Corporate Histories - Recent News
Like many other people, I became used to managing stop-go projects throughout 2020. With one exception, all those that were paused in the spring were resumed later in the year.
I completed the history of Alfred Bagnall & Sons, Nothing Venture, Nothing Gained, and a sample chapter can be found on this site. Two books produced for Jonathan Turner's Bayford Group were also delivered. I have also completed updates for several previous clients - James Donaldson & Sons, BSW, I'Anson Brothers, North of England and James Fisher & Sons. Sample chapters from several of these productions are also available to view.
Carrying out interviews remotely became the norm and digital technology made remote working possible on a scale inconceivable just a few years ago. One of the pleasures of the year was putting together a brief history of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and speaking again across the ether with many people I knew well from the time I spent some years ago as a member of the authority.
My history of Dick Lawes and Volac was launched at Volac's head office in Orwell in April. Currently I am working on the shorter history commemorating Volac's 50th anniversary this year although this has been delayed next year because of the Covid pandemic.
In May 2019 my revised history of Spirax-Sarco was launched at the company's AGM in Cheltenham.
Earlier that month I was invited to attend the northern conference organised by Family Business United (FBU) and had the pleasure of meeting Paul Andrews, its chief executive, and Ben Fowler, who is pioneering the Heritage Library as a resource for the history of family businesses in association with FBU.
Also in May Gibsons Games, probably best known today for the game 'Pass the Bomb' and their collection of jigsaw puzzles, celebrated their centenary by issuing a book for which I did all the research.
During the summer I completed my project for Butler's Farmhouse Cheeses, makers of Blacksticks Blue, among others, in Lancashire where I enjoyed working with Gill Hall and her family.
In November I visited St Anthony's School in Hampstead to give a talk on the school's history. During the year I researched the history of the Wetherby Schools, another group of schools under the umbrella of the Alpha Plus Group. This was challenging since documentary evidence was limited and efforts to contact alumni of the first Wetherby School, founded in 1951, had only just begun.
2020 opened with the launch of my biography of Sir Robin Chichester-Clark, published by Profile Books, at Daunt's Bookshop in London.
In addition to Volac, the pandemic has delayed the completion of projects for James Fisher and Sons, BSW, I'Anson Brothers and the Bayford Group. I was fortunate to have started work for Alfred Bagnall & Sons Ltd, based in Shipley in Yorkshire, a family-owned and family-managed fifth generation business, the leading national commercial painting and decorating contractors. I was able to carry out interviews for the project from home during the lockdown.
My work over the past few years has continued to be immensely varied. I have been kept busy which is my only excuse for not updating my news before now!
Several previous clients have invited me back to update their histories, including Cleansing Service Group, RGS, Guildford, Spirax Sarco Engineering, BSW and, more recently, James Fisher & Sons and I’Anson Brothers.
My long connection with the Shepherd family in York brought me the chance to record the fascinating life of Donald Shepherd, an outstanding and underrated entrepreneur and engineer, who invented the Portakabin.
I completed a history for another P&I Club, this time the London Club, to celebrate the Club’s 150th anniversary in 2016. I also wrote the history of the North London prep school, St Anthony’s, part of the Alpha Plus group, and have been asked to research and write the story of other schools belonging to the group. My history of one of the few remaining independent retail cooperative societies, the Radstock, was published last year for the Society’s 150th anniversary. Currently in preparation is the centenary history of the family-owned chemical manufacturer, Robinson Brothers, based in the Midlands.
At the end of 2017 I delivered the keynote presentation at the termly symposium of the Institute of Education, UCL, on the histories of colleges and schools.
For two businesses, Volac and Bayford Group, I prepared comprehensive histories for limited circulation as well as shorter versions intended for publication to mark specific anniversaries, Volac’s half-century and Bayford’s centenary.
I also published Jenny Jones’ history of the scrap metal merchants, F J Church & Sons, during 2018.
I am currently writing the biography of the late Sir Robin Chichester Clark, whose fascinating life spanned the worlds of politics (he was Unionist MP for Londonderry from 1955 to 1974) and charities (he was a successful fundraiser for several charities). In particular, this has taken me to Northern Ireland, which has certainly left me better informed about a part of the United Kingdom too often ignored by many of us on the mainland.
Looking back at 2015
I completed my research for Bupa, covering the story since its foundation in 1947, which will form the basis of a publication produced by Bupa's own corporate communications team for dissemination worldwide. My research covered a large number of interviews as well as journeys to see Bupa's operations in Spain and Poland.
My work for Lloyd's Register, Maritime science and technology: changing our world, was published during the year. This is intended to give the general reader a concise view of the way science and technology has shaped shipping and therefore the process of globalisation. A launch of the book took place at Lloyd's Register in January 2016.
I was also asked to write the 50th anniversary history of Leeds Trinity University, which was founded as two Catholic teacher training colleges in 1966. I also completed accounts of Direct Table Foods, one of the UK's leading bacon processors, based in Suffolk; and of the Bartlett Group, international insurers based in Leeds. My history of specialist oils producer, The Kerfoot Group, was also published. And I was invited to return to update the stories of two previous clients, E P Barrus, located in Bicester, and Stella-Jones Inc, a billion dollar Montreal-based business producing utility poles and railway sleepers across North America.
