Resources for Eighteenth-Century Worlds

Archives and libraries, museums and galleries, and the built environment of Liverpool support a very wide range of research in the global-long-eighteenth century. This page provides an overview of the most important of these resources.

As far as possible links are provided to institutional homepages, catalogues, or detailed descriptions of specific collections.


Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool

Search the Sydney Jones Library Catalogue

A wide range of printed sources for the study of the British, European and American 18th century are available open shelf and /or in Special Collections. These include complete runs of Parliamentary Papers, Parliamentary Debates, early 19th-century Select Committee Reports, and other official publications, as well as published diaries, memoirs, collections of correspondence, travel accounts and pamphlets.

There are around 2,200 works open shelf dating from c.1650-1850. 

Special Collections & Archives (archives, rare books, pamphlets)

In addition to the substantial collections listed below, there are extensive miscellaneous 18th-century Manuscript Collections currently in the process of being catalogued. They range from English, Celtic, French and Italian literary manuscripts to local history, British national politics, and the logs of slave ships. For a handlist please visit Special Collections.

  • Aston Deeds: 517 pieces relating mainly to the Aston family Cheshire estates, 16th-19th centuries
  • Blake Books: 850 volumes by and about Wolliam Blake and the Blake circle
  • Dumbell Papers: research papers of Stanley Dumbell relating to shipping and the slave trade [1782-1919]
  • Grace Books: 150 volumes of 17th-19th century mathematics books, from the Grace library of applied mathematics
  • Gregson Memorial Institute Collections: Collections transferred from the Gregson Institute, incl. papers of Matthew Gregson (1749-1824)
  • Knowsley Library: Some 5,000 items from the Library of the Earls of Derby at Knowsley Hall, Lancashire, chiefly 17th - 19th century
  • Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society (founded 1812): the library of one of the city’s oldest learned societies, incl. 300 volumes of publications of other learned societies
  • Liverpool Royal Institution Collections (founded 1817): LRI archives and library
  • Maps: printed and manuscript cartographical works by some of the most famous names in map-making
  • Rathbone Papers: records of several generations of the Rathbones of Greenbank, Liverpool,a family of non-conformist merchants and shipowners, philanthropists, politicians and social reformers, artists and patrons of the arts
  • Rideout Papers: 12 boxes of research notes on the Port of Liverpool and other ports in the North West of England [1700-1850]
  • Rylands collections: 2,700 items – manuscripts and books – bequeathed by Thomas Glazebrook Rylands (1818-1900), ranging from cartography and regional history to astronomy and optics
  • Scott MacFie Gypsy Collections: 6th – 19th-century imprints about Gypsies in various languages, including classic ethnographic studies and contemporary anti-Gypsy edicts issued at:
    • Augsburg 1720
    • Augustusburg 1756
    • Berlin 1717, 1724, 1725, 1726, 1739
    • Bonn 1763, 1774
    • Brunswick 1597
    • Coburg 1732
    • Cologne 1596, Darmstadt 1734
    • Frankfurt am Main 1738
    • Magdeburg 1652
    • Neuburg 1720, 1766
    • Nuremberg 1699
    • Bologna 1565, 1566, 1610
    • Flanders 1785
    • France 1682
    • Vienna 1689, 171
  • Thomson Pamphlets: 1,300 English historical pamphlets (mostly publ. 1689-1789)
  • E.K.Waterhouse Books: 75 volumes of 18th-19th century curiosa and erotica, mostly in French, some Italian and Latin
  • A collection of prints, 1830s-40s, many political, incl. supplements to London Illustrated News [handlist in Special Collections].

Digitised documents

The University of Liverpool also has access to hundreds of thousands of digitised documents and tens of thousands of issues of eighteenth-century British, Irish, and American newspapers on databases, eg.

  • Burney Collection
  • Early American Newspapers
  • The Times Digital Archive
  • British Periodicals I & II
  • Irish Newspaper Archives
  • The Guardian and Observer.

The library also subscribes to numerous databases of digitised documents

  • Evans Early American Imprints
  • Early English Books Online (EEBO)
  • Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
  • John Johnson Collection
  • JSTOR 19th British Pamphlets (includes pamphlets dating from 1545 to 1900)
  • Empire Online
  • British Literary Manuscripts.

All resources are accessible from this link

The Sydney Jones is currently trialling a number of new digital repositories, eg.

Archival Collections in repositories other than the Sydney Jones

  • Liverpool Central Library (one of Britain’s largest public libraries)
  • Liverpool City Council: The Corporation archives including minute books from 1550 onwards, education records (incl. school records) and cemeteries interment registers.
  • Merseyside Jewish Community Archives: incl. records of synagogues, organisations , schools, businesses and personal papers (Catalogued with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Jewish Community)
  • Ecclesiastical Records: incl. full details of Roman Catholic and Non-conformist archives together with summary details of Anglican parish holdings. 

