John Burns Collection

The collection

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. John Burns annotated many of the books.


The collector

John Elliott Burns (1858-1943), labour leader and Liberal minister (see ODNB).



Deposited on indefinite loan in 1996 and gifted in 2019. The Collection was purchased from John Burns’ estate by the Amalgamated Engineering Union (known subsequently as the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union and then Amicus) in 1944 and previously lodged with the Library of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).



Catalogued online in 2007. 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 archives

Notes, correspondence, press cuttings and ephemera found in the Burns library, MS1079. See also archival correspondence pertaining to John Burns’s library, 1943-1988, at the University of Warwick, MSS.259/AEU/3/2/1-7.


Select publications

  • 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