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Research Collections


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 - Board of Director's Minute Books

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

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Worcestershire Archaeological Society Collections

The Library of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society (WAS) is housed at the University.  The collection comprises of rare books, research materials and newsletters concerning the history and archaeology of the county.

Founded in 1854, WAS promotes the study of archaeology and local history in the county to Society members, researchers, students and the public.

The Society supported this study in two ways: by collecting rare books on the history and archaeology of the county and by publishing its own research materials and newsletters.

Since it began, the Society has published its Transactions, the archaeological journal of record for Worcestershire; reports on archaeological fieldwork and the study of historic buildings; and regular newsletters, all of which also form part of the collection.

The WAS collection can be consulted by both society members and the public.

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Eighteenth Century Printed Books

On loan from Worcester City Library, this collection of antiquarian books dates from the late 17th to the late 19th century, and covers chiefly history, both ancient and modern, local and international; and contemporary social commentary.

One of the earliest publications found so far is a copy of The Florentine History in VIII Books by Nicholas Machiavel, printed in London in 1674.  The latest publication in the collection dates to 1897.  Some of the later works are reprints of earlier publications.

Among the collection are:

  • Samson Agonistes, by John Milton, published in London in 1688; and Paradise Lost by the same author, published in 1695
  • A complete set of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1791; and an edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, 1824
  • Histories of France (1805, 1824 etc); the French Revolution, (1792, 1794 and 1800); and the Battle of Waterloo, (1836)
  • The Antiquities of India and History of Hindostan by Thomas Maurice, 1794; and numerous other histories of the Saracens and Hindoo/Hindu nations (1790s)
  • Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, edited by ‘Boz’ [Charles Dickens], 1839
  • Five volumes of Oxberry’s Dramatic Biography & Histrionic Anecdotes, 1825-27
  • Reprints of the 18th century diaries of Madame D’Arblay (alias Fanny Burney), 1842
  • The History of the Revolutions in Spain, 1724; and a history of the American Revolution, 1781

In addition to various publications about the history and exploration of India, Persia and southern Asia, there are works relating to Africa, France and the French Revolution, and the rest of the Mediterranean world.

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