Labour movements

This guide was last updated in 2012

With the growth of industrialisation came the growth of the working class political movement, in response to the harsh employment conditions experienced by many in the factories.

Labour movements and then trade unions were established as a way to communicate grievances to their employers and, at times, take industrial action. Sometimes these protests created records that may prove relevant when researching your ancestor’s employment.

Chartism was one such working class movement that harnessed discontent in times of economic depression during the 1840s. It was particularly strong in Northern England even though it was established in 1837 by skilled London artisans. You can check if your ancestor was involved in the Chartist movement by referring to the website

Trade Unionism grew in the 19th century as the working classes found an effective voice to articulate their grievances to employers. The University of Warwick holds the archives of many trade unions in their collection at the Modern Records Centre including that of the Trades Union Congress. You can learn more about their holdings on their website.

Strikes and other protests were often reported in local newspapers so it’s always worthwhile referring to them to see if anything concerning your ancestor is mentioned.


Sara Khan is the lead genealogist on the Who Do You Think You Are? BBC TV series


Photo: Getty Images

Factory records at The National Archives
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