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Charles Booth

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Charles Booth

Posted: 1245321608000
Classification: Obituary
Surnames: Booth,Fletcher,Macaulay,Babington,Macnaghten
George Frederic Watts, c. 1901

Charles Booth (30 March 1840 - 23 November 1916) was an English philanthropist and social researcher. He is most famed for his innovative work on documenting working class life in London at the end of the 19th century, work that along with that of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree influenced government intervention against poverty in the early 20th century.

Charles Booth was born in Liverpool on 30 March 1840 to Charles Booth and Emily Fletcher. His father, a scion of the ancient Cheshire family, was a wealthy ship-owner and corn merchant as well as being a prominent Unitarian.

Booth attended the Royal Institution School in Liverpool before being apprenticed at aged sixteen.

Booth's father died in 1862, leaving Booth with control of the family company to which he added a successful glove manufacturing business. Booth entered the skins and leather business with his elder brother Alfred, and they set up Alfred Booth and Company with offices in both Liverpool and New York using a £20,000 inheritance.

After studying shipping, Booth was able to persuade Alfred and his sister Emily to invest in steamships and create a service to Pará, Maranhão and Ceará in Brazil. Booth himself went on the first voyage on 14th of February 1866. He was also involved in the building of a harbour at Manaus which could overcome seasonal fluctuations in water levels. He described this as his "monument" when he visited the area for the last time in 1912.

Booth also had some participation in politics. He campaigned unsuccessfully as the Liberal parliamentary candidate in the election of 1865. Then, he became disillusioned with politics following the Tory victory in municipal elections in 1866. This changed Booth's attitudes, he saw that he could influence people more by educating the electorate, rather than through politics. Booth was involved in Joseph Chamberlain's Birmingham Education League, a survey which looked into levels of work and education in Liverpool. The survey found that 25,000 children in Liverpool were neither in school or work.

On 29 April, 1871, Booth married Mary Macaulay, who was niece of the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. One of his daughters married the son of Lord Macnaghten

The survey into London life and labour

Booth was critical of the existing statistical data on poverty, by analysing census returns he argued that they were unsatisfactory and later sat on a committee in 1891 which suggested improvements which could be made to them.

Booth publicly criticised the claims of the leader of the Social Democratic Federation H. M. Hyndman - leader of Britain's first socialist party. In the Pall Mall Gazette of 1885, Hyndman stated that 25% of Londoners lived in abject poverty. Booth investigated poverty in London, working with a team of investigators which included his cousin Beatrice Potter. This research, which looked at incidences of pauperism in the East End of London, showed that 35% were living in abject poverty - even higher than the original figure. This work was published under the title Life and Labour of the People in 1889. A second volume, entitled Labour and Life of the People, covering the rest of London, appeared in 1891. Booth also popularised the idea of a 'poverty line', a concept originally employed by the London School Board. Booth set this line at 10 to 20 shillings, which he considered to be the minimum amount necessary for a family of 4 or 5 people.

After the first two volumes were published Booth expanded his research. This investigation was carried out by Booth himself and a team of researchers. However Booth continued to operate his successful shipping business while the investigation was taking place. The fruit of this research was a second expanded edition of his original work, published as Life and Labour of the People in London in nine volumes between 1892 and 1897. A third edition (now expanded to seventeen volumes) appeared 1902-3. He used this work to argue for the introduction of Old Age Pensions which he described as "limited socialism". Booth argued that such reforms would prevent socialist revolution from occurring Britain. Booth was far from tempted by the ideas of socialism but had some sympathy with the working classes, as part of his investigation he took lodgings with working class families and recorded his thoughts and findings in diaries.

The London School of Economics keeps his work on an online searchable database.
Political views

While Booth's attitudes towards poverty may make him appear fairly liberal, Booth actually became more conservative in his views as he became older. Some of his investigators such as Beatrice Potter became socialists as a result of their research, however Booth was critical of the way in which the Liberal government appeared to support trade unions after they won the 1906 General Election. This caused him to renounce his Liberal Party membership - he defected to the Conservative Party.
nfluence of his work

Life and Labour of the People in London can be seen as one of the founding texts of British sociology, drawing on both quantitative (statistical) methods and qualitative methods (particurly ethnography). Because of this, it was an influence on Chicago School sociology (notably the work of Robert E. Park) and later the discipline of community studies associated with the Institute of Community Studies in East London.

