Vickers Ltd: Records

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains papers relating to the company as a whole, especially high-level minutes and legal and accounting papers, but has less comprehensive coverage of manufacturing activities at the Works, both at home and abroad. The bulk of the collection covers the period 1870-1970, and includes records of Armstrong-Whitworth. The material includes papers, photographic negatives and cinefilm.

There are several important series within the collection. These include papers relating to the Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture and Trading in Arms, which was set up by the government in 1935, and prompted the collection and analysis of detailed information on the company's trading in armaments. There are also quarterly reports, 1928-1962, submitted by each of the Works to Vickers House, detailing in standard form matters such as orders received in the quarter period, deliveries made, prospects for the next quarter, labour relations, numbers of employees and many other details, including the names of visitors. The collection also contains envelopes left by J.D. Scott after he had completed writing Vickers, a history in 1962. These papers, brought together from inside and outside the company, cover many aspects of its history. More recent history is covered by the firm's original files. There is a series concerning the nationalisation, de-nationalisation and then re-nationalisation of the English Steel Corporation Ltd between 1949 and 1967. The negotiations leading up to the aircraft merger and the formation of the British Aircraft Corporation Ltd in 1960 are also covered in these files, as is the acquisition of Roneo Ltd, Algraphy Ltd and R.W. Crabtree and Sons Ltd.

The documents are numbered from 1 to 700 and divided into sections: increases and decrease in share capital of Vickers (1-25); papers of Count Leon Ostrorog, European Legal Advisor (26-56); Arms Commission papers (57-147); quarterly reports (148-283); aviation matters (284-456); steel nationalisation, de-nationalisation and re-nationalisation (457-477); McKinsey enquiry (478-480); acquisitions and disposals (481-500); Suez Canal Base (501); Millbank Tower construction finance (502-503); shipbuilding matters (504-517); J.D. Scott's envelopes (518-916); stock of J.D. Scott's and Sir Harold Evans' histories of Vickers (1000); book collection (letter books, minute books, etc.) (1001-1489); accounts books (1490-1868); photograph albums (2000-2027); photographs (2100-2590); artillery plans (2700). The cinefilm and the extensive collection of photographic negatives are numbered in separate sequences.

In addition, the collection contains microfilms of certain Vickers material. These include correspondence, relating mainly to directors whose files have been destroyed. There is also a series of 35 films, containing the full company records of the Airship Guarantee Company Ltd, the Vickers subsidiary set up to build the Airship R100 at Howden between 1924 and 1929.

The later, supplementary material includes correspondence, brochures, registers, manufacturers' drawings, maps, pamphlets, periodicals, plans, posters, programmes, reports and visitors books. There are also photographs and papers of Siegmund (or Sigmund) Loewe, who worked for both Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Vickers, and of his family, 1882-1914.

Administrative / Biographical History

Vickers, Sons & Company Ltd was formed in 1867. It was based initially in Sheffield, where the head office was attached to the steelworks at the River Don Works. The company did not have a London address until it acquired the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company Ltd in 1897, and inherited a suite of offices at 32 Victoria Street. In its early years the company concentrated on the production of high quality steel castings. By the start of the twentieth century, however, it was producing a wide range of military equipment. Vickers expanded into other areas, acquiring the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company, and building the first British submarine and airship. By 1911 there was a need for a stronger presence near Whitehall, which had become the company's major customer, and the head office moved from Sheffield to extensive premises in Broadway, Westminster, which were named Vickers House. During these years the company developed a wide variety of military aircraft, and it was a Vickers Vimy that completed the first non-stop Atlantic crossing in 1919.

In 1927 Vickers merged with the greater part of the company Armstrong-Whitworth of Newcastle to form Vickers-Armstrongs. Armstrong's had been formed by W.G. Armstrong, later Lord Armstrong, who established an engineering works on Tyneside in 1847 to manufacture his newly-invented hydraulic machinery. The firm had developed on similar lines to Vickers, producing a range of different guns, before expanding into naval ships and the car and truck business. It had become (Sir W.G.) Armstrong, Whitworth & Company Ltd (or Armstrong-Whitworth) following a merger with the business of Sir Joseph Whitworth in 1897.

Vickers-Armstrongs was involved heavily in the rearmament programme in the lead up to the Second World War, during which time the company played the major role in rearming the British Army. During the war the company moved its head office to three large Victorian houses on Bathwick Hill, Bath, close to where many Admiralty departments had taken up war-time occupation. The head office returned to Westminster in 1945, remaining there until moving to Millbank Tower in 1963. After the war the company had four main areas of manufacture: aircraft, steel, shipbuilding and general engineering. Post-war, Vickers was responsible for the production of the first British nuclear submarine, the first British V-bomber and the Viscount and VC10 airliners.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from the Head Office of Vickers plc, Millbank, in 1985. Later deposits of supplementary material were made between 1991 and 1997.

Note

Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The history of the company was compiled with reference to the website of Alvis Vickers Limited (www.vickersdefence.co.uk/).

Other Finding Aids

A handlist is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. A computer database is also available to staff, and may be searched on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of material for which Vickers plc (and hence now Rolls-Royce plc) hold copyright are available subject to the signing of a written undertaking, available from the Library, acknowledging that the material is reproduced by permission of Vickers and the University Library. Requests to publish material should be made in writing to the Library.

Accruals

It is intended that material concerning later events, such as the nationalisation of aircraft and shipbuilding in 1977, and the merger with Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd in 1980, should be included in future deposits. In addition, the Ministry of Defence has required that records dealing with defence products still in operational service, such as Polaris submarines and the Chieftain and related tanks, should not be included until their security rating can be de-classified. These records will also be covered by later deposits.

Related Material

The Works had their own collections of archives, the contents of which were mainly technical in nature. Surviving documents are now in the Tyne and Wear Archives Service, the Sheffield City Libraries, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Air Force Museum.

Bibliography

An important section of the collection is described in L.A. Ritchie, The shipbuilding industry: a guide to historical records (Manchester, 1992). J.D. Scott's Vickers: a history (London, 1963) draws heavily on the collection.

Personal Names