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Francis Place Collection: contents of the microfilm reels

 History of the Collection and its Collector

The Francis Place Collection is a microfilm set of press cuttings, leaflets, and other ephemera relating to British politics and economics during the period 1770-1853. In fact, a few documents date back to as early as 1749, but the bulk of the collection relates to the years 1792-1852. The original material was collected by the political reformer, Francis Place (1771-1854), and is today held in 180 guardbook volumes in the British Library.

Born in a debtor's prison in Drury Lane, London on 3rd November 1771, he began his career as a leather breeches-maker and through self-education became an influential member of the reform movement of the time. After having been one of the leaders of a strike in 1793, Francis Place subsequently was unable to find work again as a breeches-maker. With its leaders in prison, he became Chairman of the London Corresponding Society, holding the post until his resignation in 1797. Two years later, he opened his own tailor's shop at 16 Charing Cross Road, London, where he built up a unique collection of radical books, pamphlets, and other materials, housed in a library at the rear of his shop, which itself became a meeting place for reformers. Himself the father of fifteen children, he nevertheless published his Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population in 1822, which advocated population and birth control. In fact, he was involved in all the great reform campaigns of the time, including those to repeal the newspaper Stamp Acts and the Combination Acts. The latter Place saw repealed in 1824, and he later went on to form the London Working Men's Association in 1836, and helped with the drafting of the People's Charter in 1838, which led to the Chartist movement. He campaigned vigorously against the Corn Laws from 1840 onwards, and then against the Stamp Tax. He died in Hammersmith on 1st January 1854, exactly 18 months before the abolition of the Stamp Tax on newspapers.

 Scope and Highlights of the Collection

Francis Place amassed a huge amount of primary sources relating to the major reform issues and radical currents of social and political thought of his day in Britain and Ireland, and his collection is today recognised as one of the finest of its kind anywhere in the world. The collection gathers together items from two specialist Manchester journals, The Anti-Corn Law Circular (1839-1841) and The Anti-Bread-Tax Circular (1841-1843), as well as a large amount of other cuttings and pamphlets relating to the corn laws, chiefly from the period 1841 to 1845. The collection also contains specimens of a range of newspapers dating from 1770 to 1837, as well as those from unstamped, illegal newspapers in particular from 1831 to 1836, and articles from The Times of 1853 relating to the state of the continent. Other topics covered include:

  • Chartism;
  • the conditions of working men generally;
  • emigration;
  • Free Trade;
  • the Irish Famine;
  • King George IV and Queen Caroline;
  • the Luddites;
  • the sanitary laws;
  • sedition; and
  • strikes.

 Accessibility and Catalogues

The 180 volumes containing the Francis Place Collection are held in the main British Library in St Pancras, where they are restricted for conservation reasons. A microfilm set was produced by Harvester Press Microform of Brighton in 1981-1982 as Radical Politics and the Working Man: Series Two: The Francis Place Collection, and this may be consulted in the Newsroom ; another microfilm set may also be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.

The microfilm set consists of 54 reels: the complete 52 reels of the Harvester Press Radical Politics set, numbered 1-52, plus two reels of additional materials from the Francis Place Collection filmed by the British Library, numbered 65-66. Items from this microfilm collection are not listed in the online or printed newspaper catalogues. A very rudimentary index, which refers from general subject headings to microfilm reel numbers, is held at the Reference Desk in the Newsroom.  

 In order to identify and order materials required, readers should consult this index, which may be used in conjunction with the more detailed listing of the Contents of the Microfilm Reels.

'Francis Place Collection' and the appropriate reel number must then be quoted on requisitions slips, to enable staff to retrieve the items required.


The Newsroom Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7377