Business archives are a fascinating research resource. Businesses and industry have huge impacts on society at social, political, cultural and local levels.
The records of businesses support research in various disciplines. Economic and business historians can use financial archives for quantitative research. Social, political and cultural historians can find excellent resources in minute books, letter books, wage ledgers, correspondence and other papers for qualitative research.
Find out more about some of our business and economics collections.
Probably the richest resource is our Economics printed book collection. Most of the texts date from the mid-18th century onwards. The collection contains works on economic theory and economic history by 19th century authors such as Robert Owen, Karl Marx, and J.R. McCulloch, and 20th-century economists such as Beveridge, Keynes and the Webbs.
The texts cover varied aspects of economics such as wages, prices, taxation, banking, commerce and trade.
These topics provide information for social historians on the economic conditions affecting people’s lives and welfare.
Industrial researchers will find data on the growth and decline of businesses, and the effects of regulation and legislation.
There are many works on the British economy, including the surveys of agriculture in (primarily) English counties compiled in the late 18th/early 19th century for the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement.
John Harry Jones’ papers provide insights into the economics of the mining industry in the early 20th century.
John Harry Jones (1881-1973) was the Professor of Economics at Leeds from 1919-1946. His documents relating to the Nuffield College Social Reconstruction Survey in the 1940s reveal much about industry, employment and economic support for communities during the Second World War. Jones carried out investigations in Yorkshire for the survey. We also have lecture notes and other materials concerning his academic work.
Tony Lynes (1929-2014) was a British writer and campaigner on social security and pensions. Lynes’ papers are a good source of socio-economic information about the development of social security payments and means testing in Britain from 1923.
Both economic and social historians may be interested in Lynes’ papers on the Unemployment Assistance Board established in 1934 and his research materials for his unpublished book on pensions.
You can search the papers of politician and reformer Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783-1869) for documents relating to banking in Hull in the 1790s.
The papers of Arthur Joseph Brown (1914-2003) provide resources for researchers into banking and economics in the mid-twentieth century. Brown was the Professor of Economics at Leeds from 1947-1979 and served in the government from 1966-1970.
Special Collections hold collections relating to the business and workings of various estates.
Amongst these, economic and social researchers will find plenty of material in the Eshton Hall Estate Archive.
The archive contains many financial records of the estate near Skipton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The estate belonged to the Wilson and Richardson-Currer families. The documents mainly refer to the late 18th and 19th centuries and reveal the cost of wages, goods, services and travel.
Elsewhere, the Marrick Priory archives are a good record of the changing ownership of the surrounding lands from the 12th to the 19th century.
Many of the records relate to the leases of local farms. They contain information about terms of leases, rents and charters. Some record legal disputes about the land including depositions and interrogations. There are also documents relating to the business of lead mining around Marrick.
The collections of the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society also contain various estate papers, and records from some Yorkshire small businesses.
The coal industry
Special Collections holds several collections relating to the coal industry, particularly in Yorkshire. Through these collections, researchers can discover more about economic, social, industrial and local history.
The minute books of coalmasters Henry Briggs, Son & Company Ltd, reveal the high-level decision making taken by directors of the mining company, based near Normanton, West Yorkshire. They include information on new machinery introduced into the industry and improvements to distribution and transport networks for coal from 1865-1961.
John Harry Jones’ papers provide insights into the economics and infrastructure of the mining industry during the early part of the 20th century.
West Yorkshire Coal Owners Association, 1890-1955, is a rich resource for social historians. It contains records of discussions amongst pit owners about miners’ working conditions, wages and strikes. You can trace the economics of the industry through lists of the annual output of the members’ mines, 1889-1931, and archives relating to the Central Valuation Board formed in 1946.
Using the collection of Leeds iron founders John Bowling and Company Ltd you can study the economic history of the industry through sales ledgers, general ledgers and balance books. These items, which date from 1886-1954, reveal the network of suppliers and purchasers of goods. The wages books from1986 to 1892 provide information about workers’ hours and pay.
