In Edwardian times Companies House was based here at Somerset House in the Strand

A bob a search

A key source for any financial detective work is the files at Companies House. Before the First World War it cost a shilling (5p) to consult the files of limited companies, which contained details such as addresses, names of directors and accounts.

Many of the Companies House files have survived. For companies that were liquidated before 1932, the files are now held by the National Archives in the BT 31 series, while the BT 34 series contains the liquidators’ accounts. As a rule of thumb, the dodgier a company was, the less informative the BT 34 files are. The National Archives also have records of legal wrangles involving these companies, mostly in the J 13 series.

For companies that were wound up after 1932 the survival of documents is more haphazard. A notable case in point is the file of the Electric Vehicle Company, the outfit that made the electrobuses. This company, subsequently renamed the Mechanical and General Inventions Company, was only struck off in 1968. Companies House still has the file: but it has been weeded to the point of irrelevance.

These are the chief companies associated with the electrobus swindle:

Gould Storage Battery Company   (BT 31/11727/90877)
Improved Electric Traction   (BT 31/11428/87822, BT 34/2077/87822)
International Motor Traffic Syndicate   (BT 31/12112/94860)
London Electrobus Company   (BT 31/17731/88381, BT 34/3229/88381)
Mechanical and General Inventions   (J 13/8025, J 13/14233, J 107/110)
Motor Car Emporium   (BT 31/15868/54970, BT 34/2804/54970, J 13/4579)
Motor Share and Investment Trust   (BT 31/12190/95700, J 13/5224)
Reorganisation and Control Syndicate   (BT 31/18940/104157, J 13/6386)
Securities Exchange   (BT 31/16786/73034, J 13/6043)

All of the main characters in the electrobus swindle operated a variety of different companies. Here’s some of the most noteworthy:

Edward Beall on his way to the Old Bailey in 1914

Edward Beall

Motor Finance Publishing   (BT 31/12163/95448)
Rubber and Oil   (BT 31/13173/108684)
Rubber and Oil Trust and Investment Corp   (BT 31/13186/108827)

Joseph Chansay

Anglo-Cuban Oil Bitumen and Asphalt Company   (BT 31/32088/114028, J 13/6100)
Anglo-Adriatic Syndicate   (BT 31/19242/107648, J 13/5727)
Axim and Tarkwa Goldfields   (BT 31/16577/68885, J 13/6115)
Aywara Rubber and Cotton Estates   (BT 31/19448/109401, J 13/6116)
Anglo-European Bank   (BT 31/31965/92546, J 13/6477)
Bissagos Oil Palm and Cotton Plantations   (BT 31/20267/118251)
Boinsu Rubber Company   (J 13/6497)
Ceylon Travancore Rubber and Tea Estates   (BT 31/19265/107836,
J 13/6151)
Essequibo Rubber and Tobacco Estates   (BT 31/19360/108631, J 13/6211)
Industrial Selections   (BT 31/12154/95353, J 13/6270)
Metropolitan and Counties Investors   (BT 31/19493/109840)
Rubber and Oil Consolidated Investments   (BT 31/332056/108594, J 13/6720)
Standard Union Trust   (BT 31/19802/113527, J 13/6745)

Demetrius J Delyannis

Demetrius Delyannis

Anglo-Continental Investment Syndicate   (BT 31/12223/96080, J 13/4989)
Anglo-Foreign Investment Agency   (BT 31/19273/107922, J 13/6727)
Atlas Banking Corporation   (BT 31/18110/93536, J 13/5002)
Cosmopolitan Publications   (BT 31/12416/98350, J 13/5470, J 14/676)
Ottoman Empire Public Works and Concessions   (BT 31/11987/93542)
Rubber Securities Press   (BT 31/13223/109238)

Edward Lehwess

Automobile Association   (BT 31/8078/58240, BT 34/1490/58240)
Asia Caoutchouc Trust   (BT 31/13508/113908)
Commercial and Financial Agency   (BT 31/19373/108717, J 13/6866)
Edinburgh and District Motor Omnibus   (BT 31/11403/87535, BT 34/2073/87535, J 13/4766)
Lee Syndicate   (BT 31/19238/107610, J 13/6290)
Maikop European and General Oil Trust   (BT 31/19400/108930, J 13/5958)
Marovoay Rice Lands   (BT 31/20335/118934)
Modern Traffic Development Corporation   (BT 31/11811/91692)
Motor Coach Syndicate   (BT 31/11364/87098, BT 34/2065/87098)
National Motor Mail Coach   (BT 31/11459/88150, BT 34/2083/88150, J 13/4585)
Newfoundland Oil (Parent) Development   (BT 31/13220/109187, J 13/5984)
Provincial Carriers   (BT 31/10299/77389)
Rapid Road Transit   (BT 31/17606/86552, J 13/4368, J 14/546)
Reliance Motor Transit   (BT 31/11437/87926)
South Sumatra Rubber Estates   (BT 31/19388/108862, J 13/6051)
Standard Oil Company of Maikop (Schirvanski)   (BT 31/19471/109600)
Victoria (Malaya) Rubber Estates   (BT 31/19259/107800, J 13/7131)

Captain John Taylor

City of Monte Video Public Works Corporation   (BT 31/18958/104435, J 13/5831)
Steele Lockhart   (BT 31/12522/99693)

The National Archives also has a series of files compiled for the London Road Car Company, mostly extracted from the records in Companies House. They include: London Electrobus Company (RAIL/1078/14), London Power Omnibus Company (RAIL 1078/18), Rapid Road Transit (RAIL 1078/29), Thomas Tilling (RAIL 1078/31), Vanguard Motor (RAIL 1078/32) and a report on motor bus promotions (RAIL /1078/45)

Files on French-registered companies are at Les Archives Nationales du Monde de Travail (at Roubaix). They include the Compagnie Française de Voitures Electromobiles (65 AQ Q 131) and the Compagnie Générale des Omnibus (65 AQ Q 368). There is also a file on the London Electrobus Company (65 AQ Q 279).

