Catalogue descriptionRecords of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments

Details of Division within BT
Reference: Division within BT
Title: Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments

Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments of the Board of Trade and successors. Comprises:

Commercial Departments

  • Correspondence, BT 11-BT 12 and BT 35-BT 36
  • Miscellanea, BT 33
  • Commercial Relations and Export Division files, BT 241
  • Commercial Relations and Treaties Department, BT 401
  • Commodities Division files, BT 213
  • Exhibition and Fairs Branch files, BT 237
  • Imports and export licensing files, BT 73, BT 234 and BT 246
  • Export Promotion Department files, BT 225
  • Overseas Projects Group files, BT 343
  • Trading with the Enemy and Administration of Enemy Property departments, BT 216, BT 271, BT 272 and BT 273
  • Commercial services (transport), BT 193
  • International trade agreements, BT 269
  • Records relating to treaties, BT 274

Statistics, Railways, Labour Departments

Companies Department

  • Companies investigation reports, BT 397
  • Files, BT 58 and BT 299
  • Post 1963 company liquidation files, BT 325
  • Registration of companies without the word 'limited' in their title, BT 298
  • Records concerning war damage and war risks insurance schemes, BT 228
  • Registry of Business Names, BT 253
  • Companies registration policy files, BT 398
  • Indexes prepared in connection with the issue of licences to dealers in securities, BT 292

Date: 1832-1992
Separated material:

For the Commercial Department's correspondence and papers before 1863 see Division within BT

For further records of the Railway Department and of the Statistics Department while merged with the Railway and Commercial Departments see Ministry of Transport, Division within MT

For further records of the Labour Branch see LAB 2

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Board of Trade, Commercial and Statistical Department, 1872-1886

Board of Trade, Commercial Department, 1825-1872

Board of Trade, Commercial Intelligence Department, 1916-1919

Board of Trade, Commercial Relations and Exports Department, 1949-1970

Board of Trade, Commercial Relations and Treaties Department, 1919-1949

Board of Trade, Commercial, Labour and Statistical Department, 1895-1916

Board of Trade, Companies Department, 1904-1941

Board of Trade, Insurance and Companies Department, 1941-1970

Board of Trade, Labour Department, 1910-1913

Board of Trade, Railway Department, 1851-1919

Board of Trade, Statistical Department, 1832-1872

Board of Trade, Statistical Department, 1918-1945

Board of Trade, Statistics Division, 1945-1970

Companies House, 1988-

Department of Trade and Industry, Central Statistics Branch, 1970-1971

Department of Trade and Industry, Companies Division, 1983-2007

Department of Trade and Industry, Insurance and Companies Department, 1970-1974

Department of Trade, Companies Division, 1974-1983

Physical description: 37 series
Administrative / biographical background:

Commercial Departments

The Commercial, or General Department emerged during the second quarter of the nineteenth century and dealt with those questions which were not taken over by newly created specialist departments. It continued the board's main consultative and advisory functions and had special responsibility for the revision of tariffs, commercial treaties, imports and exports conferences on international law and other matters concerning commercial policy at home and abroad. In 1872 its responsibility for negotiating commercial treaties was given to the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office and that for colonial tariffs to the Colonial Office; the Commercial Department was then amalgamated with the Statistical Department.

The new Commercial and Statistical Department retained consultative functions on foreign trade, and by 1882 the duties transferred to the Foreign Office had returned. In 1886 the department began to collect labour statistics; in 1895 a Labour Branch was established and the department was renamed the Commercial, Labour and Statistical Department. In 1899 a Commercial Intelligence Branch to collect and publish information on trade and economic conditions was set up. In 1908 responsibility for industrial exhibitions was taken over from the Finance Department and given to an Exhibitions Branch.

The Labour Branch became an independent Labour Department in 1910. In 1916 the Commercial Intelligence and Exhibitions branches were merged to form a new Department of Commercial Intelligence, which dealt with the collection and dissemination of commercial information and took over administration of the Trade Commissioner Service. The department's statistical work was given to a new Statistical Department in 1918. In 1919 the Patent Office, with responsibility for patents, designs and trademarks, became a separate Industrial Property Department within the board and passed from the control of the Commercial Department, which was renamed the Commercial Relations and Treaties Department.