A Busy Three Years – 2012-14
Two major projects completed have been histories of Experian and the Manchester Grammar School (MGS). The Experian history was published in September 2012 with a launch party at the top of the Shard in London. The 500th anniversary history of MGS appears in 2015.
Two other school histories, Arnold House and St Albans School, have also been published.
Projects for successful family businesses have included the James Durrans Group, an unsung UK-based international manufacturing success story; the Wernick Group, a leading manufacturer of modular buildings, portable cabins and temporary accommodation for sale and for hire; and an invitation to update the history of the UK’s largest privately-owned timber merchant, the Howarth Timber Group, for their 175th anniversary in 2015, following 25 years on from when I wrote the company’s 150th anniversary history.
Lloyd’s Register also kindly invited me back to put together a work covering the development of marine technology to coincide with the official opening of a Global Technology Centre in association with the University of Southampton in 2015. And I have also begun work on a 150th anniversary history of the London P&I Club, due to appear in 2016, my fourth project for a mutual marine insurer.
I have also been asked to write the story of Bupa. This will be a familiar name to many people but how many know that today the organisation is involved in healthcare worldwide with a turnover in excess of £9 billion – I didn’t! This is already proving to be a fascinating project and I am particularly looking forward to the many interviews this will involve.
Into 2012 ...
My research for Experian took me across the Atlantic to California in the USA and Sao Paulo in Brazil in late 2011. It has been fascinating discovering how this global corporation plays a key role in facilitating credit around the world. At the same time I have returned to the York-based Shepherd Group to cover the history of the last half century, having researched the earlier history of the business some twenty years ago. I have also spent several weeks researching the history of the well-respected London prep school, Arnold House, founded well over a century ago in St John’s Wood, a short walk away from Lord’s. It is always a privilege listening to people reminisce about their school days. I made a brief visit to get to know another famous school, Manchester Grammar School, whose 500th anniversary history I shall be working on from 2013.
2011 So Far ...
A major new client is the global credit information group, Experian plc, who have asked me to carry out a project tracing the roots of the business to the UK and the USA in the 1960s. It is a fascinating business whose innovative services probably affect the financial affairs of all of us in one way or another. The venture has already involved one transatlantic telephone call with Dr Simon Ramo, a remarkable entrepreneur and scientist, now 98 years old, who coined the phrase ‘the cashless society’ half a century ago, and who also appeared with his business partner on the cover of Time magazine in 1957.
My histories for Caterham School, the Watkin Jones Group and Portakabin have all been well-received, as was my biography of Frank Cronin, the Sunderland bingo king. The research for the Watkin Jones story revealed previously unknown information relating to the restoration of Plas Newydd, the National Trust property on Anglesey, in the 1920s and 1930s.
I am completing my history of The Kerfoot Group and finalising my research for my history of St Albans School.
Review of 2010
Several projects reached fruition during 2010. The 150th anniversary history for the North of England Protecting & Indemnity Association was issued in June. In the same month my history of Roehampton University was launched at a summer reception hosted by the University’s Chancellor, the veteran BBC correspondent, John Simpson. The major launch of the year occurred in early December when the 250th anniversary history of the Lloyds Register Group was published. Unfortunately heavy snow in Yorkshire prevented me attending! Closer to Christmas the 150th anniversary history of the Scottish timber business, the James Donaldson Group, was also issued, an update of a work first completed almost a decade ago. So too was a centenary history of family-owned builders’ merchants, Ridgeons, based in Cambridge.
Review of 2009
At the end of March came the launch of the centenary publication for the Port of London Authority at the opening of an exhibition at the Museum in Docklands at Canary Wharf in London. Two days later, at a champagne reception at the Mansion House, the Chairman of the PLA, Simon Sherrard, presented the Lord Mayor with a specially leather-bound edition for the Mansion House library. This was a fascinating commission for which I carried out the research, wrote the text, selected most of the illustrations and project-managed the publication on behalf of the Authority.
As a direct result of this, I was invited later in the year to carry out at short notice a major commission to write the 250th anniversary history of Lloyd’s Register. This has involved a lot of work packed into a tight timescale in close collaboration with staff from the organization. The book will be issued later in 2010. It has been a revelation finding out more about Lloyd’s Register, which today is a business turning over more than £800m, employing more than 7,000 people worldwide.
At the beginning of December my first book about a law firm was launched at a lunch held by the firm at its City offices. Nicholson Graham & Jones goes back to the 1830s and now forms part of the worldwide practice of K&L Gates, which employs nearly 1,900 lawyers in 33 offices on three continents. I researched, wrote and project-managed the publication of the book, employing the designer, picture researcher and printers. With so little archive material, it was really enjoyable making the final selection of pictures for the book which were drawn from a wide variety of external picture libraries and other sources.
During the year the history of the Lincolnshire-based seed firm, James Wherry & Sons, was also issued, again under my own publishing imprint, and I have been working for the London publishing firm, Third Millennium, and its subsidiary, James & James, on commissions for Roehampton University, Caterham School and the Cambridge-based Ridgeon Group. I was also asked to write the life story of Frank Cronin, popularly known as the ‘bingo king’, who built up his business from a small stationary shop into one employing several hundred people supplying bingo games and accessories around the world.
In 2010 I am looking forward to beginning work on the 200th anniversary history for Woodhouse Grove School, near Bradford.