Ballads and broadsides

Detail from 'An invitation to Lubberland ...' a London printed ballad ca. 1685 from the Roxburghe Collection of Ballads. The ballad title is printed in bold Black Letter and there are two characteristically cheap woodcut illustrations; the first shows a contemporary figure stood on top of a globe of the world with a speach banner proclaiming, "Hey for Lubberland!". The second woodcut illustration represents a ship in full sail on the seas.
Detail from 'An invitation to Lubberland ...' London printed ballad ca. 1685 from the Roxburghe Collection of Ballads. C.20.f.8.(226)

Besides iconic collections of ballads like those named for Roxburghe, Bagford and Luttrell, you will find a great range of ballads dispersed in smaller collections throughout the Library

About the collection

Major 'named' collections of ballads 

  • The Roxburghe Ballads: almost 1,500 17th-century broadside ballads mostly English and largely in Black Letter. Shelved at C.20.f.7–10 (numbered Rox.I-IV) are in three volumes. They were assembled for Robert Harley (1661–1724) by John Bagford (the ballads are distinct from Bagford’s personal collection, see immediately below). The collection was later owned by John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804).
  • The Bagford Ballads: 420 17th-century ballads and fragments assembled by John Bagford (1650–1716) for his own library. Shelved at C.40.m.9–11 in 3 volumes; they are separate from the collection Bagford formed for Robert Harley (at the core of the Roxburghe Ballads) and separate from his collection of title pages.
  • The Luttrell Ballads: nearly 600 ballads, broadsides, proclamations etc., mainly from the times of Charles II and James II (approximately 1660–1688) at C.20.f.3–5 (numbered 'Lutt.I–III') all collected by Narcissus Luttrell (1657–1732).

Smaller collections of ballads dispersed through the Library

Volumes containing early printed ballads are listed on Explore the British Library and can be found by searching with shelfmarks collated below. Type the shelfmark as one search string with no punctuation and use an asterisk at the end to retrieve records for individual items, for example: 82l8* or 112f44* will list individual ballad titles contained in the volumes.

Most volumes contain examples of ballads printed over broad periods, but shelfmarks for selected volumes with prominent representations of English language ballads are grouped here chronologically (do note that this is not a comprehensive list):

16th century

  • Huth.50 69 Elizabethan ballads and five from later dates, collected by Henry Huth (1815–1878) 

17th century 

18th century

19th century 

  • 1871.f.13 collection of ballads printed on single sheets, between 1750–1840
  • 1875.d.13 collection of ballads and broadsides chiefly printed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and district between 1799–1830
  • 1875.d.16 A collection of ballads and other broadside sheets, published by J. Pitts and others between 1665 and 1870
  • 1876.e.20 A collection of ballads printed between 1770–1830
  • 11606.aa.22–24 3 volumes of ballads; 1779–1816; mostly Glasgow & Newcastle-upon-Tyne; collected by Elizabeth Davison
  • 11621.h.1 includes the 1870 ballad, ‘A Peace Invocation, and Three Ways of Living’
  • 11621.h.11 7 volumes of London ballads printed between 1860–1870; collected by Thomas Crampton (1816–1888)
  • 11621.i.12 regional printed ballads printed between 1780–1820; collected by Thomas Bell (1785–1860?)
  • 11630.g.36 ballads printed chiefly by J Pitts between 1790–1820
  • ballads and chapbooks; 3 parts printed between 1733–1832
  • C.116.i.1 includes the 1848 ballad, Chartists are coming
  • C.116.i.2 includes The Cruel Cooper of Ratcliffe
  • C.116.i.3 ballads printed in Ireland
  • L.R.271.a.2 10 volumes of regional ballads to 1870, collected by Sabine Baring-Gould

What is available online?

Digital facsimiles, text transcriptions and some audio performance recordings of The Roxburghe Ballads are freely available on the English Broadside Ballad Archive website.

Some printed items which have been digitised and made available freely online can be found by searching our main catalogue Explore the British Library. From the search results, selecting 'online' in the left hand window will display materials that can be viewed online outside the Library. Select 'I want this' to view an individual item. 

Digital images of seven volumes of 19th-century ballads formed by Thomas Crampton are freely available on Explore the British Library.

The British Library's Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and the Renaissance space offer images and essays on the context of a small selection of ballads from the period.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Printed copies of ballads

Bound volumes with printed facsimiles of the RoxburgheBagford and Luttrell Collections are shelved in the Rare Books Reading Room at shelfmark RAX. Looking through the sheets in these volumes in sequence can provide a really useful first impression of the appearance and themes of ballads. Registered readers can request some volumes with ballads to the Rare Books & Music Reading Room using Explore the British Library.

Some volumes containing collections of original printed ballads are restricted from access. Please contact  for more information.

Digital copies of Ballads available on 'Early English Books Online' and 'Historical Texts'

You can use Library networked PCs to access electronic facsimiles of many ballads via subscription-based databases, such as Early English Books Online and Historical Texts. Check the shelfmark of the facsimile to see if it is from a collection of ballads held in the British Library's collection.

What is available in other organisations?

Significant collections of ballads can be investigated in a number of major research libraries.

The Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections provides information on locations, subjects and types of material (including ballads) represented in rare book collections in libraries throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. 

Further information