Barlow of Thornby Papers
Scope and Contents
1. Provenance and significance of the collection
The papers in this collection document the varied interests of several generations of the Barlow family of Thornby, Northants, between c. 1850 and 2015, with some material going back to the 18th century.
The collection is of considerable interest to a wide range of research: to social historians, as charting the rise of a yeoman and merchant family over several generations; to political historians, as covering the careers of two M.P.s, one a Liberal (1892-1918), the other first a Liberal (1945-49), then a Conservative (1951-66), and the social and political concerns of Anna, Lady Barlow (1873-1965), who was active as a Liberal and in the Quaker peace movements throughout the first half of the twentieth century; and above all, the collection will be interesting to economic historians as it charts the rise of a local merchant family business into an overseas trade organisation of international standing at the height of the British Empire, its fate during two World Wars and its transformation from a colonial to a post-colonial enterprise. The papers afford detailed evidence of the fluctuations in British overseas trade, especially the rise and fall of the cotton industry, the tea trade, the growth of the Malaysian rubber and palm oil industry, and the emergence of an independent Malaysian economy during the second half of the twentieth century.
2. The Barlow family
Thomas Barlow (1825-1897) was the youngest of seven children of John Barlow, a Quaker of Alderley Edge in Cheshire. In 1848 he founded the firm Barlow & Co. in Manchester, manufacturing and trading in textiles in the UK. From the mid-1850s the firm started importing cotton from America and began exporting textiles to India and the Far East. In 1864 he founded Thomas Barlow & Bro. and during the 1870s and 1880s established his own trade agencies in Calcutta, Shanghai and Singapore to export goods from the UK, to import tea and coffee, and to acquire his own plantations in these regions. Thomas Barlow married in 1855 Mary Ann Emmott, the daughter of another Quaker entrepreneur at Disley near Stockport, and settled at Torkington Lodge in Hazel Grove, near Sandbach.
During the last two decades of the 19th century Thomas’s eldest son John Emmott Barlow (1857-1932) began to steer the family firm away from textiles to develop its interests in agency work, in the export of iron and steel, and in tea and coffee, which led to the acquisition of a bonded tea warehouse in London. In 1891 the Barlows took over the ailing textile importers Scott & Co. in Singapore and began to extend their business to coffee estates. When the crop failed in the late 1890s, business was diverted to planting rubber trees. In 1906 a number of estates combined to form the Highlands and Lowlands Para Rubber Co., with Sir Frank Swettenham as chairman and the firm Barlow & Co. as its agents in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, while the partnership of Thomas Barlow & Bro. acted as Secretaries in England. John Emmott Barlow also had strong political interests. He was, like his brother Frank, a member of Cheshire County Council, and was later elected an alderman. In 1892 he became Liberal M.P. for Frome, Somerset, and retained the seat, with one brief interruption, until 1918. In 1907 he was made a Baronet. His wife, the Hon. Anna Maria Barlow (née Denman, 1873-1965) shared his political interests and campaigned with him and for him. They took a keen interest in labour affairs, the cause of the temperance movement and in Free Trade, and were close friends of Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Anna Maria Barlow also campaigned for the women’s suffrage movement and in 1922 stood herself (unsuccessfully) for Parliament. As Quakers they were opposed to conscription in the First World War and sent their two sons to a Quaker college in the United States. Anna Maria Barlow especially was tireless in her efforts to promote international understanding and reconciliation during and after the First World War; to this end she maintained an extensive correspondence with influential figures throughout Europe. Also noteworthy among Anna Maria Barlow’s papers is her correspondence with her brothers Sir Richard Denman, M.P. and friend of Lord Beveridge, and Thomas, Lord Denman, Governor General of Australia at the time when the foundation stone for Canberra was laid.
The inter-war years saw a further decline of the British textile business and increasing problems for tea plantations, due to the rise of Indian nationalism and civil war in China. Of John Emmott Barlow’s two sons Sir John Denman Barlow (1898-1986) inherited his father’s political ambition. He was M.P. (Liberal) for Eddisbury 1945-49 and then Conservative M.P. for Middleton and Prestwich 1951-66. John Denman Barlow married Lady Diana Kemp and settled at Bradwall Hall, Sandbach.
