Oral histories of industry and employment

Two steelworkers
Image courtesy of courtesy of Corby Steelworks

We have many oral history collections about industry, the utilities, agriculture and fishing.

About the collection

Our recordings highlight how the worlds of industrial production, energy supply, agriculture and water supply have been impacted by significant post-war changes in technology, public perception, finance and ownership.

Reminiscences of heavy industries, rural work, employment and working conditions feature in many life story recordings, particularly in major national oral history projects and surveys of British life. We also have oral histories of business and finance.

What is available online?

  • Industry interviews online include selected recordings from An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry in the UK which explores issues such as nationalisation in the 1940s, privatisation in 1990-5 and the development of renewable energy since the 1970s.
  • Lives in Steel was the first national oral history of the steel industry and 102 recordings were made in 1991-1992. 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. Curator's choice includes all the tracks from our Lives in Steel CD publication, which consists of edited extracts from the Lives in Steel collection.
  • The George Ewart Evans Collection by oral history pioneer and folklorist George Ewart Evans, focuses on rural life in Suffolk and East Anglia from the 1880s and includes farming, fishing, malting and blacksmithing.
  • Food interviews on our Sounds website are from the Food: From Source to Salespoint collection. Many recordings discuss the farming, fishing and manufacturing industries. 
  • Observing the 1980s includes recordings with people involved in key events of the 1980s such as the Miners' Strike, with reflections on the decade's unemployment issues, redundancy and industry.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?



  • Work-based apprenticeship interviews is a collection of 30 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.
  • The Begley Glamour Career Interviews is a collection of interviews recorded between 1980-82 for a series of audio programmes called The Glam-Sham, a radio series about job areas that were perceived to be glamorous at the time.
  • An Oral History of the Post Office is a collection of life story interviews with a sample of Royal Mail and Post Office staff in the UK conducted between 2001 and 2005, including postmasters/mistresses, postmen/women; postal sorting and transportation (by road, air and train); stamp design, printing and marketing (the story of the stamp); legal, purchasing and property departments; plus lesser-known aspects such as the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office Film Unit and the Lost Letter Centre. A CD of extracts from the collection entitled “Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s” was published by the British Library and the British Postal Museum and Archive in 2005, and the extracts are now available online at British Library Sounds.