Records of Barr & Stroud Ltd, optical instrument engineers, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Ledgers, 1897-1970;
  • Cash Books, 1888-1956;
  • Outward Invoice Books, 1952-1974;
  • Letterbooks, 1893-1984;
  • Advice Books, 1970-1961;
  • Photographs of products and employees, 20th century;
  • Pans (product 770 onwards, incomplete series), 1902-1972;
  • Journals, 1895-1966;
  • Summary Accounts, 1912-1988;
  • Share Records, 1913-1977;
  • Wage and Salary Records, 1901-1930;
  • Staff Club Minutes, 1918-1920;
  • Management Committee Minutes, 1977-1983;
  • Pilkington PE Minutes, 1979-1980;
  • Optical Division Minutes, 1980-1988;
  • Memorandum and Articles of Association, 1912-1964;
  • Organisational Papers, 1920-1977;
  • Correspondence, 1892-1975;
  • Agreements (unlisted);
  • Property Records, 1917-1929;
  • Orders and Contracts, 1900-1988;
  • Technical Specifications, Progress Reports and Related Papers, 1855-1989;
  • Certificates (of examination and guarantee), 1931-1975;
  • Patent Records, 1860-1982;
  • Tracing Books, vols. 24-31;
  • Visitors' Books, 1898-1981;
  • Scrapbooks, 1895-1954;
  • Directors' papers, 1898-1930;
  • Publications, 1890-1997.

Administrative / Biographical History

Archibald Barr (1855-1931) and William Stroud became associated as early as 1888 when the two men were professors of, respectively, engineering and physics at the Yorkshire College, Leeds, England (now the University of Leeds). In that year, they responded to an advertisement in the magazine Engineering to design a short-base rangefinder for infantry use. Although the resulting design was not successful at the time, the Admiralty approached them in 1891 and invited them to submit a further design for trial.

By this time Barr had returned to the University of Glasgow, Scotland (where he had perviously been a student), as the Regius Professor of Civil Engineering & Mechanics. He continued to keep in close touch with Stroud and in  1892 , the Admiralty gave them a contract for an initial six instruments adopting their competitive design for a rangefinder. The mechanical parts of this rangefinder, known as NRF No 1, were constructed in the workshops of the instrument makers,  James White in Cambridge Street, Glasgow, later known as Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, scientific instrument makers, Glasgow. Optical parts, calibrated and designed by  Barr & Stroud as the partnership had become known, were actually made up by Adam Hilges of London, England, initially at the expense of the inventors. Stroud even set about raising funds for the project by giving popular magic lantern shows around Leeds.

In 1895 the company was renting workshop space at 250 Byres Road, Glasgow, but demand for the product soon necessitated a move to larger premises in Ashton Lane, Glasgow. By 1904 100 men were working for the company in a new purpose-built factory in Anniesland, Glasgow. Shortly thereafter, in 1909 , Stroud resigned his chair at Leeds University and moved to Glasgow to work for the company full-time and Barr, in spite of a distinguished teaching career, followed his example in 1913.

In  1912 , Barr & Stroud was incorporated as a limited liability company as  Barr & Stroud Ltd with a share capital of £500,000. In 1914 the company began extensions to the Anniesland works in order to meet the sharp increase in demand for their rangefinders that followed on the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918). The war years saw the development of other products, including a torpedo depth recorder, periscopes incorporating a rangefinder, and a dome sight for aircraft.

After the war there was a slump in business and the partners turned their attention to instruments for civil use, particularly aerial survey and mapping work, but also cinema projectors and single-sleeve valve motor cycle engines. Instruments with military applications continued to be made and developed by the company and in 1930 Barr & Stroud Ltd were awarded a contract to supply binoculars to the Royal Navy.

Following the Second World War (1939-1945), the company used its precision engineering skills to help re-equip British industry. Fast developing new technologies led to the redesign of the submarine periscope, and later the development of thermal imaging and laser rangefinders.

In 1972 Barr & Stroud Ltd undertook a further expansion in Anniesland purchasing the factory of Robert MacLehose & Co, printers to the University of Glasgow, but by 1977 they were actively looking for involvement within a larger group of companies. In the spring of  1977 , they merged with  Pilkington PE Ltd and subsequently continued to trade within the Optical Division of the Pilkington Group. In 1992 the company left their premises in Anniesland, which they had occupied since 1904 and relocated to a modern factory at Linthouse, Govan, Glasgow, to the south of the River Clyde.

In 2000, Pilikington PE Ltd became Thales Optics Ltd and in 2001, Barr & Stroud Ltd became  Thales Optronics Ltd .

Moss, Michael S and Russell, Ian,Range and Vision: the first 100 years of Barr & Stroud ( 1988  , Edinburgh )


This material is arranged into series, which consist of number of items related by function and/or format. Within series, the items are generally arranged chronologically.

Access Information

Requests for access for legal, business or commercial purposes must be referred to the company

All records are subject to a 30-year closure period

Acquisition Information

Permanent Loan : 24 June 1991 : ACCN140

Permanent Loan : Barr & Stroud Ltd : Glasgow : 12 July 1991 (Additional deposit)

Permanent Loan : 23 March 1992 : ACCN163 (Additional deposit)

Permanent Loan : 20 October 1992 : ACCN178 (Additional deposit)

Permanent Loan : 11 November 1992 (Additional deposit)

Permanentr Loan : 9 September 1996 : ACCN266 (Additional deposit)

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Indexes to photographs, negatives and plans available within the collection

Manual file level list available at the National Register of Archives in London (NRA18741)

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Any work based on the use of this material, which is intended for publication, must be submitted to the company for approval prior to that publication

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Received directly from creators in 1991-1992 via the Business Archives Council of Scotland



Related Material

GB 248 UGD 033 Records of Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, scientific instrument makers

Material in other repositories: no material related by provenance


Moss, Michael S and Russell, Ian, Range and Vision: the first 100 years of Barr & Stroud ( 1988 , Edinburgh)

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Alison Jasper, Archives Assistant, March 1998.

Updated by Jenny Bunn, 14 February 2000

Revised by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 20 December 2002

Amended by Sam Maddra, Assistant Archivist (cataloguing), 19/10/2015.