John Emmott Barlow’s second son, Thomas Bradwall Barlow (1900-1988), whose papers are the most extensive in the collection, spent his entire working life in the family firm. At the beginning of his career he spent six months in Kuala Lumpur before joining the London office, and developed a lasting interest in the rubber industry. This, and the depression of the 1930s, led to the closure of the Barlow agencies in Calcutta and Shanghai, leaving their interests concentrated on the Malay peninsula and in rubber, though fluctuations in the market led to experiments and diversification into other crops, such as copra and palm oil. The Japanese occupation of Malaya during the Second World War closed down the estates and scattered staff, many of whom perished during internment. Post-war reconstruction was made difficult by the communist insurgency of 1948 and the ensuing state of emergency. Nevertheless, rubber production resumed profitably, and the companies were able to invest in improved living quarters and facilities for staff and labourers. During the 1950s the Barlows also diversified their business by ventures in Africa, investing in a tea company in Nyasaland [Malawi] and in a saw mill and rubber trading in Nigeria.
British Malaya became independent in 1957, and in 1963 the Federation of Malaysia was formed. In the meantime many small rubber plantations, which had suffered in the Emergency period, were amalgamated with larger ones. Thomas Bradwall Barlow, now chairman of Highlands and Lowlands, led the way by strengthening the company through mergers and expansion; by 1961 it had become one of the largest plantation companies in the world, with 24 estates and 60,000 acres of rubber and oil palm plantations. Having pioneered the production of oil palms, it also became a pioneer in scientific research and in the training of its local workforce. At the same time, Barlow & Co. had developed into the fifth biggest agency house in Malaysia; in 1965 it became one of the three largest by merging with one of its rivals, Bousteads. In 1970 the Malaysian government established its ‘Outline Perspective Plan’, leading to the ‘New Economic Plan’ setting out its aim of increasing national participation in all companies and fields of economic activity. The Barlow companies co-operated with this policy, so that by 1973 40% of Highlands and Lowlands managers were of Malaysian origin, and in 1974 its taxation and exchange control residence was transferred to Malaysia. Half its board of directors resigned and made way for Malaysian appointments. Two years later it was re-registered as a Malaysian company. By about 1981 the process of ‘Malaysianisation’ was completed, leaving Barlow Holdings and Majedie Investments as purely investment companies.
Thomas Bradwall Barlow married in 1943 Elizabeth Margaret Sackville-West (1911-1988). They settled in Thornby, Northamptonshire, and had a son and a daughter. Their son, Henry Sackville Barlow (b. 1944) went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge and, after an accountancy training in England, joined the family firm in Kuala Lumpur. Together with his father he was instrumental in seeing through the transformation of the Barlow business into a Malaysian-owned concern and in exploring new business opportunities in the Far East. There is also a small collection of papers of Thomas Bradwall Barlow’s daughter, Anna Elizabeth Barlow (b. 1949).
John Emmott Barlow’s fourth child, Anna Elizabeth Barlow (1905-76), married Humphrey Davie (-Thornhill, 1905-c.1993) in 1930. The collection includes a small quantity of her family correspondence.
- Barlow family of Thornby (Family)
Conditions Governing Access
Subject to the terms of the donation, access to papers after 1969 requires the permission of Mr Henry S. Barlow (P.O. Box 10139, Postcode 50704, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or E-mail at email@example.com).
Additionally, access to some items is restricted under data protection legislation. These restrictions are marked on the catalogue.
Most of the papers are in good condition. In a few cases, where indicated, papers are currently awaiting conservation and therefore not available to readers.
177 archive box(es) (177 archive boxes of papers, 82 volumes and 9 scrolls)
82 volume(s) (177 archive boxes of papers, 82 volumes and 9 scrolls)
9 rolled item(s) (177 archive boxes of papers, 82 volumes and 9 scrolls)
Language of Materials
The collection arrived in a largely unsorted state. During the initial cataloguing it was first divided into sub-archives, i.e. archives of the main representatives of the family. Within each sub-archive, the papers were then sorted according to document type as shown below.
Personal papers: Correspondence, diaries, journals and notebooks, childhood memoirs, papers relating to school education, hunting and horse riding, dogs, personal expenses, local issues, memberships of associations and societies, travel documents, collections of press cuttings and miscellaneous printed items.
