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Unlock the riches of the history of London’s commerce and trade with the world: London Metropolitan Archives’ Business Guide

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) holds the largest single collection of business archives held by a local authority in England and Wales representing businesses mainly based in the 'Square Mile' of the City of London and in the wider Greater London region. Many of the company archives have global significance, reflecting the development of the City of London as a national and international commercial and financial centre. The records include management and financial series showing the changing fortunes of the companies, a vast array of production records with technological innovations illustrated through specifications, plans and photographs, and rich advertising and employment records.

Breadth of collections held

The business archives range from records of individual craftsmen and tradesmen from the fifteenth century to those of very large companies with national and global interests from the eighteenth century. They include partnership and limited companies active both locally in London and internationally, and trade associations involved with the regulation, promotion, and representation of business activities.

City-based insurance companies are well-represented with records of the Hand in Hand, Royal Exchange and Sun Insurance Office, all fire insurers, Eagle Star, and Lloyds of London, the market place for marine insurance with records on the movement and loss of shipping. There are records of stockbrokers, such as Cazenove and Company, and other nationally important organisations such as the London Stock Exchange, with applications by companies to trade in shares and records on individual brokers. Records reflecting the work of local craftsmen and tradesmen include key collections concerning clock making such as Thwaites and Reed

Companies with global reach include banks such as Kleinwort Benson, Morgan Grenfell, Antony Gibbs and Sons, and Standard Chartered, and multinational concerns in timber, tea, rubber, mining, shipping and telegraphy such as Harrison and Crosfield, Wallace Brothers, Inchcape and Globe Telegraph. Photographs in these collections depict life and culture in the countries they traded in, from street scenes in Shanghai and Puerto Rico, to the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople and elephants in Burma

These are complemented by collections of business associations such as the Association of British Insurers and predecessors, the Coal Meters Committee, London Chamber of Commerce, Association of British Chambers of Commerce, and Corporation of Foreign Bondholders. There are also the records of the City of London livery companies (trade guilds) who sought to control entry to their trade and quality of goods produced in and around the City.

There are over 20 brewery archives including Courage, Truman Hanbury Buxton, Watney Combe Reid, Whitbread and Allied Breweries. Brewery records include production registers and public houses premises plans. The building industry is represented by major companies such as John Mowlem and Higgs and Hill, and under and overground train, tram and bus transportation through London Transport’s predecessors. The region’s supply of electricity, water and gas is documented extensively in the predecessor company archives of the London Electricity Board, Thames Water and nationalised Gas Boards (including the world’s oldest supplier of gas, the Gas Light and Coke Company).

The manufacturing sector includes producers of rubber, leather, electrical, iron and wire products. For the food and catering industry collections include Borough Market Trustees, British Vinegars, Crosse and Blackwell, Smith Kendon, confectioners, and J Lyons and Company with rich advertising material. The latter company were caterers for Earls Court exhibitions for which show records are held in the Earls Court and Olympia archives. The clothing industry is represented by J Lock and Sons, hatters and Peal and Company, bootmakers. Publishing firms include Hodder and Stoughton, Butterworth, and Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications Limited, radical Black publishers and booksellers.

LMA also holds the Pensions Archive’s collections deposited by the Pensions Archive Trust. These include the archives of company pension schemes such as Associated British Foods and Lloyds of London, which document scheme management and administration as well as how schemes communicated with their members. Related archives of professional bodies and individuals provide an insight into key events and trends in the pensions sector, such as the Robert Maxwell scandal. These collections complement LMA’s wider holdings of employment related records including rules, staff registers, and records of provident and benevolent funds and Friendly Societies

Business Guide

The Business Guide is designed to help unlock the business archives held by LMA through a summarised list arranged alphabetically by organisation or personal name. The entries are also separately indexed by trade and geographical remit where company interests were held outside the United Kingdom. The vast geographical spread of London-based companies overseas is indicated by the extent of the geographical index which directs researchers to companies which had interests in specific countries.

Guides:  

 

Researchers may use the reference codes and company names given in the Business Guide to search the online catalogue for detailed catalogues on particular collections of interest. Further instructions are given in the guide.

The guide does not include entries for companies represented by a few items or where only client records are held. Business archives held elsewhere are not included except where part of a collection is held by LMA, nor sources about particular businesses which appear in other non-business archive collections. The activities of craftsmen and tradesmen within the City of London were theoretically regulated and protected by the City livery companies and associated trade guilds, whose records are covered by a separate City Livery Companies handlist (see staff for details).

The guide covers catalogued business collections. To search for summary details of uncatalogued holdings and recent deposits please visit The National Archives Discovery website (select ‘advanced search’ and click on ‘record creators’ tab).

Help us improve the Business Guide

We regularly add new entries to the guide once new collections are catalogued. If you have any suggestion for additions or improvements to the guide, please contact us at ask.lma@cityoflondon.gov.uk  

Explore other collections areas

    Guides and sources

    Films related to businesses and employment:

    • Keeping Things Safe [LMA reference: CLC/B/002/07/01/01/005]
      This instructional film dating from the 1970s by Chubb demonstrates a variety of methods for safe security and the materials used in the construction of safes. This film is available in the Mediatheque at LMA.
    • London Markets: Merchants and City Companies [LMA reference: ILEA/VID/01/1739]
      This 1971 film explores the role and function of merchants, guilds and companies over centuries of London history, including some Company Halls. River traditions such as the Doggett's race are shown via a short film, documenting the traditional boat race between Chelsea and London Bridge. The impact of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian puritanism on city companies and their charitable work is discussed. To end, the role of the Lord Mayor, how he gets elected and what is role is, are all detailed. This film is available in the Mediatheque at LMA.
    • The Uninvited Guest [LMA reference: ACC/3527/729]
      Entitled "Albany Hotel: In case of Fire", this 1972 training film on fire prevention and control, examines the nature, frequency and causes of fires in hotels. It explores how to prevent fire and what to do in case of a fire. The film was initially created for hotel staff training. This film is available on our YouTube page or in the Mediatheque at LMA.

    Information leaflets

    More information about specific topic covered on this page can be found in these information leaflets

    Useful links

    You can find out more about the amazing variety of records held at LMA on our collections pages.


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