Glasgow University

Business Records at Glasgow University Archive Services (GUAS)

Lesley Richmond, Deputy Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow

Glasgow University Archive Services houses one of the largest dedicated business records collections in the UK. Though there is a preponderance of the more 'traditional' industries, such as shipbuilding and heavy engineering, the collections relate to a whole range of commercial and business activities not only in the west of Scotland, but throughout the country. The creation of the business records collection was a conscious attempt to minimise the destruction of Scotland's written industrial heritage brought about by economic decline from the late 1950s. That has broadened so that nowadays the businesses that deposit records are primarily from the financial and service sectors, reflecting the shift in British business activities. In Scotland, with local authority provision of archival services still in its relative infancy, Glasgow University Archive Services still has material of not only national but also local significance. This small article sets out to highlight some of the records held at this archive, but it is by no means exhaustive. More detailed advice and help can be obtained directly from GUAS.


The decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde has been so dramatic that it seems that any record of this part of Britain's industrial heritage must have been lost entirely to posterity. However, there are large collections of Clyde shipbuilding records preserved at Glasgow University archives. These include the shipbuilders Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and those such as John Brown, Ferguson Brothers, Alexander Stephens, Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, Lithgows Ltd, Ailsa Shipbuilding Co Ltd, William Simons & Co, Lobnitz & Co, within these are hundreds of photographs and plans. The yards built some of the largest vessels afloat, such as the Lusitania and HMS Hood, but they were also innovators. The smaller yards constructed specialised vessels such as ferries, dredgers and river steam boats for the UK and particularly abroad. It is possible to trace the construction of a vessel from initial contractual agreements until the end of the sea trial. There are details of the technical achievements, but also the commercial concerns such as profit margins and the relationships between builders and ship owners. Changes in shipbuilding design, both civil and military, over many decades can be traced. The administrative and financial documents follow the fortunes of shipbuilding on the Clyde, through peace and wartime. Staff records contain information about working and employment patterns of skilled and unskilled labour, men and women, on the Clyde.

Industries Associated with Shipbuilding

The importance of the sea trade and shipbuilding led to the creation of a multitude of allied activities and enterprises. Many were businesses that had interests originally outside of shipbuilding, but became increasingly reliant upon this trade. Engineering in many guises are represented, from armour plate and naval gun manufactures like William Beardmore & Co, to the steering gear builders John Hastie & Son Ltd and boilermakers like Babcock & Wilcox who built machinery for many naval vessels. The fitting out of ships of all kinds led to the expansion of cabinet and furniture manufacturers, like Wylie & Lochhead, into this trade.


The city of Glasgow and the towns along the river Clyde have long been exit ports for goods and people leaving for North America and the rest of the world. The Anchor Line had their origins in trading with the Baltic, but are better know as a passenger/cargo company plying the trade between Scotland, the Mediterranean and North America. This collection includes much about the early development of advertising, passenger travel and tourism. Staff records are strong and detailed for senior crewmembers, engineers, masters and chief officers. The Clyde Shipping Company Ltd was a smaller enterprise but no less important to the west of Scotland, operating a limited passenger service from Glasgow to Ireland, but primarily a cargo service around the coast of the UK.

Business Associated with Shipping

Shipbroker collections, like those of Thomas McLaren & Co who sold, chartered and leased vessels, include plans of many ships of all types built outside of the Clyde. The administrative records of the Liverpool & Glasgow Salvage Association, formed to protect the commercial interests with respect to damaged or wrecked property, describe the salvage and rescue of cargo and ships that got into difficulties around the Clyde coast from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Little know and little used are the original records of the British Corporation. This survey of vessels, once in competition with Lloyd's, is made up of detailed technical reports conducted in situ, covering the condition of the machinery and shell of the vessel compiled for hundreds of ships from 1890s to the 1940s.

Banking & Finance

These are particularly strong for banking, but include insurance and accounting collections for example the Association of Underwriters and Insurance Brokers in Glasgow as well as finance unions like the Banking Insurance & Finance Union (BIFU). The Trustees Saving Bank of Scotland (TSB Scotland) collection covers the development of the savings movement across the whole of Scotland from the very beginning of the nineteenth century until the present. Within these are some records of the smaller Penny Banks. The amalgamation of the various regional and local savings banks resulted in the creation of the Trustees Saving Bank of Scotland. Branch records, though not complete, begin in the 1840s for some regions, with better and wider coverage from the late 1880s. The nature of these banks' administration means that they contain detailed information about the 'industrious poor' many of who were artisans or women. The minute books are useful for an over view of economic conditions in localities or towns. Other banking records include those for the City of Glasgow Bank, principally about the dramatic collapse of the bank in 1878 and its aftermath.

