Longman Group Archive

Reference: MS 1393Date: c.18th century-1972Extent: c. 1025 boxes and c. 315 volumes

The Longman Group is the successor to the oldest publishing house in the United Kingdom.  In 1724, aged twenty-four, Thomas Longman bought the business in Paternoster Row, London, which had been built up by William Taylor, and in doing so founded one of the great family publishing houses, which his descendants would continue to manage for the next two and a half centuries. He died in 1755 and was succeeded by his nephew Thomas Longman II, who continued to develop the business until the end of the century.

It was the third Thomas Longman, who took over in 1797, who led the firm to a position as one of the most distinguished publishing houses of its time. In partnership with Owen Rees, he bought the copyrights of Joseph Cottle, Bristol, when the latter retired in 1799, and began the new century with the publication of the work of Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott, becoming part of the great renaissance of English poetry, as well as continuing to publish scholarly works on a wide range of subjects. In 1842, the fourth Thomas Longman took over the business, which he managed together with his brother William, and they were succeeded by their sons in the later years of the century.

The firm continued to be successful in different fields, with authors including Macaulay, Disraeli, Christina Rossetti and Florence Nightingale. This period also saw the takeover of John W. Parker, Son, & Bourne, in 1863, and of the business of Francis Hansard Rivington on his retirement in 1890. The company gained a new focus with the arrival in 1884 of the schoolteacher J.W. Allen, who was keen to build up the educational lists and to develop markets in India and elsewhere. The schools and academic publishing were to remain a key part of the firm’s output. The sixth generation of Longmans, Robert Guy and William L., became partners in 1909. They took a keen interest in expanding the overseas branches.

Educational publishing continued to be the mainstay of the firm during the twentieth century, but their literary reputation was maintained, with authors such as Stella Gibbons, Mary Renault and Thornton Wilder, and later Gavin Maxwell, Stevie Smith and the children’s writer Leon Garfield. Other useful earners were Roget’s Thesaurus and Gray’s Anatomy. The firm survived the destruction of the Paternoster Row offices and most of their stock in the blitz and in 1948 became a public company. In the late 1950s, Longmans joined many of the larger publishing houses in leaving London, establishing new premises at Harlow in Essex.

Longman remained an independent family firm until 1968, when it merged with S. Pearson & Son Ltd. Longman became the chief publishers of Pearson, a group that also included the medical publishers J. & A. Churchill and E. & S. Livingstone, and the general and educational lists of Oliver & Boyd. Shortly afterwards, Constable Young Books was amalgamated with the Longmans juvenile list. The chairman of the group was Mark Longman, last of the family to manage the business, who in 1970 negotiated a merger with Penguin Books. By his death in 1972, the group was known as the Pearson Longman Group.

Longman premises suffered from two fires, the first in 1861 and the second in the Blitz in December 1940. The archives which remain are therefore not complete, but do form an extensive collection. Most of the material dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but there is also some 18th-century material preserved by the firm as being of particular interest.

The collection has been split into 3 parts:

Part I, MS 1393/1, contains ledgers, registers and bound records, all relating to the publishing side of the business. They include ‘commission’ ledgers, 1807-1908 and ‘divide’ records (referring to items published at the author’s expense or with division of profits between author and publisher) 1807-1913; royalty ledgers 1891-1908; statement books 1902-1941; London letter books 1811-1837, 1881, 1914, 1936-1940; Bangkok letter book 1901-1907; Indian letter books 1902-1905, 1929-1945; impression books (recording costs and numbers of copies printed) 1794-1963; copyright ledgers 1794-1926; catalogues of antiquarian books 1814-1846; monthly lists produced for the book trade 1858-1917; notes on books published (for the book trade) 1855-1948.

Part II, MS 1393/2, contains loose documents, letters, papers and photographs referring both to the Longman family, the firm and to the publishing trade. They include autograph letters from Longman authors 1799-1900 (authors include Matthew Arnold, Winston Churchill, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Florence Nightingale, Christina Rossetti, Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, William Wordsworth and Thomas Babington Macaulay); scrapbooks of Walter Jefferay, manager of the New York office, 1903-1930s and notebooks and research material of C.J. Longman relating to the publication of, ‘House of Longman 1724-1800’.

The archive also contains papers relating to firms acquired by Longmans. These include J.W. Parker, Son and Bourne; Sir Richard Phillips; A.J. Valpy; Thomas Cadell.

Part III, MS 1393/3, contains agreements with authors and copyright holders.

Please note the Longman Agreements (MS 1393/3) are stored off site, so please contact us at least five working days in advance of your visit.

More Information

  • The catalogue for this collection is available to view on The National Archives’ catalogue Discovery: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
  • A full description is also available on our online database
  • Due to the size of the collection, we do not have a digital handlist. However, there are printed handlists available for consultation in the reading room.
  • A guide to navigating the Longman Archive as a researcher can be found here.
  • See also the Mark Longman Library.