Merseyside Record Office

Extensive collections 13th century to the present, some of which of national and international significance, including:

  • archives of the City Council and its predecessors
  • churches
  • cemeteries
  • schools
  • workhouses
  • families
  • businesses
  • trade unions
  • charities, and societies. 

Maritime Archives and Library

The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board Collection

Fairly extensive Pilotage records (some on marking and lighting of the channels). Annual financial reports from 1755. Important material on slaving and slave-trading.

Athenaeum Library

Athenaeum Library: 60,000 volumes; strengths in local history, maps and charts, and drawings of Liverpool buildings by James Brierley (1828-30).

The Rare Books library includes parts of the library of William Roscoe, a founding proprietor.

Club Archives.

NB: The Athenaeum is a members club: access to the Library should be sought through the Chair of the Library Committee: John Tiernan at

Museums and galleries

National Museums Liverpool

Works of Art in Walker Art Gallery and Lady Lever Art Gallery

Eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century British and European paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints and sculpture, including a number of seminal works in each medium.

Many key works relating to the history of the visual arts and visual culture in Liverpool.

Works of art collected by major local collectors in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (including William Roscoe, the 12th and 13th Earls of Derby, Henry Blundell of Ince Blundell).

Individual curatorial files relating to each of the above works of art

  • These files contain material on the physical history and historical context of the item concerned accumulated by successive curators at the Walker Art Gallery, in the form of (a) physical information sheets (b) condition reports (c) correspondence (d) research notes (e) photocopies of related texts from secondary literature, exhibition catalogues, etc.
  • Typically, the material in the files is NOT primary source material, but there are often references to such sources and occasionally, copies of such sources, e.g. artists’ wills, etc.
  • The material is the basis for some published catalogues and will also be used as the basis for National Museums Liverpool’s MIMSY database and online documentation system (in progress).
  • The treatment of information within the files is not systematic, and the presence of a certain type of information in one file is no guarantee of its presence in any other file.

Files relating to collectors

  • The Walker’s library contains a sequence of files relating to the history of local collectors and collections. Some of these are confidential but depending upon the nature of the request, they may be made available to bona-fide researchers, under supervision.
  • The contents of these files is similar to those for the individual works of art: they seldom contain primary source material but accumulated correspondence, photocopies, etc. The files bring together material that is often available elsewhere on Merseyside but represent the most convenient way of using the material in reference to the collection concerned. 

Decorative art

The world’s best collection of Wedgwood Ornamental Ware ( Lady Lever Art Gallery)

The world’s best collection of ceramics made in Liverpool ( Walker Art Gallery). N.B. Liverpool, with Staffordshire and London, was one of the top three ceramic production centres in 18th-century Britain.

The world’s best collection of watches and clocks made in the Liverpool area ( Walker Art Gallery). N.B. the Liverpool area was the most important watch-making area in the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are also good collections of other British ceramics, clocks and watches, as well as furniture, metalwork and textiles.

Good catalogue information and a good departmental library on British decorative art support research on all these collections.


Liverpool was one of England’s foremost Georgian towns, and much of its late 18th- and early 19th-century fabric survives. In the centre stands the former Bluecoat School of 1716, a provincial echo of Wren. Much more sophisticated is the Town Hall begun in 1749 by John Wood of Bath, with later magnificent interiors by James Wyatt. The Lyceum, a library and newsroom designed by the great Thomas Harrison in 1800, is an important relic of the town’s early intellectual development.

Planned residential expansion began with Rodney Street in the 1780s, and blossomed after 1800 with the laying out of the Mosslake Fields area, centred on Abercromby Square.  Here, among dignified terraced houses, are sober Neoclassical buildings such as Edmund Aikin’s Wellington Rooms, Clark Rampling's Medical Institution, and John Foster Junior’s dramatic St James’s Cemetery, with its temple-like Oratory and Husskinson Mausoleum.  Neoclassicism reached a climax in St George’s Hall, a building of international significance designed in 1840 by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes.

Many 18th- and early 19th-century churches have been lost, but among the survivors are St. George's, Everton , and St. Michael’s-in-the-Hamlet, by James Cragg and Thomas Rickman. Dating from 1813-1815, they are outstanding early examples of prefabricated cast-iron construction. Liverpool's overwhelming commercial importance in this period is represented by dignified banks, austere warehouses and the remarkably early railway station of 1836 at Edge Hill.

External Online resources

General, including bibliographical 

Art and Architecture

British Art and Architecture


American History

British History 

English Literature 

German History and Literature


Professional societies

Other Eighteenth-Century research groups and centres

British Isles

Continental Europe