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Oral history: industry, agriculture and employment

The oral history recordings in the British Library include testimonies from workers in heavy industry, manufacturing, service industries, food production, agriculture and fishing. We also have a number of recordings which chart the development of work based training and apprenticeship. These first-hand accounts allow workers to discuss the skills and hazards involved in their work, and help to chart the rise and fall of traditional industries.


  • Lives in the Oil Industry (C963) a joint National Life Stories and University of Aberdeen project, documents the origins and evolution of the UK North Sea oil and gas industry through the life histories of people who have worked in or alongside it. 
  • Lives in Steel (C532) a National Life Stories project was the first national oral history of the steel industry. In their own words, steelworkers discuss the skills, hazards and complexity of producing steel, with interviewees drawn from a broad spectrum of occupations within the steel industry.
  • An Oral History of the Water Industry (C1364) aims to track the many structural, technological and commercial changes that have taken place within living memory through the life stories of a wide range of people who have experience of working at all levels of the industry.
  • An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry in the UK (C1495) will contribute to National Life Stories' documentation of the utilities in the UK, by collecting the memories and experiences of those who worked in the industry at various levels and exploring themes such as nationalisation in the 1940s, privatisation in 1990-5, the increase in scale of coal-fired power stations, the shift to gas during the 1990s and the development of renewable energy sources since the 1970s.
  • Other collections of interviews with those involved in heavy industries include the South Wales Miners' Library recordings (catalogue no: C376)

Agriculture and fishing

  • The Fishing Industry and community interviews: East Anglia and N.E. Scotland (catalogue no: C773) collection is an oral history study of the family and community life of fishermen in East Anglia and North East Scotland. The recordings explore stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century until the late 1970s.
  • The Rosemary Davis: seafarers’ superstitions interviews (catalogue no: C1349) is a collection comprised of interviews with 11 seafarers about their superstitions and beliefs.
  • The George Ewart Evans Collection is a collection of more than 150 recordings made in the 1960s by oral history pioneer George Ewart Evans, focusing on rural life in Suffolk and East Anglia from the 1880s. Topics include family life, farming, fishing, malting, blacksmithing, and folk songs.

Food production


  • The Work-based apprenticeship interviews (University of Kent) (catalogue no: C957) is a collection of thirty interviews with individuals discussing their experiences of apprenticeship in a variety of British industrial sectors including: shipbuilding, catering, plumbing, motor trade, gas fitting, building, engineering, tailoring, bookbinding, hairdressing, carpentry/joinery, and painting and decorating.

Related recordings

  • The Begley Glamour Career Interviews (catalogue no: C1232) is collection of interviews recorded between 1980 and 1982 to make up a series of audio programmes called 'The Glam-Sham', a radio series that targeted seven chosen job areas that were perceived to be glamorous at the time of recording; the themes were acting, the performing arts, modelling, pop/rock music, air stewarding, football and disc-jockeying. Interviewees include Adrian Love, Ted Payne, Jimmy Savile, Bernard Manning, Andrew Sachs, Fulton Mackay, Colin Bean, Suzanne Burden, Martin Buchan and Peter Swales. The collection also includes ten reels that comprise the original programmes broadcast on radio: Fashion Modelling; Punk Rock in Perspective; Acting; DJ-ing; Soccer; Rock Music; and Cabin Crew. There are also recordings of background sound noise (at a football match and band recordings) and Radio Caroline jingles.
  • Reminiscences of heavy industries, rural work, employment and working conditions (as well as employment, pay and welfare) will feature in many life story recordings, particularly in those that offer surveys of British life. See major national oral history projects and surveys
  • For more information on collections relating to business, see business and finance.

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)