The records of the Asiatic Banking and Trading Corporation (an unnumbered company) are in the Guernsey Registry, while the board minutes of the Westminster Electricity Supply Corporation, which supplied electricity to the electrobus company, are in the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA/4278/01/560).

The Guildhall Library has Stock Exchange files on applications to list shares for the London Electrobus Company (Ms 18000/108B/0058), the Edinburgh and District Motor Omnibus Company (Ms 18000/528/106b), the Victoria (Malaya) Rubber Estates (Ms 18000/59/128B), Rubber and Oil Consolidated Investments (Ms 18000/291/129B) and South Sumatra Rubber Estates (Ms 18000/601/142B).

Various other publications contain details about companies, again mostly culled from the records at Companies House. They include the Directory of Directors, Investors’ Guardian, the Stock Exchange Yearbook and Emile Garcke’s Manual of Electrical Undertakings.

The National Archive has many other relevant records. They include files on Motor Car Act 1903 (HO 45/10323/129649), which contains protests about motor buses, the Street Noise Abatement Committee (HO 45/9999/A48242), racecourse ruffians (HO 144/10430) and an exchange with the Swiss government in 1918 about Lehwess’s luggage: Germany: prisoners (FO 383/441).

A number of official reports are available at both the National Archives and the British Library. They include the
reports of Royal Commission on London Traffic, Cd 2597, 1905, and Cd 2987, 1906; the Select Committee on Cabs and Omnibuses, House of Commons, C 295, 1906; the reports of the Board of Trade’s London Traffic Branch, 1908 Board of Trade Cd 4379, 1908; Cd 4988, 1909 and Cd 5472, 1910. The report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Lords 1979, HL 35. The home secretary of the day was Herbert Gladstone. His semi-official papers are in the British Library: Add MS 46096.

Crime and punishment

Background papers relating the trials of Ernest Terah Hooley and Henry John Lawson are also in the National Archives (CRIM 1/94 and MEPO 3/163) while transcripts of various trials at the Old Bailey are available online ( as well as at the National Archives. They include:

Edward Beall and others, fraud 23 October 1899, reference t18991023-715;
Henry John Lawson and Ernest Terah Hooley, fraud, 14 November 1904 reference t19041114-52;
William Charles Hart Saxeby (Saxby) libel, 31 May 1910, reference t19100531-73;
Charles Edward Hogg, 27 June 1911, fraud, reference t19110627-76;
Ernest Terah Hooley, fraud 30 January 1912, reference t19120130-48.

Local authority records

The East Sussex Record office has minutes of the Brighton Tramways Committee, the Brighton Watch Committee, the Eastbourne Motor Omnibus Committee, the Eastbourne Watch Committee, the Hove Traction Committee, and the Hove Watch Committee as well as records of inquests held by Brighton coroners. There are frequent mentions of the electrobus in these records. The electrobus company wrote to dozens of councils in the summer of 1908 trying to persuade them license electrobuses. Traces of this correspondence survive in the records of Blackpool Corporation’s watch committee (21 August 1908), the correspondence of the town clerks in Burnley and Cambridge City Council, the minutes of Loughborough Town Council and the minutes of Torquay’s Improvement and Licensing Committee.

Location, location

An electrobus, photographed outside Lehwess’s house in Holland Park Avenue in 1906

Doorstepping is the traditional way for journalists to find out what is going on at a particular address.  A visit to an address can often provide important clues to the sometimes unacknowledged relationships between companies and individuals. More than a century after the event a physical visit may not yield much information. But it is still possible to trace the use of an address from the surviving historical records. Rating books may contain descriptions of premises, and name landlords and tenants as well as giving details of rates paid and any arrears. The City of Westminster Archives has a virtually complete run of the council’s biannual rate books, while some others survive in the archives of Camden, Kensington and Chelsea and Lambeth. Other useful sources are street directories, telephone books, the Census and for individuals the census and the electoral roll, From this virtual doorstepping, it is possible to identify where the photograph (right) was taken.

Online sources

There is a wealth of material about the development of industry and manufacturing at the invaluable Graces Guide.
The family history websites Ancestry and Findmypast have huge collections of records, mostly relating to individuals, including passenger lists and immigration records, street directories and telephone books.
The Crittenden Automotive Library has a substantial collection of motoring-related material.
Official notices, including bankruptcies and company liquidations, can be found in the London Gazette.
There is a large collection of street directories at the University of Leicester.
National Library of Scotland has many large-scale maps, including both Ordnance Survey and fire insurance maps.