Cowen Tracts

(Collection description created in 2002. Links checked 2009)


Newcastle University

Publication date range

ca. 1790-1914

Number of items

There are 14 groups of pamphlets, of which only this one, the Cowen Tracts, forms a discrete collection. Unlike the others, therefore, it is treated separately in this guide, with the remainder being given a single comprehensive entry.

Description of the collection

The collection belonged to Newcastle-born Joseph Cowen (1829-1900), MP and social reformer (NB though his date of birth is usually given as 9th July 1831, 1829 was the date celebrated by his family and it seems that his birth has been confused with that of his brother John, born, according to the relevant parish register, in June 1831). Cowen aided various European revolutionary movements by supporting them financially and by using the export side of his family's business to smuggle subversive papers to the Continent. Domestically, he became involved in a number of reform movements, such as those relating to temperance, sanitation and education, and in Chartism. He established and purchased his own journals and newspapers to disseminate his ideas.

Locally, he supervised the Blaydon Co-operative Store, of which the profits were used to provide education, books and newspapers, and attempted to develop the co-operative movement throughout the north-east of England. Then, on his father's death in 1873, he was elected in his place as MP for Newcastle and, though he came into conflict with both the Parliamentary and local Liberal parties, he remained MP for Newcastle until he retired in 1886. The Cowen Tracts date, in the main, from Cowen's active years of the late 1840s to early 1880s, though there is some earlier and later material (including ca. 100 18th century items). The topics covered largely reflect his main interests of social, educational and economic issues, though some of the pamphlets were unopened on the collection's arrival at the University, indicating that they had not been read. Some of the authors, especially G J Holyoake, were personally known to him and have on occasion inscribed the item in question. It seems that a number of the pamphlets belonged to Cowen's father (another Joseph Cowen, an industrialist and an MP, who had been knighted for his work on the River Tyne Commission) or to his daughter, Jane. Others could well have been lost. It appears too that some volumes came form the libraries of other local individuals (notably James Losh, Thomas Wilson ("the pitman poet") and bibliophile Thomas Bell) on the sale of their effects after their death.


The collection came to the University (then King's College of the University of Durham) on the death in 1948 of Joseph Cowen's daughter Jane.

Language(s) of the material



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