The Shareholders’ Records Of The Manchester Ship Canal Company

The shareholding records were transferred with the archives of the Company to GMCRO in 1983, where, although unlisted, they have been available for consultation. Dr Farnie has written this note in order to encourage their use.

During the 1980s the idea of a shareholding democracy took on a new life. This idea was not new to Lancashire but dated back at least to the 1850s in Rossendale, to the 1870s in Oldham, and to the 1880s in Manchester itself.

When the Manchester Ship Canal Company was created by a special Act of Parliament in 1885 it attracted 39,000 investors to its  shares, the largest number of shareholders ever recorded to that date in a private company. The role of the small shareholders was reaffirmed when the denomination of shares was reduced in 1926 from � to �

The Ship Canal Company differed from other joint-stock companies in so far as it was created by statute and not by simple registration under the Companies Acts. Thus it made no annual returns of its shareholders to the Registrar of Companies in London, a requirement which was mandatory for ordinary joint-stock companies. It maintained however more systematic and extensive records than ordinary companies and it enjoyed a much longer life-span.

There are five main types of shareholders’ records :

  • The Register of Shareholders

(109 vols, 6 1/2 x 15 inches, early 20th Century to 1960s) is held alphabetically in a series of loose-leaf binders. In addition to the names and addresses of the holders, notes of their occupation have been added to many of the entries. Like the other records, the Register includes administrative detail (eg Register number) intended to facilitate the work of the Company’s staff.

  • Shareholders’ Address Books

were updated annually. The earlier of the two series predates the Parliamentary approval. These 15 volumes, measuring 15 x 14 1/2 inches are difficult to date. The second series numbers 55 volumes dating from 1899 to 1956, with dimensions of 18 x 10 inches. Shareholders’ occupations are listed in both series.

  • Transfer Registers.

This series of registers (arranged chronologically) includes details of both transferor and transferee, together with the occupation of the transferee and details of the shares involved. Like the address books there are two series. One records the transfer of Ordinary shares (20 volumes) from 1919 to 1963, the other deals with Preference shares (10 volumes) from 1919 to 1961. The dimensions of both series are 24 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches

  • Registers of Probate.

This unusual series of records contains the information supplied to secure the transfer of shares following a death, or a woman’s change of name on marriage. They include the testator’s names, occupation, date of decease, the name and address of the executor, and the value of shares. Measuring 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, the 27 volumes from 1929-1970 are numbered 39-58.

  • The Dividend Books

(also arranged alphabetically) include the number of shares held, the annual dividend paid, but do not include the shareholder’s occupation. This series contains 245 volumes with at least 8 volumes per year, dating from 1919 to 1966. Before 1934 the volumes are 26 1/2 x 16 1/2inches; thereafter they are smaller at 18 x 14 inches.

Thus there is no single register of shareholders. In order to secure the maximum benefit from their use the various sets should be used in conjunction with each other.
They contain in sum an immense mine of information, which may be used for a whole variety of purposes. They may be analysed in a range of different ways, in order to throw light upon the history of individuals, families, associations, firms, municipalities, localities and regions.

Thus the names of the shareholders reveal the identity of firms, societies and associations, as well as individuals and families investing in the enterprise. Addresses may be used to suggest the local distribution of shareholdings; changes in address may reveal evidence of turnover in housing, migration and social mobility.

The large number of overseas addresses not only throws light upon the role of emigration, both temporary and permanent, but also provides a striking testimony to the world-wide commerce generated by Lancashire industry during its golden age.

Details of occupation and of changes in the style of description included in four out of five of the sets of records, may be used for purposes of social and economic analysis.

Information about preference share holdings supplies insights into the links between Manchester and the City of London, the role of such leading merchant bankers as Rothschilds and Barings, and the relationship between the Ship Canal Company and Manchester City Council.

In short, these records, which amount to about one quarter of the whole Ship Canal archive, will prove of great interest to students of history of all types and all ages. Not least will they open up profitable avenues of exploration to social and economic historians, and to students of regional and local history. Their value to students of financial history, transport history, co-operative history, and labour history is obvious They also provide material for family historians and for student’s of women’s history.

Such investigators will find most useful those registers where names are listed in alphabetical order, from whence they can trace holdings via the certificate and register numbers. The division of shares amongst family members on the decease of the original holder is one interesting feature, amongst many others to be found in these records.

Douglas Farnie