On the 23rd September 2019 the Thomas Cook Group ceased trading and entered Compulsory Liquidation. Around 21,000 worldwide employees were left without jobs (including 9,000 UK staff) and 600,000 customers (150,000 from the UK) were stuck overseas, triggering the UK’s largest peacetime repatriation.
The future of the corporate archive, which until earlier this year was managed in-house by Thomas Cook’s archivist, is now at risk.
What’s in the archive, and why is it important?
The travel company Thomas Cook was founded in 1841 by a Leicestershire cabinet maker and supporter of teetotalism, in order to transport temperance supporters by local train.
Cook organised his first tours to Europe in 1855 and to the United States in 1866. By 1888, the company had established offices around the world, including three in Australia and one in Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1890, the company sold over 3.25 million tickets.
Thomas Cook became one of the world’s biggest leisure travel groups, with sales of £7.8 billion, 19 million annual customers and 22,000 employees.
The archive of Thomas Cook charting 178 years comprises millions of written records and relating to the company’s history, including letters, brochures, posters, legal documents and passenger lists and guide books produced by the firm. There are also artefacts collected by the company.
This collection is an invaluable resource, telling us not just about the history and development of the tourism industry, but also about our social and political history and that of the many countries where the firm operated abroad including India, Turkey, Egypt, Spain and the Canary Islands.
Crisis Management Team for Business Archives
Following the liquidation of the firm, the primary concern is that the archive may be perceived as an asset to be sold off, piece by piece, in order to settle debts. The integrity of the archive would be compromised, and 178 years’ worth of material could potentially be lost or made inaccessible to the public.
The Crisis Management Team, initiated in 2009 as part of a national strategy for business archives, work with businesses, liquidators and receivers to respond to safeguard at-risk records.
The BAC and Crisis Management Team are now in dialogue with the liquidator to help advise them on devising a strategy for the corporate archive. Over 130 testimonies as to the research value of the collection have been received and repositories have stepped forward to offer a future home for the archive to ensure continued access and preservation. Any final repositories potentially interested in taking in the archives should let Richard Wiltshire know by close of Friday 8 November 2019 (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Any updates will be posted on our website and the BAC social media pages.
Edit (15/11/2019): Thank you to all of the repositories who have contacted Richard Wiltshire. The team is now working together on next steps with the repositories and liquidator.