The meaning of any document in a business archive is derived from its context; documents should be arranged in a way which reflects the administrative or business processes which generated them. This means that an archivist, in the first stages of cataloguing a business collection, finds themselves acting more like a researcher. We have to delve into the records to find any evidence of how the company was organised, its functions etc (an organisational chart is always a handy find), and read any publications which may help (a published history of the business is ideal). Since January I have been busy doing just that, in order to get my head round the complicated history of The South Wales Transport Company Limited (SWT).
To summarise briefly, in 1914 SWT began life as a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company (BET), primarily operating buses. In 1899 the Mumbles Railway and Pier undertakings of Swansea and Mumbles Railway Company Limited were leased to another subsidiary of BET, the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company (SITC). In 1927 SITC assigned its interests in the Mumbles Railway to SWT, who then acquired full control of the company in 1930. SWT then purchased the railway from the original owning companies (Swansea and Mumbles Railway Company and the Mumbles Railway and Pier Company) in 1958, before it was abandoned in 1960.
A number of smaller bus companies were absorbed into SWT, including Llanelly District Traction Company (acquired in 1952) and J James and Sons Limited, Ammanford (acquired in 1962). Control of two other ex-BET concerns was transferred to SWT in 1969, Neath and Cardiff Luxury Coaches Limited and Thomas Bros (Port Talbot) Limited, before being completely absorbed in Jan 1971. SWT had exchanged bus routes with United Welsh Services Limited, a company formed to amalgamate the Red and White associated independent bus companies around Swansea, in 1939 and 1953. SWT eventually took over this company in Jan 1971.
In 1967-1968 SWT was transferred from BET to the Transport Holding Company, a company which held shares of state owned companies. In 1969 the National Bus Company took over all of the Transport Holding Company’s interests in England and Wales, including SWT. The Transport Act of 1985 meant that National Bus Company subsidiaries were to be privatised and on 8 May 1987 the company was purchased by its management team. A few more acquisitions of smaller bus companies followed, before the company was absorbed by First Cymru Buses Ltd (part of the First Group) in the 1990s.
There are also added complications which have had to be taken into account when cataloguing the collection. Although SWT and SITC were separate BET subsidiaries, they were closely linked and shared management and secretaries which means there is a definite overlap in some records. Western Welsh Omnibus Services Limited, another ex-BET company, transferred 2 of its depots at Neath Abbey and Haverford West to SWT in 1972, so the collection also holds a set of plans for, and by, Western Welsh. There are also papers referring to several acts and agreements between the various companies, and the Swansea Corporation, who themselves leased routes of the Mumbles Railway.
The point of this entry is not just to perplex people with the ins and outs of the South Wales Transport Company, but to show that the content of the collection includes papers from a variety of transport related companies and organisations. Consequently, it holds a wealth of information on the history of transport (both railway and bus), not just in Swansea, but throughout South Wales.
BET: British Electric Traction Company Limited
SITC: Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company Limited
SWT: South Wales Transport Company Limited