Business Index collection1892 - 1987
The Business Index
This project is an index to British shopkeepers, businessmen and women, “captains of industry” and their companies. The initial source material is a series of books published in the 1890s by the London Printing and Engraving Company and the Brighton firm of Robinson, Son and Pike which later became W T Pike.
They seem to have traveled to large towns and cities all over the British Isles, offering the local corporation and businesses the opportunity to appear in a book containing a history of the area, its attractions, major institutions and its commercial life. There are sometimes details of town councillors, often with vignette-sized photographs and one has a picture of the local football team! Shops, businesses and manufacturers probably had to pay for inclusion, the amount depending on the size of the entry. The proprietor or manager seems to have been visited at work and interviewed to provide the copy for the book.
Trade directories only contain a bare listing of local businesses but those included in these books have a minimum of a paragraph about each shop or company, often showing a photograph of it or the proprietor and there are frequently details of when and from whom the business was acquired (often a named relative).
Family members working in the business are usually listed and, if a person is prominent in local society, the entry often mentions membership of the corporation and leisure activities including involvement with clubs, charities and other institutions. This kind of information tells a lot about an individual’s character and is extremely difficult to find elsewhere in such a comprehensive form. The illustrations are photographs of people and places which were taken for the purpose or acquired from local sources and often include line drawings of products sold by the business.
Example of original documents
The example here is typical, but the amount of information contained in the files varies very widely.
Click on the image to see a larger version.
The example shown here from An illustrated account of Halifax, Brighouse and district shows the entry for Messrs R Whiteley and Son, hat and cap makers, of the Corn Market in Halifax and lists four generations of the family who have been involved in the business from its foundation by Joseph Whiteley in 1746 to his great grandson Frederick.The project will later broaden to include other rare or valuable sources for the history of British businessmen and women.
These records were provided by the Society of Genealogists.
The Business Index database is unusual in that it includes both the names of individuals and the names of companies and partnerships. The Last Name / Name of Business field accepts both surnames and any element in a business name - for example, if you search for the word "company", you will receive back search results for all entries where the word "company" appears anywhere in the name of the business (i.e. at the start, in the middle or at the end) - you do not need to use leading or trailing wildcards.
A complete county list is given but material is not available for all counties. The Business Index is a work in progress. For this reason, we have provided a dropdown list showing each volume included. At the present time, fifteen volumes have been published. This number will be extended over time. With a few exceptions, such as Industrial Great Britain, most of the volumes are regional or local publications. It is worth checking the dropdown list to gain a better understanding of what is included and what is not. Even in the case of local publications, such as Pike's Loughborough, the coverage should not be expected to be comprehensive - it is assumed that the businesses had to pay for inclusion and, for this reason alone, some businesses will have declined to participate.
Please note also that not all volumes have accompanying images - this will be the case where we are not able to publish copyrighted material.