The importance of his work in social statistics was recognised by the Royal Statistical Society, who awarded him the first Guy Medal in Gold in 1882 and elected him their president in the same year. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1899 "As having applied Scientific Methods to Social Investigation".


In later life, Charles moved to Grace Dieu Manor in Thringstone, Leicestershire. Here he built England's first community centre, and founded Grace Dieu Cricket Club. His body is buried in St Andrew's Church in the village, and a memorial dedicated to him stands on the village green.

Mary Booth

Wife of Charles Booth, the great philanthropist and social reformer.

Saint Andrew's Church
Thringstone, Leicestershier, England
Plot: Next to the path running through the churchyard. His grave is opposite the Garden of Rememberance

Senate House Library, University of London

Booth, Charles (1840-1916) and Mary Catherine (1847-1939)


Reference code(s): GB 0096 MS 797

Held at: Senate House Library, University of London

Title: Booth, Charles (1840-1916) and Mary Catherine (1847-1939)

Date(s): 1799-1967

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 22 boxes

Name of creator(s): Booth | Charles | 1840-1916 | shipowner and sociologist

Booth | Mary Catherine | 1847-1939 | nee Macaulay | writer


Administrative/Biographical history:

Charles James Booth was born the son of a Merseyside coal merchant on 30 March 1840. He was educated at the Royal Liverpool Institution and became apprenticed to a trading company, Lamport and Holt. Charles went on to set up a steamship company trading between Liverpool and Northern Brazil. Beyond his commercial aspirations, Charles wished to do something for the under-privileged of Victorian England and he joined the Birmingham Education League, founded to promote secular education.

Charles married Mary Catherine Macaulay (1843-1939), on 29 April 1871. Charles decided to move the merchandising arm of Alfred Booth and Company, the family firm, to London and extended his trade in leather to New York where he spent three months of each year. These long voyages led to the daily correspondence between Charles and Mary. Mary, by this time, was a partner in the company in all but name.

In 1884, Charles assisted in the analysis of statistics for the allocation of the Lord Mayor's Relief Fund and attempted to establish a Board of Statistical Research. In Spring 1886 he presented a paper, The Occupation's of the People of London, 1841-1881, to the Royal Statistical Society. Mary helped her husband in his 'Inquiry' into poverty in London. She was also associated with a circle of intellectual women, many of whose husbands were MPs. In April 1889, Charles' first work, Volume 1 of the Poverty Series of Life and Labour of the People of London: Trades of East London, was published. The survey of Central and South London followed in volume 2, published in May 1891, while all the time Charles was involved in commerce and social science.

Charles was made President of the Statistical Society in 1892 and set about researching for a survey into the condition of industry in England and its impact on poverty. This was followed in 1899 by an investigation into old age pensions and The Aged Poor. In 1912, Charles ceded the chairmanship of Alfred Booth & Company to his nephew. On 23 November 1916, following a stroke, Charles died. A memorial to Charles Booth was erected in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral on 15 December 1920.


Scope and content/abstract:

The correspondence in this collection is largely concerned with domestic and personal details of the lives of the Macaulay and Booth families. There are some letters, particularly between Charles and Alfred Booth that relate to the business of their Company. The covering dates of the papers are 1799 to 1967. Most of the Macaulay papers fall within the years 1800-1850 and most of the Booth papers fall within 1860-1916.

The collection contains items of correspondence from 359 identified people. The letters were sent by and sent to members of the Macaulay (mainly between 1800 and 1850) and Booth (mainly between 1860 and 1916) families and cover a multitude of different subjects.

The miscellaneous papers comprising the second part of the collection includes family deeds, indentures, genealogical information, newspaper cuttings, and fragments and copies of further correspondence. The papers also include: a retrospectively compiled diary of Hester Emily Booth (Charles Booth's sister), dated 1842-1905; notes and drafts of essays by Charles Booth relating to religious questions, political economy, social welfare, Irish land laws and Home Rule, and Life and Labour; obituaries of Charles Booth; drafts of essays and novels by Mary Catherine Booth; papers relating to the Thringstone Trust, founded by Charles Booth in 1911; travel diaries by Charles Booth, 1862; and sketches and drawings made by Charles Booth, 1852-1884. There are also fourteen family photographs and negatives. The collection also contains seven volumes of a family magazine, The Colony, that aimed to represent high-standards of social conscience and discussed issues such as universal suffrage and religion, 1866-1871.

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