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Records of Kelvin and Hughes Ltd

Collection Summary

Reference Code

GB 0248 UGD 033



Extent and medium of the unit of description

0.86 metres

(3 boxes, 19 volumes)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

Kelvin and Hughes Ltd | 1947-1966 | scientific instrument manufacturers | Glasgow (Scotland) and London (England)

Biographical History

Administrative History

In 1947, the scientific instrument manufacturing firms of Henry Hughes & Son Ltd, London, England, and Kelvin Bottomley & Baird Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, came together to form Kelvin & Hughes Ltd. The origins of the company lie in the highly successful, if strictly informal, relationship between William Thomson (1824-1907), Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University from 1846-1899 and James White, a Glasgow optical maker. James White (1824-1884) founded the firm of James White, optical instrument maker in Glasgow in 1850 and was involved in supplying and mending apparatus for Thomson's university laboratory and working with him on experimental constructions. By 1854, White was already producing electrical instruments - electrometers and electrical balances - from Thomson's designs. In 1857, White entered into a short-lived partnership, White & Barr, with John Barr which lasted until 1860 when it was dissolved and White reverted to his previous company name of James White. White was actually declared bankrupt in August 1861, and then discharged four months later.

In 1870, White was largely responsible for equipping Thomson's laboratory in the new University premises at Gilmorehill. From 1876, he was producing accurate compasses for metal ships to Thomson's design, and this became an important part of his business in the last years of his life. He was also involved in the production of sophisticated sounding machinery that Thomson had designed to address problems encountered in laying cables at sea, helping to make possible the first transatlantic cable connection. At the same time, he continued to make a whole range of more conventional instruments such as telescopes, microscopes and surveying equipment. White's association with Thomson continued until he died, but without any legal deeds of co-partnery - White bearing, at least in a public sense, the financial risks of their working partnership.

After his death, his business continued under the same name, being administered by Matthew Edwards (until 1891 when he left to set up his own company) and David Reid. Thomson, who became Sir William Thomson and then Baron Kelvin of Largs in 1892, continued to maintain his interest in the business after White's death. In 1884 he raised most of the capital needed to construct and equip new workshops in Cambridge Street, Glasgow. At the Cambridge Street premises, the company continued to make the compass Thomson had designed during the 1870s and to supply it in some quantity, especially to the Admiralty. At the same time, the firm became increasingly involved in the design, production and sale of electrical apparatus.

In 1899, Lord Kelvin resigned from his University chair and became, in 1900, a director in the newly formed limited liability company, Kelvin & James White Ltd which acquired the business of James White. At the same time, Kelvin's nephew, James Thomson Bottomley (1845-1926), joined the firm. In c1904, a London branch office was opened which by c1915 had become known as Kelvin, White & Hutton Ltd.

Kelvin & James White Ltd underwent a further change of name in 1913, becoming Kelvin Bottomley & Baird Ltd. Henry Hughes & Sons was founded in 1838 in London as a maker of chronographic and scientific instruments. The firm was incorporated as Henry Hughes & Sons Ltd in 1903 and in 1923, the company produced its first recording echo sounder. In 1935, a controlling interest in the company was acquired by S Smith & Son Ltd resulting in the development of marine and aircraft instruments. Following the London office's destruction in the Blitz of 1941, a collaboration was entered into with Kelvin, Bottomley & Baird Ltd, resulting in the establishing of Marine Instruments Ltd. Following the formal amalgamation of Kelvin, Bottomley & Baird Ltd and Henry Hughes & Sons Ltd in 1947 to form Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, Marine Instruments Ltd acted as regional agents in the UK for Kelvin & Hughes Ltd who were essentially now a part of Smith's Industries Ltd founded in 1944 as the successors of S Smith & Son Ltd.

Kelvin & Hughes Ltd developed various marine radar and echo sounders, supplying the Ministry of Transport, and later Defence. The firm was liquidated in 1966 but the name was continued as Kelvin Hughes, a division of Smiths Group plc. In 2002, Kelvin Hughes continues to produce and develop marine instruments for commercial and military use.

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

The records of Kelvin and Hughes Ltd consist of:

  • production records (1876-1918)
  • financial records, James White (1881-1900)
  • miscellaneous (1902-1956)
  • inventories and valuations, Kelvin, Bottomley and Baird Ltd (1919-1928)
  • financial records, Kelvin and Hughes (Marine) Ltd (1949-1959)
  • financial records, Kelvin and Hughes Ltd (1949-1961)




Businesses and Organisations


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Components of this collection