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Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/B/181
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives - click here to see details of the physical location of collection
Date(s): 1865-1991
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 557 production units.
Name of creator(s): Press Association Ltd


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Press Association was founded in 1868 as a limited company. It was formed by provincial newspapers acting together in a cooperative venture to organise their own collection and supply of national and foreign news to their newspapers outside London. In forming the Press Association, its founders sought to produce a more accurate and reliable alternative to the monopoly service of the telegraph companies. Through their co-operation, they wanted to provide a London-based service of news-collecting and reporting with correspondents in all the major towns. The Press Association copy is always anonymous. There was a Board of seven directors, who were themselves directors, managers or editors of regional papers. There was also a Finance Committee of three directors, and a Consultative Committee which consisted of members of the Board and five previous directors. The chief executive was the general manager. Other officers included the editor, the secretary and assistant general manager, and the telecommunications manager. It was based in the Strand (1868-70), 7 Wine Office Court (1870-93), 14 New Bridge Street (1893-1922), Byron House (later 85) Fleet Street (1922-ca. 1994), 292 Vauxhall Bridge Road (ca. 1994-). In 1934 Byron House and adjoining properties in Salisbury Court and Salisbury Square were demolished for the construction of a new building. During the four years of demolition and construction, the Press Association was temporarily housed in an office in St Bride Street.

At the beginning of the First World War, the government tried to control the dissemination of news in emergency situations. A committee, later called the D (Defence) Notice Committee, was set up in 1914, under which newspapers were asked not to refer to certain matters, or to consult the War Office before doing so. An Assistant Secretary of the War Office and Edmund Robbins, the representative of the Press Association, were appointed as joint Secretaries of the Committee. If the Admiralty or the War Office wished to inform the Press of something which should not be published, the War Office would get in touch with Robbins, a meeting of the Committee would be convened or the members would be consulted, their agreement would be obtained and Robbins would send the agreed notice to the newspaper editors. The records of the Press Association included volumes of D-notices 1914-39, but these have not survived. References to D-notices may however be found in the minute books of the Management Committee (Ms 35358), manager's memoranda books (Ms 35362), Robbins' memoranda books (Ms 35417) and the typescript histories (Mss 35596-8).

In 1871 Central News was formed out of the already existing Central Press. Central News was the majority shareholder in the Column Printing Company, which distributed news to clubs, and betting and sports news to private subscribers. In 1938, the PA and Exchange Telegraph Company bought an equal share of a 81% interest in Central News, and a 75.7% interest in the Column Printing Company. By an agreement which became effective in 1947, the PA took over the Parliamentary Service and transmission plant, and the Central News library of photographs. The ETC, in return, took over the PA's shares, making it the sole shareholder in Central News, and the majority controlling shareholder in the Column Printing Company.

In 1868 an Act was passed providing for the taking over of the old telegraph companies by the State. From 1870, when the first Press Association news message was sent, to 1920, news was distributed by means of Post Office press telegrams (except to the London newspapers, which were served by messengers). The Press Association copy is always anonymous. In 1869 a contract was signed under which Reuters supplied the Press Association with foreign telegrams for exclusive use in the British Isles outside London. In turn, Reuters would disseminate Press Association news overseas. A special supplementary foreign service was started by the Press Association in 1890, later to be called Foreign Special.

In 1905 the Press Association began to use telephones to supply sports results and news items. Telephone centres were opened in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, and one in London in 150 Fleet Street. From 1868 to 1918 the news was mainly sent on the Wheatstone-Morse telegraph system which was subject to Post Office delays. From the beginning of the 20th century the Exchange Telegraph Company had used teleprinted machines which printed messages at a faster speed, and both Reuters and the Press Association later used this system for transmission of some of their news in London. In 1915 the Post Office proposed sharp increases in the charges for press telegrams. The increases did not come into operation until 1920 and then at a lower rate than originally planned, but by that time the Press Association had decided that it needed a more efficient system for disseminating news. From 1919 the Press Association installed its own "private wire system" using the experimental Creed-Wheatstone telegraph service, and in 1920 the first provincial telegraph service was opened in Bristol. The Creed system was abandoned in 1949 and replaced with a new voice frequency (v.f.) multi-channel teleprinter system working on 6-channel broadcast. This system was much faster as it enabled all the provincial newspaper offices to receive the news simultaneously.