When the Department of Overseas Trade was abolished in 1946, a new Export Promotion Department was set up at the Board of Trade to discharge its functions. This department was merged with the Commercial Relations and Treaties Department to form a single Commercial Relations and Exports Department on 1 January 1949.

Statistics Departments

The Board of Trade began to collect statistics of corn prices and stocks after the Corn Return Act 1789. In 1832 a separate Statistical Department was created to collect, organise and publish statistics. From 1854 the Statistical Department received from the Board of Customs (and after 1919 from the Ministry of Transport) the statutory returns of inward and outward passengers on ships. This function was taken over in 1961 by the General Register Office. From 1866 annual returns were made of livestock and acreage of crops. This duty passed in 1883 to the Privy Council's Agriculture Department, and responsibility for the corn returns passed in 1892 to the Board of Agriculture.

The department was merged in 1872 with the Commercial Department and renamed the Commercial and Statistical Department. The Statistical Department again became independent in 1918 and remained so; it was renamed the Statistics Division in 1945. It published statistics for trade and industry in the United Kingdom and abroad and published the trade accounts compiled in the Board of Custom and Excise. In 1922 it took over from the Power, Transport and Economic Department the new functions of economic intelligence and review which the General Economic Department had been formed to carry out in 1918.

The Statistics of Trade Act 1947 empowered the division to take an annual census of production and to make occasional censuses of distribution and other services. It also compiled short-term production returns and statistics on wholsesale and retail trade, wholesale prices, navigation and the movement of tourists and migrants and any other subject required by the board.

Railway Departments

In 1851 a Railway Department was established which dealt with matters arising from the board's duties in connection with railways, canals, light railways, tramways and telegraphs. After 1867 it performed in addition certain secondary functions taken over from the Commercial Department, and from 1872 further functions taken over from the same department. In 1870 it assumed responsibilities, under an act of that year, concerning assurance companies. In 1881 it took on duties under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act and in 1882 duties concerning electric light. In 1896 it took over from the Harbour Department general supervision of the Standard Weights and Measures Office.

Responsibility for alkali works passed to the Local Government Board in 1873, that for assurance companies to the Finance Department in the same year, that for electric light to the Harbour Department in 1896 and those for gas and water to the same department in 1901. Also in 1901 duties relating to charters, joint stock companies, art unions, patents, designs, trademarks, merchandise marks, newspapers libels and industrial exhibitions passed to the Finance Department. Copyright functions passed to the Patent Office in 1914. The department was wound up in 1919 when the new Ministry of Transport assumed all its main functions.

Companies Department

The Board of Trade's duties under the Companies Acts, apart from those concerning liquidation, which were the concern of the Bankruptcy Department, were carried out successively by the Commercial, Railway and Finance Departments, until in 1904 a separate Companies Department was established. It took over from the Bankruptcy Department the board's duties under the Companies (Winding-Up) Act 1890. The board's duties under the Registration of Business Names Act 1916 were performed by the Companies Department, while the registration of companies under the 1844 and succeeding acts were carried out by the Companies Registration Office under its general supervision.

Between the First and Second World Wars the department had general responsibilities under the Companies Acts and was concerned with changes in company law, investigations into firms' affairs, international negotiations of insurance and company law, moneylending and (from 1939) share pushing. During the Second World War the department administered the business and private chattels scheme set up under Part II of the War Damage Act 1941. Its business now became predominantly concerned with insurance and in 1941 it was renamed the Insurance and Companies Department.

Labour Departments

A separate Labour Department was established on 1 January 1910 to perform the labour functions of the board, with branches to deal with labour statistics, trade boards, labour exchanges and conciliation and arbitration. These last functions were given to a new Chief Industrial Commissioner's Department in September 1911. In 1913 the Labour Exchanges branch of the department became a separate Labour Exchanges and Unemployment Insurance Department, renamed the Employment Department in 1916. The Labour Department's remaining sections then became the Department of Labour Statistics. In 1917 all these departments were transferred to the new Ministry of Labour.

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