Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section

Business Records at Guildhall Library:


Guildhall Library holds substantial business archives, ranging from the records of individual craftsmen and tradesmen, from the fifteenth century onwards, to those of very large companies with national and international interests, from the eighteenth century.

The Manuscripts Section has published A handlist of Business Archives at Guildhall Library (2nd Edn. 1991), which is still in print and can be purchased from Guildhall Library’s Bookshop.

The information contained in this handlist, however, is duplicated in an online version of the Section’s general guide to collections (updated to November 1994), arranged in two sections: records of individual businesses (see Section 22 part i) and business organisations (see Section 22 part ii).

Copies of both the guide and the handlist, with revisions to date, are held at the Manuscripts Section enquiry desk, with annotations regarding collections which have recently been catalogued, and a number of amendments.

The activities of individual craftsmen and tradesmen see section (i), were usually regulated by the City livery companies and associated trade guilds, many of whose records are also held by the Library. The activities of larger companies with national and international interests have been regulated and promoted by a variety of organisations, some of whose records are listed in section (i).

Because of the development of the City as a national and international commercial and financial centre, the more modern records tend to have little connection with the City of London as a geographical area, beyond being produced by a City head office.

A few records of businesses based outside the City of London are also held. These are chiefly records of insurance companies which have been deposited with the records of the London insurance companies by which they were taken over. There are also some records of non-London watchmakers and clockmakers which have been deposited by the Clockmakers' company.

The handlists are arranged alphabetically by the name of the business or business organisation. Where appropriate, cross-references are given from other names by which a company is or has been known. Subject and geographical indexes are available to each list.

Each entry gives, where possible, current and previous addresses of the business. Also included are the covering dates of the records held. The covering dates do not include title deeds where these predate the records of actual business. Significant gaps in covering dates have been noted. Where the dates consist of either a single year or a very short span of years, the type of document(s) held is mentioned for clarification. Otherwise it has not been possible to describe the scope and nature of the records because of the immense variations between individual collections. The reader is referred to the Manuscripts Section's full catalogue in the reading room.

Access to some collections is partially or wholly restricted. This is noted where appropriate. Permission is usually required from the depositor for access to such collections. However, full details should be sought at the Manuscripts Section's enquiry desk.

Businesses for which the Library holds only title deeds and/or partnership deeds are excluded, with the exception of pre-1800 partnership deeds, which may be the only evidence of the existence of the business concerned.

Records of trade unions and employee organisations are included in Section 22 part (ii).

Where known, the location is given of the records of City businesses which are held by other repositories, also of the records of City businesses which have been withdrawn from the Library.

Major catalogued business archives at Guildhall Library include:

Accepting Houses Committee; Association of British Chambers of Commerce; Bank of British West Africa Ltd; Butterworth and Co (Publishers) Ltd; Clayton and Morris; Commercial Union Assurance Co Ltd; Council of the Corporation of Foreign Bondholders; Ede and Ravenscroft Ltd; Fire Offices’ Committee; Globe Telegraph and Trust Co Ltd; Guardian Assurance Co Ltd; Hambros Bank Ltd; Hand-in-Hand Fire and Life Insurance Society; Imperial Continental Gas Association; Inchcape Group; Institute of Chartered Accountants; Kleinwort, Sons and Co; Life Offices’ Association; Lloyd’s of London; London Chamber of Commerce; London Stock Exchange; Morgan Grenfell and Co; Royal Exchange Assurance Co; Sun Insurance Office

The Printed Books Section of Guildhall Library holds a fine collection of business histories. The following reference works, are also held at the Manuscripts enquiry desk, and provide further information on the survival/location of business records:-

Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton: Directory of Corporate Archives (Business Archives Council 4th edn. 1997)

Lesley Richmond and Bridget Stockford: Company Archives. The Survey of the Records of 1000 of the First Registered Companies in England and Wales (Gower, 1986)

H.A.L. Cockerell and Edwin Green: The British Insurance Business - A Guide to its History and Records (Sheffield Academic Press, 2nd edn. 1994)

John Orbell and Alison Turton: British Banking: A guide to historical Records (Ashgate, 2001).

Wendy Habgood: Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, A guide to historical records (Manchester University Press, 1994)

J. Foster and J. Sheppard: British Archives, A Guide to Archive Resources in the United Kingdom (Palgrave, 4th edn. 2002)

Survey of Historical Manuscripts in the United Kingdom: a Select Bibliography, (Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 3rd edn. 1997) p.4

The following provide information about the nature of business records and how to trace the history of a business:

John Armstrong: "An introduction to archival research in business history", in Business History, vol.33 no.1, January 1991

John Orbell: A guide to tracing the history of a business (Gower, 1987)

A.Turton ed: Managing Business Archives (Butterworth Heinemann, 1991)

Last updated April 2002

Business Records at Guildhall Library

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section