The main services offered by the Press Association were general home news and Reuters' foreign news services. Additional services were gradually introduced, culminating in the introduction of the Comprehensive Service in 1941, which offered Parliamentary reports, golf, racing, cricket and football reports, as well as home and foreign news. The Press Association also provided more detailed reports, known as "Special Reporting". The opening of telephone centres by the Press Association in 1905 led to intense competition between the Press Association and the Exchange Telegraph Company. An agreement was reached in 1906 whereby the Press Association and the Exchange Telegraph Company would run a joint service in all areas except London. The service would be run by joint managers and supervised by a joint committee. Accounts would be kept jointly and audited jointly. There were difficulties in working the agreement and it was not until ca. 1911 that the joint service began to work effectively. In 1922 a Joint Commercial Service of London Stock Exchange prices and London Market Reports was agreed between the Press Association and Exchange Telegraph Company. The Press Association and Exchange Telegraph Company combined their separate Law Courts staffs in 1931, and set up the Joint Law Service. In 1945 the Press Association, Reuters and Exchange Telegraph Company concluded an agreement to pool their handling of commercial news. An agreement signed in 1961 (in effect from 1962) provided for the joint collection and sale of horse racing and greyhound racing results, betting details, and cricket and football results and scores, and for equal shares of the annual surpluses. The Exchange Telegraph Company withdrew from the joint law service it had operated with the Press Association in 1965. For the Exchange Telegraph Company's records of the joint service see Mss 23136-57.

As well as its own reporting staff, the PA employed the services of hundreds of correspondents in the UK to report on local news. The correspondents were not full-time PA staff, but usually journalists in the employment of provincial newspapers. The records are incomplete, as many records were destroyed in the early 1990s by the PA because of sewage contamination. However payments to some correspondents may be recorded in the surviving cash books (Mss 35434, 35436 and 35437/1-2).

On 1 December 1925 it was agreed that the PA should purchase a majority holding in Reuters. It bought 31,250 "A" shares (preference) and 8,750 "B" shares (ordinary) at a total cost of 160,000. This was financed by a loan of 80,000 from Lloyds, and a loan of 80,000 from the Association's members for which an issue of 800 61/2% 100 12-year Notes was made. In 1931, the PA purchased all the minority shares (18,750 "A" shares and 16,250 "B" shares) at a cost of 157,500. This was financed by a bank loan. In 1932 an offer was made to shareholders to extend the term of currency of their Notes from 1937 to 1944 and to convert them from 61/2% Notes to 5% Notes. The converted shares were called 5% Registered Notes. In 1944 the 5% Registered Notes were converted to 4% Registered Notes and the date for payment of the principal moneys was extended from 1944 to 1954. The resignation of the chairman of Reuters in 1938 led to discussions about the ownership structure of Reuters. In 1941, in response to the "national emergency", the PA sold half of the issued share capital of Reuters to the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, to form the new Reuters Trust. The PA and the NPA were each to appoint four trustees, under a chairman to be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice.

In 1867 the nominal capital of the Association was 18,000, divided into 1,800 shares of 10 each. In 1904 the capital was increased to 100,000 by the creation of 8,200 new shares of 10 each. In 1928, part of the share reserve fund was capitalised, and 4,914 new shares of 10 each were issued to existing shareholders to replace old shares. The P. A. Share Purchase Company was incorporated on 5 April 1911. The Company was created for the purchase and sale of shares of the Association and the investment of profits in government securities. It constituted a "market" for the Association's shares. The Companies Act, 1948, put a stop to the activities of the Share Purchase Company, and in 1951 it was wound up. In 1935, 400 First Mortgage Debentures at 500 each (to a total of 200,000) carrying interest at 4% were issued to finance the rebuilding of Byron Court. In 1946 a change in the Association's Private Telegraph Wire System from Creed-Wheatstone to Multi-Channel Teleprinter Working was financed by the issue of 600 4% "Second" Notes of 250 each. The Association's capital was reduced in 1951 from 100,000 to 91,360 (following the demise of the Share Purchase Company). The capital was then increased to 100,000 by the creation of 864 shares of 10 each, and later the same year from 100,000 to 500,000. In 1963 members were allowed by a change in the Articles of Association to convert Ordinary Shares of 10 into 61/2% Cumulative Preference Shares of 10. This measure was adopted to deal with the problem of passive shares. The main purpose of the Ordinary Shares was to provide services for members at a discounted rate; the shares were not intended to pay dividends. Some shares had become passive because the newspapers which held them had ceased publication or were weekly newspapers which no longer required the News Services. In 1970 the capital was increased to 1,250,000 by the creation of 75,000 Ordinary Shares of 10 each.

