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Research Collections

The Kays Archive

Kays Archive

Deposited by the Kays Heritage Group, the archive of Kay & Co Ltd provides a window through which to see how consumers embraced aspirational living throughout the 20th century.

Kays rose from its origins as a watch & clock shop, founded in 1794, to become a pioneer of mail order shopping and a national institution.  Kay & Co Ltd was a major employer in Worcester from 1890, when William Kilbourne Kay formed the company, until its closure in 2007.

Offering interest-free cash credit, Kays ensured that any customer could acquire the lifestyle on show in the catalogues and the growing film and media industries.

As well as material relating directly to Kays, the archive also contains material related to other companies which have a connection with Kays. For example, the Scottish Textile & Manufacturing Company.

The Kays Archive is a valuable resource to researchers in:

  • Cultural and Social History. Explore the changing representation of men, women and children, and the range of everyday goods from clothes and crockery to tea and tinsel.
  • Business History. Board minutes, company accounts and correspondence demonstrate Kays’ business model of agency selling and continuous credit.
  • Economic History. Compare the range and cost of goods available over the representative 100 years.
  • Manufacturing History. Kays promoted the development and use of artificial textiles and plastics, and sources stock from all over the world.
  • Fashion and Design. Illustrated by the layout of the catalogues themselves as well as the images of clothing, textiles and household items.

Scottish Textile & Manufacturing Company

Scottish Textile & Manufacturing Company

The Kays Archive contains the board of Directors minute books of the Scottish Textile & Manufacturing Company covering the period from the registration of the Company in 1946 through to 1965 when the mail order operation was sold to Great Universal Stores, the owners of Kays.

As a placement project, history undergraduate Niall Herbert, created a timeline from the minute books highlighting significant people and events in the company's history. The full Timeline is downloadable as a pdf at the foot of this box.

Additional Information

Post War Glasgow Context

The ‘Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society’ S.C.W.S

Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd. v. Meyer (1959)

Great Universal Stores