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Senate House Library

John Burns Collection

The Collection

Subject: Economics, Politics 

Over 5,000 books, pamphlets and periodical volumes on British politics, social conditions and economics, chiefly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with some eighteenth-century items.  Specific subject strengths are labour and socialist movements and trade unions in the United Kingdom during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; material on the Poor Law, pensions and temperance; and the history of radicalism, the co-operative movement and socialism, including good holdings on and by Robert Owen. Also present are a strong collection of often scarce pamphlets on African and Chinese labour in Africa and pamphlets on the South African (Boer) War. Some works of art and literature have crept in, such as a copy of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, inscribed as a gift to John Burns’ only son for his seventh birthday. 

The collection comprises the working library of labour leader and Liberal minister  

John Elliott Burns (1858-1943; see ODNB), who usually noted the date of acquisition and who annotated many of the books further in pencil with the circumstances of acquisition and of reading.  

The Amalgamated Engineering Union (known subsequently as the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union and then Amicus) purchased the collection from John Burns’ estate in 1944 and lodged it with the Library of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It was deposited on indefinite loan in Senate House Library in 1996 and gifted in 2019.


For an overview of the collection, do a mixed classmark search on [Burns] or an author search on “Burns, John” as former owner.. The collection is held off-site and material requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched. 

Related materials 

  • MS1079: notes, correspondence, press cuttings and ephemera from the Burns Collection 
  • Family Welfare Association Library
  • Pelling Collection
  • Social sciences material in the research collections 
  • archival correspondence pertaining to John Burns’s library, 1943-1988, at the University of Warwick, MSS.259/AEU/3/2/1-7

Further reading 

Kapp, Y., ‘A Choice of Books: An Account of the Finding of the John Burns’ A.E.U. Library’, in The John Burns’ A.E.U. Library, Our History Pamphlet, 16 (London: Communists Party Historians’ Group, 1959), pp. 5-18