Chemical & Pharmaceutical Industry

These commercial activities have a long association with Glasgow and the west of Scotland. The collections reflect the wide range of uses and processes, from agricultural and textile to retail, showing their close relationships with other industries. An example of this is Ferguson Shaw & Sons who were founded in the 1840s. They were manufacturers of fish oils, edible, compound fats and lubricating oils, while a number of subsidiaries were concerned with the manufacture of soap. The records of the Tharsis Sulphur & Copper Co. Ltd and Egyptian Phosphate Co. Ltd reflect the international dimension of much of this industry and its early links with mining.

Printing & Publishing

Blackie & Sons and William Collins are the two major publishing collections held at the University of Glasgow. The legal agreements, royalty payments and stock books cover titles as diverse as textbooks, novels and bibles. These are illustrative of the volume and range of published works as well as the intricacies of the economics of book selling. However, the holdings also include those of commercial printers and manufacturing stationers such as George Outram & Co, James Reid & Son Ltd and Livingstone Bros.

Food Production & Distribution

Though these collections are primarily concerned with confectionery and dairy products, much of the material consists of advertising and promotional material. The records of the Scottish Milk Publicity Council Ltd. (Scottish Dairy Council) contain detailed marketing and advertising reports from the 1980s to the early 1990s. The collections cover those of smaller manufacturers like A Kirkpatrick & Sons Ltd, sausage makers to Archibald Fleming & Co Ltd, egg and dairy distributors.


The quintessential Scottish alcoholic drink has a long history but it was in the nineteenth century that large-scale production and marketing of the product began both in the Lowland and Highlands of Scotland. These collections include a range of distillers, blenders and merchants. One of the current major blenders and distillers, Allied Distillers is represented as well as smaller distilleries from the West Coast and Highlands such as Glenrothes-Glenlivet and Bunnahabhain Distilleries. Though there is obviously a great deal of information regarding the distilling process, there is much about distilleries interaction with local conditions, like employment and the farming of the raw materials such as peat and barley.


The early pioneers of aircraft production are represented within the collections also. William Beardmore & Co built both heavier and lighter than air machines from 1914 until the 1920s. Evidence of this can be found in their ledgers, as well as magazine articles and photographs. [A major ship builder, Beardmore also constructed the first true aircraft carrier HMS Argus]. Morris Furniture Ltd was pressed during 1939-1945 to manufacture wooden fuselages as well as propellers. Drawings, reports, cost and order books and correspondence files record the wartime production.

Housing & Construction

A range of collections incorporating large scale construction companies like Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, housing associations like Glasgow Workmen's Dwelling Co. Ltd and property managers such as Cherry & Sandford Properties. The records of Allan & Mann, brick makers, and the steel house project in the Viscount Weir collection show the developments in construction practices from the 1850s.

Locomotive Manufacture

Glasgow and the west of Scotland were one of the major centres for locomotive manufacture. The North British Locomotive Company was the second largest manufacturer in the world in the early twentieth century, exporting over 80% of their output. While the Andrew Barclay & Sons collection is that of the oldest surviving manufacturer of railway engines in the world. These collections contain literally thousands of technical drawings and in the case of Andrew Barclay photographs of the finished product also. Though the board minutes and papers of Andrew Barclay have been retained by the parent company, the financial records are held by GUAS. The records cover not just new builds, of cranes as well as locomotives, but renovations and re-fits. Complementing these are the records of R. Y. Pickering & Co manufacturers of industrial rolling stock.


The records of J & P Coats are an historical testament to the previous size and energy of the textile industry in Scotland. At one time one of the largest companies in the UK, Coats who manufactured cotton thread, had interests all over the world from Russia to South America. The muslin manufacturers are particularly well represented with collections of John Lean & Son, David Ligat & Son Ltd. Ropemakers are also well represented William Peacock Ltd., Dumbarton Ropework Co. Ltd. There are few pattern books, but administrative and financial records are quite comprehensive.


A social and economic phenomenon of the nineteenth century, records of department stores have a very wide range of historical usage. The House of Fraser collection contains records of department stores from Inverness to Penzance and is truly a national collection. The more complete records include those for the Army & Navy Co-Operative Stores, Wylie & Lochhead and Dallas's Ltd. The breadth and range of the activities of these firms encompassed undertaking, printing, manufacturing in many forms from guns to furniture, as well as motor transportation. The antithesis of these department stores was A Goldberg & Son, which ran a discount warehouse in Glasgow. A Goldberg & Son were later pioneers in the development of store cards and many of the records offer an insight into sales strategy and techniques.


It is difficult to do justice to the depth and range of material held at Glasgow University Archive Services in just one article. Certainly many of the collections are large enough and comprehensive enough to warrant an article of their own. Access to thematic subject source guides can be obtained at our web-site, as well as a list of collections [see]. In general, like most archival collections, their usefulness for thematic studies, like women in the workforce like the rise of office culture, can at first seem negligible. These themes and many others have recently been addressed using GUAS collections. Glasgow University Archive Services is recognised as a 'centre of excellence' by the Historic Manuscripts Commission, the staff have a breadth of expertise and long experience of dealing with enquiries about collections and are happy to answer any questions that researchers may pose.

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