts, and the Reports of Medical Officers of Health. The collection of council reports and proceedings of the 28 boroughs of London, established in 1900, is especially notable. The collection is weak in Scottish county government publications, but those relating to the municipal finance of Edinburgh and Glasgow are present, as are the Town Council Proceedings of these cities. There is also a good collection of municipal reports from Dublin and Belfast.


Printed materials concerning Scotland are extensive.13 The collection of some 4,000 volumes is rich in printed records, systematic historical works, and special studies; it is divided almost equally between materials in the general collections and materials in the Local History and Genealogy Division. A large number of pamphlets dealing with Scotland are bound with others on British history. Resources include sets of the publications of such clubs as the Bannatyne, Maitland, and Spalding, and an exceptional collection of works on the popular subjects of clans and tartans. Other holdings in the Local History and Genealogy Division include the publications of the General Record Office at Edinburgh (among them Register of Sasines and Register of Deeds, ) along with rare items such as the Inquisitionum (1811; 1818) commissioned by George III of England, which records land inheritances in Scotland. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany (1739-1826) contains indexes of marriages, births, and preferments in each volume. Of considerable importance are the holdings of materials on Scottish church history, located with the holdings on religion in the general collections.


Approximately 3,000 volumes cover both the general and specialized history of Ireland.14 Included are long runs of periodicals such as the Analecta Hibernica (1930-), published by the Irish Manuscript Commission, Irish Historical Studies (1938-), and the Journal (1849-) of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Local historical periodicals include the Journal (1892-) of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1853-, incomplete), and other titles. Studies of Irish counties and towns are kept in the Local History and Genealogy Division. Among materials in the general collections are many pamphlets from the eighteenth century and some from the nineteenth and later, containing reports of trials, speeches, debates, arguments for union, and similar information. This group was augmented in 1967 by a purchase of 300 pamphlets, many having to do with the Land Question. Three folio volumes contain mounted political cartoons of the period from 1884 to 1886. Among materials in the Rare Book Division are such early histories of Ireland as Peter Lombard's De Regno Hiberniae (1632), and 65 political handbills, probably printed in Dublin in 1922, some in Gaelic.

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Modern Irish historical manuscripts in the library, especially those concerning the Irish revolutionary movement, are of major importance. The preponderance of this material came as the gift of William J. Maloney.15 More than 2,000 pages of original material related to Sir Roger Casement include holograph letters, addresses, and memoranda for the period 1914 to 1916. Other key figures represented by substantial bodies of material are the Irish-Americans Joseph McGarrity and Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, and a great deal of material relating to Friends of Irish Freedom.

Two other groups of Irish manuscripts, principally of literary and artistic interest, also offer historical insight. The John Quinn collection reflects Quinn's years of association with members of the Irish Home Rule movement. The purchase of the papers of Lady Gregory by the Berg Collection in 1964 brought the library an archive of the greatest importance for the study of the Irish Literary Renaissance.