The Baring Archive is one of the finest archives of a financial institution anywhere in the world. Careful record keeping, a sense of history and simple good fortune have resulted in the accumulation of this outstanding collection located in the City of London.
The Baring Archive contains material from the establishment in 1762 of the London merchant house of John & Francis Baring & Co, later known as Baring Brothers, through to the firm’s acquisition by ING.
The documents illustrate the range of Barings’ business activities. For much of the nineteenth century, the firm specialised in issuing bearer bonds for overseas governments and businesses, especially railway companies. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, work for domestic companies commenced, beginning with the flotation of Arthur Guinness Sons & Co Ltd in 1886.
In the twentieth century, when the London capital market was closed for long periods to overseas borrowers between the wars, transactions for British businesses became much more important. After 1945 corporate finance work for British businesses, banking, and fund management for pension funds, institutions and individuals formed the firm’s three principal divisions. From the late-1970s and the abolition of exchange controls, the firm’s business once more became internationally spread.
Record keeping pre 1900
Reorganisation of record keeping by Barings in the 1820s meant that, from then on, the most important records were separated from the routine and placed to one side for long term retention. They survive to the present day and good fortune means they escaped destruction by flood or fire, especially during the Blitz when the archives of many City houses were destroyed. However, this alone would not have ensured their preservation. A key element has been the concern over many generations to retain the evidence of the firm’s past achievements. The result is that in the twenty first century a remarkably complete archive of international importance survives.
In terms of volume, books of account constitute a very large part of the archives. Over the decades a few ledgers have been lost or accidentally destroyed but, with these exceptions, a complete accounting record, including transactions for Barings' account and account of clients, survives from 1762 to the 1990s. Of course formats have changed over time.
The survival of other records has not been as comprehensive. Much of the pre-1820s correspondence no longer exists. What does survive is mostly held in the Northbrook Papers which have most generously been loaned to the Archive by a member of the Baring family.
A reorganisation of the firm’s record keeping in the late-1820s meant that its most important papers were organised in a systematic way for the first time. Each year a deed box was opened to hold the most significant partners' papers created in the previous year, all bundled up and labelled appropriately. Over the years around one hundred deed boxes of papers were accumulated which today constitute the firm’s Nineteenth Century Correspondence Archive. In this section of the archive one significant gap exists. In the 1920s, due largely to a misunderstanding, pre-1870 papers relating to Canada and the USA were removed and were subsequently placed in the National Archives of Canada. The papers were microfilmed and the microfilm has since been digitised. The digital images can be consulted together with the original guide to the collection at the following link: http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_mikan_105644.
The twentieth century
In about 1900 record keeping was again reorganised when the old system broke down under the strain of an increased volume of papers. A state-of-the-art filing system was introduced for the partners' papers and became known as "Partners' Filing". As the partners negotiated the firm’s most important transactions and controlled all aspects of its operations, their filing system forms the backbone of the firm’s twentieth century archives. It comprises several thousand files stretching into the 1990s although from the 1960s its terms of reference changed when it developed as the Corporate Finance Department’s filing unit. Virtually all its files have survived from 1900 onwards.
At about the same time, the bank's administrative structure grew more complex and at the end of the nineteenth century a number of departments were formed: the Stock Office dealing with security transactions; the Dividend Department dealing with the receipt of dividends and interest and also undertaking paying agency work for governments and, later, for a few businesses; the Trustee Department; the Credit Department which handled the banking business; and so on. All created their own records. The completeness of these Department Records varies greatly but much material remains for all of them.
Deposits and Gifts
In addition to archives created by Barings, there are other papers which have either been given, loaned or, in a few instances, purchased. For the most part, these papers are grouped within the series "Deposits and Gifts". Other 'private' papers include files relating to the private business and personal affairs of individual partners. Wherever possible, they have been integrated into one series and called "Directors Private Papers".
Not just finance
A significant feature of The Baring Archive, like business archives in general, is that it contains information covering a very wide range of subjects. While there is, of course, much material of interest to economic, business and banking historians, this diversity of information means that researchers in many areas of historical study make use of them. For example, plans and drawings of the firm’s offices are of interest to architectural historians; staff papers are used by social and family historians; those relating to the financing of governments are of obvious relevance to political historians as are papers relating to clients who were statesmen; papers arising out of bond issues for railway companies and from the ownership and management of ships are used by transport and maritime historians.
Of international importance
A second important feature of the archives is their international significance, making them relevant to historians of many countries. From the outset, the firm’s business was international with clients based in all the major international trading centres. Correspondence received from overseas agents provides graphic accounts of the economy, politics and society of innumerable countries and well reflects this international dimension.