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History of Chambers of Commerce

UK Small Chambers 1897-2007 – Chambers of Trade and Town Chambers

1. Introduction

The following data table provides the first listing of all the small chambers in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland). These are usually referred to collectively as ‘chambers of trade’ (CoT) or ‘town chambers’. These have sometimes been members of the national Association of Chambers of Commerce, but generally their national association was the National Chamber of Trade (NCT). The NCT merged with the Association of British Chambers of Commerce (ABCC, since 1996 termed the BCC) in 1992. Since then small chambers can be affiliated with the BCC through an accredited chamber of commerce, or remain independent. Most small chambers have remained independent or loosely in contact with chambers of commerce, but about one third are formally affiliated. Some of the internal financial and other data on a sample of UK CoTs (about 15-20, varying in status over time) is included in a database deposit of chamber of commerce information.

A full discussion of the CoTs is given in R. J. Bennett (2011) Local Business Voice (OUP), especially pp. 22-8, 173, 175-83, 318-27, 361-3, with many other comments and graphs of developments (using the deposited database) of members, income and services. No chambers in the Irish Republic are included below, where most small chambers have been assimilated in some way or other under the general title ‘chambers of commerce’, and the title of ‘chamber of trade’ has never taken hold. Smaller chambers in Ireland are discussed in R. J. Bennett (2011) Local Business Voice (OUP), especially pp. 22-8, 173, 175-83, 363-9, 656-9

The information given below cannot claim to be fully complete, but is as accurate as possible given the information available. If anyone notices an error or omission they should contact rjb7@cam.ac.uk who will be updating and developing this database.

2. Construction of information

Before 1904

The NCT was founded in 1897 and from this date the title CoT was increasingly used, though it never became entirely general. The bodies that became members of NCT had in many cases pre-existed its foundation, and they had a variety of other titles such as ‘Tradesman’s Association’, many of which were connected to specific sectors, such as drapers, tailors, boot and shoe makers, fish merchants, etc. The founding members of the NCT in 1897 were:

  • Blackpool Tradesmen’s Association
  • Morley (Yorkshire) Tradesmen’s Association
  • Burnley Tradesmen’s Association
  • West Town (Dewsbury) Tradesmen’s Association
  • Watford Tradesmen’s Association
  • Colne and District Tradesmen’s Association
  • Nelson Tradesmen’s Association
  • Burton-on-Trent Chamber of Trade
  • Medway and District Traders Association
  • Tunbridge Wells Tradesmen’s Association
  • St. Anns on Sea Tradesmen’s Association
  • Hull and District Chamber of Trade
  • Kettering Chamber of Trade
  • South Wales and Monmouth Federation of Chambers of Trade

In addition to these there would have been many other bodies that existed but were not NCT members. Once NCT was established, however, the membership increased rapidly, began to include most real local chambers, and it stimulated many new CoTs to form. By 1914 there were over 250 in existence and members of NCT.

For 1904 – 1951

The tables provide the listings of CoTs that were members of NCT for each date (as given in NCT archive records), supplemented where possible by information on other chambers that have been found to exist in other records. As far as possible the records have been joined to indicate whether a chamber was in continuous existence or not, but between the dates given it may well be the case that a chamber went into abeyance, became latent, or disbanded.

For 2006-7

The construction of the information on ‘all chambers’ in 2006-7 is derived from multiple approaches. Most entries were established by general web searches under the titles of ‘chamber of trade’, ‘chamber of commerce’. In addition, specific web searches were made of these titles, or the keywords trade/commerce and the location name, for all cases in which a NCT chamber existed in 1951. For some cases these sites were administered by or listed in other directories or browser bases (e.g. Touch Local). Some were listed under BCC or other larger chamber ‘lists’. To be included in the database as existing, a CoT had to have a live website and give basic information on the chamber over the previous year at the time of the search.

The web search was supplemented by drawing out of the Companies House register all ‘chambers’ of any form and checking whether they were not disbanded/dormant and had filed recent accounts. This mainly confirmed the closure or dormancy of many former chambers, particularly those associated with TECs and Business Link. A small number of small chambers that did not have websites but clearly existed in some form are also included, where they have been found.

The distinction between a ‘chamber of trade’ and a ‘chamber of commerce’, which existed for many local bodies up to the 1970s, subsequently largely broke down. By 2006-7 many were simply ‘chamber of commerce’, many were ‘chamber of trade and commerce’, and many had some other permutation of ‘chamber of commerce’ with other words such as ‘industry’, ‘tourism’, ‘enterprise’, etc. In addition, some bodies that were clearly akin to, and often derived from former chambers of trade, may have dropped the ‘chamber’ title and used ‘business association’, ‘group’, etc. Others operated as part of some other body such as an enterprise agency, or were chiefly resourced and supported by local government (including through their websites), or existed solely through Business Link. In these cases, which amount to about 20-30, they are included if the information available made it clear that they had autonomous chamber-like functions (of independent ‘voice’ and membership) additional to, or separated from, the ‘host’ organization. This test removed several local authority sites which were essentially local directories of businesses, and also a few Business Link satellites. All NFU branches were also excluded and no chambers of agriculture were found. Also excluded were a large number of town-centre management and local partnership bodies, and parish associations. The listing in 2006-7 cannot be claimed to be fully complete, but is as accurate as possible at the survey date.

3. Sources

The archive records of the NCT have been used to provide the information for 1897, and for 1904-1951. These are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. A commentary on the archive records of chambers in these Archives is available.

As noted above, the records of chambers for 2006-7 have been assembled from web and other searches.

Data table

Chambers of trade, and those calling themselves chambers of commerce (shown bold) that were members of the National Chamber of Trade 1904-51, and all non-BCC Chambers 2006-7; * indicates both a BCC and NCT Chamber; excludes regional bodies after 1919; excludes second bodies in some locations (where there may also be separate chambers of commerce). Areas in brackets are believed to exist at given date but are not shown in NCT lists (may not be paying NCT subscription). In 2006-7 areas in square brackets are subsumed in another chamber. (Sources: NCT MS 29342; 29343/1; 2934; 2006-7 data from web searches, etc.).

* Data table (page 3 onwards)