Amy Sell of has released the following records:


  • Fascinating Business Indexes released online
  • Banned female author Radclyffe Hall of contentious novel The Well of Loneliness listed
  • Celebrated British companies Cadburys, Barclays, Rolls Royce, Lyons, and Harrods all included

Set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century, when women were fighting for their civil rights, new historical records launched today show women defied the prejudices and challenges of the time to become successful business leaders. The newly released Business Index Collection, published today by leading family history website and in association with the Society of Genealogists, is available online for the first time, over 100 years after the indexes were first published in print.

The Business Indexes are directories of how Britain’s business landscape shaped up between the early 1890s and 1927. They contain images and details of Britain’s shopkeepers, businessmen and women, as well as captains of industry. The records also feature a short biography, detailing the entrant’s prominence in local society, their memberships of corporations and/or clubs, the hobbies or leisure activities they enjoyed, as well as charities and other institutions that they may have been involved in. This information provides a unique insight into the individual’s character, which is extremely difficult to find elsewhere in such a comprehensive form.

A woman’s right… has delved into these indexes and found numerous examples of women included in the records, particularly around the early 1900s, which is an impressive feat for women of this era considering the restrictions they faced. Women were not granted the right to vote on the same terms as men until 1928 and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had only opened their degrees to women some eight years earlier.

Among the successful women featured in the records are:  Helena Normanton, the first woman to practise as a barrister in the UK; the actress Dame Lilian BraithwaiteMarion Lyon, the Advertisement Manager of Punch magazine and the only woman to hold a position of this nature then; the author Radclyffe Hall, who wrote ‘The Well of Loneliness’ in 1928, a book about a lesbian relationship, which was declared obscene and withdrawn from sale; and Lilian Baylis, Manager of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres, who went on to establish an opera company that later became the English National Opera, a theatre company that became the Royal National Theatre and a ballet company that became the Royal Ballet.

There is also a female chairman of a merchant banking firm, dental surgeon, proprietor of a millinery business, managing director of an advertising and printing company and a number of female manufacturing entrepreneurs, to name just a few.

Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at, comments: “The Business Index Collection shows us that at the start of the twentieth century, while our female ancestors were fighting for the right to vote and to go to university, countless women were already business leaders. This is all the more amazing when you consider that today, fewer than 14% of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women.”

All in the name of business…

The indexes also containing listings of local businesses, often showing a photograph of the building and/or the proprietor and sometimes with line drawings of the actual products they sold 100 years ago. The short descriptions frequently detail from whom the business was acquired. This was often a named relative and is a very useful detail for family historians.

A select few of these ‘local’ companies have become household names, with OXO, McVities, Cadburys, Bovril, Barclays and Lloydsall featuring in the indexes, along with representatives from Rolls Royce, Lyons, Selfridges and Harrods.

Claude Goodman Johnson, Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Ltd in the UK, France and US features in the Notable Londoners of 1924 within the Motor Industry section. The paragraph under his image lists his education, achievements and club memberships.

Sir (Richard) Woodman Burridge CBE, Chairman and Managing Director of Harrods of London, features in the Notable Londoners of 1924 within the Merchants section. The entry outlines his rise to the position of MD of the retail store and his achievements in WWI, including receiving the Marie Regina Cross of Romania.

Else Churchill, Genealogical Officer at the Society of Genealogists, comments:  “The Business Index directories complement other family history sources such as censuses or birth, marriage and death records. While these records may merely state trade or occupation, the Business Index can include exactly what your ancestor did and often include potted histories of the family business, showing when it was founded and the generations of the family members who worked together. These stories put flesh on the bones of our ancestors. Society of Genealogists volunteers have been working hard to make these rare directories from its extensive library collections more readily available for the genealogists and we are delighted to be able to publish this first set of data.

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