Only a few staff records survive for the Press Association. In the early 1990s, burst drains in the PA building contaminated the records with sewage and many of them were destroyed. It can therefore be very difficult to find information relating to PA staff at particular dates. For some staff, entries in the pension contributions books (Mss 35534-7, 35542-3, 35547, 35561-2) or records of their expenses in various cash books (Mss 35432-6) may be all there is. An annuity fund was first set up in 1897. In 1921 this fund was closed to new members following the establishment of a supplementary fund, called the "Annuity Fund (1921)", and a fund for the Association's officers, the "Officers' Fund". The two schemes were closed in 1938 (the Officers' Fund continued to pay the pensions of retired officers), and a new fund was set up, called the "P.A. Annuity Fund (1939)". The name of the fund was changed in 1944 to the "Press Association Annuity Fund", and in 1983 to the "Press Association Pension Fund". In 1882 an Insurance and Endowment Fund was set up. It was voluntary for present staff members, but new members were required to join the scheme. Each employee insured his or her life for the amount of their present annual salary. The Joseph and Jane Cowen Fund was founded with a bequest of 5000 from Miss Jane Cowen in 1950. Beneficiaries of the fund could include any person who had contributed to the work of the Association; it was not necessary to have been employed by the PA. The aims of the fund were to relieve the poverty of any beneficiary, to pay the education fees or maintenance of any dependent of any beneficiary, and to assist charitable institutions. The annuity funds and the Joseph and Jane Cowen Fund were administered by the P.A. Annuity Fund Trust Limited (established in 1939), later called the P.A. Pension Fund Trust Limited (from 1985).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Press Association Limited, including:

1. Corporate records (including articles of association, agreements and minutes);
2. Share records (including P.A. Share Purchase Company);
3. Internal administration records;
4. Financial records;
5. Operational records (including the Press Association and Exchange Telegraph Service);
6. Staff records;
7. Records relating to correspondents;
8. Property records;
9. Other Press Association records (including histories of the Association);
10. Central News;
11. Reuters;
12. P.A. Features Limited;
13. Press Association Photos Limited.

Access to records less than 30 years old should be sought from the Press Association (contact details may be obtained from a member of staff).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Records arranged into 3 sub-fonds:
CLC/B/181-01: Press Association Limited;
CLC/B/181-02: PA Features Limited;
CLC/B/181-03: Press Association Photos Limited.

Conditions governing access:

Restricted access: please see staff.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

An inventory of the Association's records was made in 1980 by the Business Archives Council. A substantial part of the archive was subsequently lost in 1994 after an eruption of the drains in the basement of Byron House, Fleet Street. As a result, many series of accounts, correspondence, etc are now incomplete. In particular, names of full-time staff, and of occasional contributors ("correspondents") can be difficult to trace.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The archives of the Association up to 1991 were donated to the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library in 1995. They were catalogued by an assistant archivist, August 2004. The Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Press Association's cuttings library is stored at the East Riding Library Headquarters at Skirlaugh. The cuttings library contains newspapers and magazines which cover all the major news events from the whole of the 20th century.

Publication note:

For more detailed histories of the Press Association see George Scott, Reporter Anonymous: The Story of the Press Association (1968) and Chris Moncrieff, Living on a Deadline: a History of the Press Association (2001). Both of these are held in Guildhall Library Printed Books Section.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
January to May 2011.

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