Social historians may be interested in the employee registers of Brotherton and Company, manufacturers of chemicals. These list the age, marital status and skills of employees at the aniline works from 1912 to1917. The collection also contains operating manuals for various pieces of equipment used in processing in the 1950s.
Social and political researchers may find the Glenesk-Bathurst papers useful. The collection revolves around the Morning Post, a Conservative newspaper that merged with the Daily Telegraph.
You can find correspondence between writers discussing contemporary politics in the late 19th and early 20th century. These include Winston Churchill’s despatches from the Sudan in 1898 and first-hand accounts of the Russian revolution of 1917.
During much of the 20th century, E. J. Arnold and Son Limited was the biggest company in educational publishing in England. The company archives offer material of interest to researchers in education including catalogues, price lists and examples of the texts published by the company.
Business historians will find records and commentary on the company’s sales and exports in the form of invoices, company papers and articles in The Month, E. J. Arnold’s in-house journal.
The Stand Magazine collection is the archive of Jon Silkin’s radical literary magazine from 1952 onwards. The material includes contributions to the magazine and correspondence with contributors.
The papers reveal the internal workings of a literary magazine publishing company, which has been central to the development of modern poetry and fiction for over 50 years.
Business and economic historians can find archives relating to the company’s administration and finances, including records of subscriptions.
The Literary Papers and Correspondence of Rodney Pybus, one of Stand magazine’s co-editors, show the mechanics of running a magazine from the writer’s perspective. Pybus was a co-editor of Stand magazine with Jon Silkin and Lorna Tracy for many years. The Stand-related material focuses mainly on business affairs from 1960 to 2010. It includes correspondence with Silkin and other editors and papers from the Stand Magazine Support Trust.
Special Collections holds the archives of some 50 major Yorkshire textile businesses, charting their changing fortunes regionally, nationally and internationally.
Much of this material dates from the peak of the industry in the 19th century. Some large archives of pioneering businesses, such as Wormald, Fountain & Gott wool merchants and Marshall and Company flax spinners, start in the 18th century or earlier, and the majority of the collections extend to the mid-20th century.
Leeds Special Collections holds archives relating to the manufacture of worsted, wool, flax, cotton and shoddy. These include archives for dyers and finishers of fabrics. There are also collections relating to the sale of finished products such as blankets and clothing.
The textile manufacturers’ archives facilitate the study of the economic history of the industry over two centuries. Collections such as William Ackroyd Ltd represent the dynamics of its growth, peak and decline.
Ledger books, invoices and accounts such as those in the Robert Clough (Keighley) Ltd collection provide rich sources for the study of the prices of raw and processed commodities. They reveal information about international trade through import and export records.
Ledger books, invoices and accounts provide details of local business infrastructure and relationships in Bradford and Leeds particularly. The records reflect the changing pattern of industrial work and the impact of regulations. The collections provide information on the types of textiles produced in the mills and the processes used to turn fibres into fabric.
You can gain insight into workers’ lives within the records. The mills’ wages books record men, women and children and the J.C. Waddington & Sons Ltd archive contains records of loans, purchases of food, and the rental of accommodation. The John Bancroft & Company Ltd collection includes factory registers with data about holidays, children and young people and accidents.
Work at the mills affected the health of the employees. The John Foster & Son's spinners’ wages book holds surgeon’s certificates for the health of factory children. The collection also contains the papers of various railways, which would only have been available to the directors of the railway companies.
Lancashire Cotton Districts Relief Fund
Another strength of our industry-related collections is the Leeds archive of the Lancashire Cotton Districts Relief Fund. The fund supported the cotton workers who became unemployed when the American Civil War interrupted the supply of raw cotton to Lancashire.
We hold a collection relating to the Leeds White Cloth Hall, consisting mainly of legal documents and correspondence. These papers cover each of the four halls built for the sale of White Cloth, which existed in Leeds from 1711 to 1895.