Domestic and estate papers: Domestic expenses, account books, wage books, inventories; papers relating to estate management, farming and livestock at Torkington, Bryn-eirias, Bradwall and Thornby; papers relating to local and regional issues.
Legal papers and related documents: Deeds, wills, papers relating to the administration of wills, family trusts and settlements, birth/marriage/death certificates, case papers, solicitors’ bills etc.
Personal and family finance: Papers relating to personal taxation, life assurance, investments, bank accounts etc.
Political papers: Correspondence, press cuttings, scripts/notes of speeches, pamphlets, bills, election circulars and memoranda. There is a significant collection of political pamphlets from the inter-war period in AMB’s archive.
Business papers: Correspondence, notebooks, memoranda, directors’/partners’ files, board meeting agenda and minutes, company reports and accounts, statements of shares and investments, trade accounts, papers relating to employees and to business visits in Canada, Africa, India, Ceylon, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
Family history: Pedigrees, genealogical notes, letters and papers of ancestors.
Photographic and other pictorial material: Albums and loose photographic prints and/or negatives of members of the family from c.1850. There is a considerable amount of photographic material showing sites in China, Singapore, India, Ceylon, Malaysia, Canada and the USA from c. 1890. The Malaysian plantation photographs, c.1909-1955, are of particular interest).
Since the collection is largely concerned with a family business, a clear-cut distinction between document types has in some cases been difficult or impossible. The distinction between business finance and personal/family finance is often an artificial one. Likewise, papers relating to family settlements and trusts could be placed either among personal/family finance or among legal documents and related papers; the latter was preferred, as such papers are usually connected to wills and their administration. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the above divisions will help users to navigate this very extensive collection.
A note on numbering: The catalogue contains hierarchical reference numbers and call numbers for the bundle, file or volume (the original assigned numbers). Both numbers should be used when requesting items.
In 2017, it was noted that not all the original bundle, file or volume numbers (these are the call numbers) were in use. It appears that some bundles had been merged together under one call number, after the call numbers were assigned. There were no bundles, files or volumes numbered: 47, 49, 55-56, 58-59, 126, 142, 145, 188, 191, 221, 223, 237, 243, 268, 274, 301, 303, 325, 346, 348, 350, 394, 404, 430, 438, 441, 454-455, 666, 674, 764-767, 1041, 1058 and 1191. It was also noted that the numbers 1406-1414 had not been used, and that 689 had been used twice.
Additionally item 324 (The Muar River Rubber Co. Ltd: directors’ report, statement of accounts and chairman's review, 1961) was deaccessioned in 2017 as it was an exact duplicate of a report in Barlow 5/6/9/18/5/2 (part of 1032).
The Barlow Family Papers were received in several accessions from 1989-2015. The first papers were deposited by Henry S. Barlow in January 1989, with a further deposit in August 1993 (28 boxes). More material arrived in May 1994, and in 1998 the deposit was converted into an outright gift to the Library.
In November 1999 further papers were received from Barlow business premises in Manchester. These were personal, estate and business papers of John Denman Barlow, the greater part of which was transferred to the Cheshire Record Office, to Manchester Archives and Local Studies at the Central Library, Manchester, and to Bury Archive Service.
A fifth deposit, containing mainly minute books of the older rubber companies (1904-87) and personal diaries (1962-98) of Henry S. Barlow, arrived in February 2001 from the offices of Majedie Investments plc in London. Due to their late arrival, these papers were not included in the first edition of this catalogue, produced in 2001. They were subsequently incorporated in March 2004.
Two files relating to the Cotton Board and Ceylon Upcountry Tea Estate Ltd were received from Cheshire Record Office in Feb. 2003.
In Dec. 2006 papers relating to rubber estates, plantations, reports and accounts, were presented by Barlow Services Company.
Henry Sackville Barlow deposited his diaries and related files in December 2008, August 2010, January 2013 and July 2015.
A catalogue of the Barlow papers was produced in 2001, with additions made in 2004. Numbers (now the call numbers) were assigned to bundles, files and volumes as the cataloguers encountered them. The structure of the catalogue was communicated by the layout of the descriptions under headings on the printed page, so that the reference numbers did not correspond to the structure of the catalogue.
In 2017, a hierarchical numbering system was added to the catalogue in preparation for the catalogue to be made available online. At this point, all additional material received since 2004 was added to the catalogue.
- Language of description
- Script of description