The University of Reading holds extensive collections relating to business history.
Many are part of the Archive of British Publishing and Printing, which includes wider records of the book trade including the archives of retailers Woolworths and WH Smith. These are complemented by ephemera and printing history holdings in the Lettering, printing and graphic design collections.
These may be accessed alongside business records in the archive of the Museum of English Rural Life including substantial archives of agricultural engineering, plus the printed ephemera and trade journals in The MERL Library. We document all varieties of rural working communities from large estates to small farms, from village crafts and small industries to much larger companies and businesses. The records of many landscape architecture businesses are also in our collections (see Landscape, Environment and Rural Life).
Other notable business archives often have a local connection, a prominent example being the archive of biscuit makers Huntley and Palmers, while the research papers of leading Reading-based business historians and academics are also available.
There are also selected holdings relating to a wide range of businesses including architecture and film. Among the holdings of Special Collections are the archives of the DEGW, a global architectural consultancy that specialised in workplace design in the twentieth century, alongside the personal archives of two of its founders, Frank Duffy and Luigi Giffone. Our rare books collection includes substantial records of the 1851 Great Exhibition, the world’s first industrial exhibition.
Reading has a strong business heritage, which is epitomised locally by ‘the three Bs’: biscuits, bulbs and bricks (though some would say beer)! The town’s business history is reflected by the University’s teaching and research excellence, as the home of both the Henley Business School and The Centre for International Business History, the largest institution for international business studies in the country.
Our strong association with publishing history is also reflected in long-term research projects such as Firms Out of Business (FOB), a database with information about vanished publishing concerns, literary agencies, and similar firms.
Our collections relating to the British book industry form a valuable resource for the study of all aspects of book production and printing. As a whole, these form the Archive of British Printing and Publishing, which is officially Designated by Arts Council England as an outstanding collection
The W.H. Smith business archive contains over 800 boxes and volumes of material, from the 1770s to the 1990s, detailing the history of this well-known high street retailer. Also included are around 100 books and 20 periodical titles, including rare runs of internal publications, such as Newsboy, Newslink and Newsbasket.
Suttons Seeds Ltd was founded in Reading as Suttons & Son by John Sutton (1777-1863) in 1806. The first office was at 16 King Street, Reading but the firm moved to the Market Place in 1839. Well illustrated catalogues were produced showing Suttons wide range of products. Records cover the period 1714-1976 and The MERL holds over 100 objects used and made by Suttons.
Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, engineers of Orwell Works, Ipswich were a major British agricultural machinery maker. The historical records deposited by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd. at The MERL are notable for their diversity of type, their extensive coverage of the firm’s products and activities and their time span, ranging from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century. The vast collection contains, for example, accounts, drawings, technical records, photographs and publications.
The archive contains examples of the work of partners Colin Banks and John Miles, of Banks and Miles. The collection includes working drawings and specifications, finished designs, presentations and models, publications, work-related correspondence, as well as a number of slides featuring their work. Design work by Banks and Miles was fundamental to the development of the corporate identity of many national institutions, clients included London Transport, the British Council, the Post Office, British Telecom, the Consumer Association and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.