25 Years of Business Collections in Thurso Street

25 years ago in 1989, the collections of business records (that today form the Scottish Business Archive) held by the University were moved down to the University of Glasgow Archive Services here at Thurso Street. At the beginning of October 1989, the newly re-housed collections were re-opened to keen readers.

The overcrowded Adam Smith Record Store in 1989, just before the move.

The overcrowded Adam Smith Record Store in 1989, just before the move.

The business collections had been inaugurated by Sydney Checkland, the first professor of Economic History, in 1959 and have been managed by the Service since 1975. The records were, until late summer 1989, held in the Adam Smith Record Store, in the  Adam Smith Building, but by 1989 the store had definitely reached capacity and was overflowing. The Archive Services were allocated space in the Thurso Street building that already housed the University Garage and so the records could be moved to a more spacious home. Alma Topen, who was involved, wrote about the move in 2005 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Archive. Here is how she described the difficult task of “the great move”:

“The summer of 1989 will be forever etched on my memory as a time of upheaval, stress, pain and physical exhaustion. The cause was “the great move” from the Adam Smith Building to Thurso St.

The Adam Smith Record Store was full to overflowing and finally the archives were allocated one and a half floors of the Thurso Street Building, already home to the University garage, the stores department and the library store.

The internal layout was carefully planned with the architects to provide as much storage as possible for the next 10 years, and better accommodation for staff and readers. Lack of windows is now a constant complaint from staff, but we did try to ensure the searchroom had windows. By the time the ventilation trunking went in, then the ceiling tiles, the available window space had shrunk.

The pressure was on us to vacate the Adam Smith building by the end of July to allow builders in to convert the old records store to a lecture theatre before the start of the autumn term. There was no choice but to move into Thurso St long before it was complete, much to the annoyance of the builder’s clerk of works.

The team moving records into Thurso Street repository

The team moving records into Thurso Street repository

The move had been planned for months. Several of us had been checking that all the volumes and boxes had labels on, in case anything went astray. Removal men did the actual transfer between buildings, but we packed and unpacked the crates ourselves. The move was done in stages, but the move from the out-store at Cochno House had to be coordinated to ensure the collections there could be slotted back on the shelves in the correct sequence at Thurso Street. We also had to move the plan collections and glass negative collections separately. There was a team of about 20 “extras” including some of our volunteers and students. One team stayed at the Adam Smith with me packing the orange plastic crates, while the other team was at Thurso Street with Michael doing the unpacking and shelving. 250 crates could fit in one lorry-load but these had to be stacked in the lorry with crate 250 at the back and crate 1 at the front so they came off in the right sequence.

As soon as the Link 51 contractors finished putting up a row of shelving the team rushed in and filled the shelves, then sent the empty crates back for refilling. For a while there were no lights, just temporary lights, so the job had to be done in the gloom. The old lift regularly broke down as it couldn’t cope with heavy loads of building materials and with crate loads of heavy archives. The floors were still being screeded and one night Jim Nixon was accidentally locked in when the builders left. Trying to find a way out, he opened the repository door and stepped on the newly-screeded floor (the footprint is still there). The workmen gave him a right earful the next morning for spoiling their new floor.

Michael and Derek were not too popular with the removal men as they weren’t used to working at such a fast pace or trying to barrow a stack of four crates at a time. The handles of our little barrows all bent under the weight. One Saturday morning Michael persuaded them that they could just squeeze another load in before knocking off time at lunchtime, in spite of the foreman’s protestations that he had to leave to get to his granddaughter’s birthday party!

The physical effort took its toll on all of us, with bruises, sore backs and weight loss. One member of staff, who had a job interview in Oxford, could hardly get off the train at Oxford as he had completely seized up!

The business records newly shelved in Thurso Street

The business records newly shelved in Thurso Street

The building was formally signed off and handed to University at the beginning of October and I think we reopened to the public the same day, or the day after. As the business collections had been out of use for five months, there was a five month backlog of enquiries to do and a queue of readers desperate to get back in!



Click here for more information about the Scottish Business Archive

You can find out more about the history of the Scottish Business Archive here. The Scottish Business Archive includes over 400 collections and covers a wide range of businesses and companies: from shipbuilding companies like those under Upper Clyde Shipbuilders; to carpet factories like  James Templeton & Co. Ltd. and A F Stoddard & Co.; department stores like House of Fraser; and James Finlay & Sons tea estates, to name but a few.

You can view source guides to browse the types of businesses the collection represents.

We continue to promote our business collections with blogs and twitter features like our ‘#bizhis treasures’ tweets on a Wednesday, so look out for featured collections on our social media! We also learned this week that we are to be awarded HLF funding that will allow us to further develop our textile collections.

Business Archives on display

Business Archives on display

If you would like to consult any of the business collections, please make an appointment with the Duty Archivist at: enquiries@archives.gla.ac.uk.


Categories: Archive Services

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. An eventful Summer for us all Alma, and amazing what a small team can achieve when you put your back in to it (our out of it in my case!). Here’s to another productive 25 years…


  1. Business history and archives – ABH 2017 – University of Glasgow Library

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