Records of Horsley Smith and Co Ltd

Scope and Content

The records of this timber firm cover almost one hundred years of the operation of Horsley Smith and Co. Ltd. in Hull. The earliest records in the collection are tenancy agreements with the Hull Dock Company and some correspondence related to the firm's tenancy on land on the north side of Queen's Dock and the south side of Victoria Dock. The 1872 deed of partnership between Joseph Henry Horsley and Alexander Smith is in the collection as well as an 1888 note of a conversation between the two men. There is also the partnership account book 1872-1900 and other banking papers. The 1901 sale documents for the company are in the collection and post-1901 records include minute books of directors' meetings 1901-1950, details of dividends and investments from 1901 as well as the share ledger and register of members 1901-1939 and a bank book covering the same decades. In addition there is material on Russian timber shipment and prices, a number of papers related to the retirement and pension of J Fletcher and a copy of an article by I M Horsley on the company dated 1968.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Henry Horsley (1850-1917) was the only surviving son of Henry Palmer Horsley and his wife Sarah Hick and Alexander Smith (1849-1927) was the fifth son of John Smith and Eleanor Cochran. They were both apprenticed to Bryson, Jameson and Co. when they began setting up a partnership in 1871. They leased land and offices from Hull Dock Company at Queen's Dock and then Victoria Dock from 1873. They imported all kinds of timber largely for the building trade and ship building and they continued to expand their premises, leasing more land in 1891 (Horsley Smith and Jewson, Horsley Smith and Company, chpt.1; Bellamy, 'Some aspects of the economy of Hull', ii, appendix ix).

In 1901 the business was officially sold for over £160,000 to become a limited company. However, it remained very much a family affair. Three of Joseph Henry Horsley's sons were governing directors after his death in 1917 and through to their own deaths in the 1930s. His daughter, Lucy Adelaide Horsley (1879-1957) married Alexander Smith's son, Alexander Alec-Smith (1877-1952), who was director of the company from 1901 to 1952 and chairman from 1927 to 1952. His own son, Rupert Alexander Alec-Smith was briefly a director and he is chiefly remembered for founding the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire and attempting to preserve Georgian buildings and fittings in Hull and the East Riding especially in the post-war period. His papers are at DAS and DAS/29/73-5 comprises six plans of the premises of Horsley Smith and Co in 1887. Alexander Smith's two other sons were also directors; one of them, Douglas Main Smith acting in this capacity from 1927 to 1938. Horsley family involvement with the firm continued into the next generation with two of Joseph Henry Horsley's grandchildren sitting on the board at different times. Derek Palmer Horsley was chairman from 1952 to 1967 (Horsley Smith and Jewson, Horsley Smith and Company, chpt.1).

Horsley Smith and Co specialised in softwood and during the 1930s did a lot of trade with Russia. The firm also branched out, forming a company in London in 1926 and increasing their ties with J A Hewetson and Co. Ltd., a flooring firm, in the same year, so becoming involved in the hardwood trade as well. During the second world war and for seven years after the company was subject to controls and quotas, but in 1952 the firm returned purely to private business. In 1964 the company went public and changed its name to Horsley Smith Group Ltd. In 1968 it merged with Jewson and Sons Ltd. to become Horsley, Smith and Jewson Ltd. and in 1969 the last remaining timber stocks were cleared from Victoria Dock after almost one hundred years on the same site (Horsley Smith and Jewson, Horsley Smith and Company, chpts.2ff).

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Business records subject guide

Custodial History

Deposited by International Timber Softwoods Ltd., Hedon Road, Hull, 5 September 1978

Related Material

Papers of Rupert Alec-Smith [U DAS]

Photographs deposited by Col. Alec-Smith [C DFA]


  • Bellamy, Joyce, 'Some aspects of the economy of Hull in the nineteenth century with special reference to business history' (PhD, University of Hull, 1965) 2 vols.
  • Horsley Smith & Jewson Ltd., Horsley Smith and Company 1871-1971 (1971)