Thomas C Keay Ltd, Engineers and Mill Furnishers, Dundee

Scope and Content

Minutes 1962-1972; shareholding records 1917-1966; private ledgers 1914-1933; purchase/sales records 1960-1970; order book 1959-1965; inventories and valuations 1952-1970; wages and labour files 1962-1971; machinery costings and quotation files 1953-1972; stock records 1952-1969; sales reports 1969-1972; machinery brochures c.1955-c.1970; photographs 1910-1975.

Administrative / Biographical History

The firm was founded in 1880 by Thomas Cook Keay, son of Peter Keay, one of the original partners of the old Tay Shipbuilding Company. Thomas C Keay trained as an engineer and then went to sea, qualifying as a chief engineer in 1875. In 1879 he commenced business as a mill furnisher and marine speciality agent in Baltic Street, but soon moved into textile engineering. By 1900 Keay had acquired the former Buchanan Works in Ogilvie Street, which became the North Machine Works, and later set up as a shuttle, picker and bobbin maker at Sycamore Saw Mills in Loons Road. The firm became a limited company in 1917 as Thomas C Keay Ltd, mill furnishers and engineers at Baltic Street and North Machine Works under the direction of Thomas C Keay in partnership with his son William Foggie Keay. In 1925 William F. Keay became chairman and managing director on the death of his father.

James' Park Factory, Albert Street, was purchased in 1925 but was sold after Densfield Works, North Isla Street was bought in 1934. The Northern Machine Works were sold in 1937 but Lee, Croll & Co Lawside Foundry was acquired in 1938, becoming The Lawside Engineering & Foundry Co Ltd, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Thomas C Keay Ltd, in 1946. Considerable investment was made at the Lawside Foundry in the immediate post-war years. In 1955 Thomas C Keay Ltd, then owners of Baltic and Densfield Works, went public, with a capital of 210,000.

In the late 1950s the company diversified into paper sack machinery, producing the Union Special range. Looms, beaming machines and calenders were manufactured at Lawside while Densfield produced hard fibre cloth lapping, cutting and folding, bag sewing, turning and printing machines, bobbins and shuttles and paper sack machinery. Densfield Works was expanded in 1966 and a new office block was built to accommodate the head office at Baltic Street, demolished along with the mill furnishing warehouse in 1968. The same year Thomas A Colin Keay became chairman and managing director on the death of his father William F Keay.

After the end of the Second World War about three-quarters of Keay's production went for export, especially to Pakistan, and in 1967 the company received the Queen's Award for Industry for their export achievements. However, these markets soon underwent rapid contraction and efforts were made to achieve further diversification, especially at Lawside. In 1969 an agreement was made with Turner Brothers (Birmingham) Ltd, to take over the manufacture of the Turner range of power presses and a subsidiary, non-trading company, Keay-Turner Ltd, was established for marketing purposes. The following year Knowles & Co (Engineers) Ltd of Bradford, manufacturers of warpers, scourers and mercerising machines, was bought from Samuel Platt Ltd. A controlling interest was also acquired in Convertapak Machines Ltd, manufacturers of paper sack machinery in Great Yarmouth. Lack of business forced the Lawside Foundry to be closed in 1971 when the various activities there were transferred to Densfield Works.

Thomas C Keay Ltd ran into financial difficulties and in 1974 Stephen R Rowlinson, an English management consultant, acquired a controlling interest. More subsidiary companies were acquired or founded, including TCK Valves Ltd at Densfield Works. In 1975 a reorganisation took place whereby Thomas C Keay Ltd and the other companies became autonomous operations within the newly established TCK Group Ltd. In April 1977 the receiver was called into most of the group's companies, including Thomas C Keay Ltd. Attempts to find a buyer were unsuccessful and in October the machinery and plant at Densfield Works were auctioned off.


Records are arranged chronologically within series.

Access Information

Open for consultation subject to preservation requirements. Access must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation.

Acquisition Information

The records were deposited by the company in 1978 (AccM/61).


Fonds level description compiled by Sarah Chubb, Archives Hub Project Archivist, January 2002.

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Geographical Names