Company Registration Records
Company Registration Records
Companies can be incorporated (given their legal corporate status) in one of three ways: by Royal Charter; by act of parliament; and by registration with the Register of Companies. This guide is concerned with records of the third, and commonest, method: registration. It covers:
- Registration of Companies in Scotland (from 1856 to the present day)
- Dissolved Company Files (BT2)
- Registers of Companies (BT1)
- If you can't find the file you are looking for
- Other Business Records
Company registration records contain important information about Scottish companies but it is important to understand that they are not the records of the companies themselves. They are the official records relating to the regulation of the companies throughout their existence and are of great value to historians.
Registration of companies in Scotland began in 1856 with the creation of the post of Registrar of Companies in Edinburgh. The first registration took place on 23 August 1856 when the Daily Bulletin Company Ltd was established in Glasgow to publish two newspapers, 'The Daily Bulletin' and 'The Workman'.
Each company is given a unique company number on registration, starting with number 1 (The Daily Bulletin Company) and more than 375,000 Scottish companies have been registered up to the present day. The Registrar of Companies for Scotland is now an official of Companies House, an Executive Agency of the United Kingdom government.
The main records are the files kept for each registered company since 1856. A company's file usually contains the following documents:
- memorandum of association, giving details of the constitution and aims of the company
- certificate of incorporation
- statement of capital
- notice of the registered office address
- particulars of directors and secretaries
- annual returns, which contain details of share capital and lists of shareholders
- dissolution documents, including a Return of the Final Winding-up Meeting, copy of the Court Order for compulsory winding-up, or certificate of notice in the Edinburgh Gazette, as appropriate.
A company's file is updated with changes of company names and registered addresses until it is officially dissolved. On dissolution, the file is closed and is held by Companies House for a period of 20 years. Only then are they added in the national archive collection. We usually receive a yearly deposit of dissolved company files. For example, in 2009, we received the files of all Scottish registered companies dissolved in 1988.
Over the years many files on notable companies have been deposited. Examples include:
- Third Lanark Athletic Club Ltd (the first major Scottish football club to be declared bankrupt and dissolved)
- Nobel's Explosives Company Ltd (established to manufacture dynamite and other blasting materials invented by Alfred Nobel).
Dissolved company files are found in our Board of Trade series (reference BT2) and are consulted in the Historical Search Room. Many are out-stored and require one full working day's notice to be produced so please contact us in advance of a visit to check the location of files to be viewed. All files are fully open to public inspection.
You can search for dissolved company files on the catalogue using reference "BT2" and the name of the company. You can also search for files by the year they were dissolved by entering a date range in the dates from and dates to boxes.
Up to the end of 1979 all dissolved company files are in the original paper format. In 1980 Companies House started to copy files onto microfiche, and from 1980 onwards most files are seen in the microfiche version.
For companies dissolved between 1856 and 1967 our file reference numbers simply consist of: the overall series reference (BT2); and the official company number. For example, the reference number for the Nobel's Explosives Company Ltd file is BT2/729.
For companies dissolved between 1967 and 1979 the reference numbers consist of: the overall series reference (BT2); the year the company was dissolved; and a number reflecting the order in which it was dissolved in that year. For example, the reference number for the Third Lanark Athletic Club Ltd file is BT2/1972/217.
For companies dissolved after 1979 the reference numbers consist of: the overall series reference (BT2); the year the company was dissolved; and the official company number. For example, the reference number for the Aberdeen Eel Company Ltd file is BT2/1986/44920.
A secondary source of information is the Registers of Companies which are found in the Board of Trade series (reference BT1). The registers are arranged chronologically and contain basic information on each company registered including:
- company number
- nature of business
- dates of incorporation and dissolution
- registered office address.
The registers are consulted in the Historical Search Room and are included in the catalogue. Unfortunately, it is not possible to search the catalogue to identify registers containing information on individual companies.
If you can't find a dissolved company file listed on the catalogue there could be several explanations:
- the company is still active
- the company has not been officially dissolved or was dissolved less than 20 years ago
- the company was not registered in Scotland but in another part of the United Kingdom (even if the company carried out some business in Scotland we will not hold the file unless it was registered in Scotland)
- the company was not registered - smaller firms, in particular, may never have been registered as companies.
- the company was established by royal charter (chartered companies)
- the company was established or by Act of Parliament (statutory companies), for example, most private railway companies were statutory companies.
If the company is active or was dissolved less than 20 years ago you can contact Companies House for further information. The National Archives holds selected files for companies registered in England and Wales which were dissolved more than 20 years ago.
In addition to these official records of dissolved companies we holds a wealth of records created by companies during the course of their business. These notably include the records of railway companies in the BR series (further information is provided in our Railway Records guide), and of manufacturing firms such as the world famous Carron Company, ironfounders, Falkirk (GD58).
You will also find much information about individual businesses amongst court records, in particular the records of the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court. The simplest way to look for records of businesses is to search our catalogue.
If you are interested in the location of other business records you can consult the Scottish Archive Network catalogue and the National Register of Archives (now available through The National Archives' Discovery service) to find out if any material survives and where it is held.