What's in a name: Firms' simplified family trees on the web
Between January and December 1989, the respected accounting historian Peter Boys prepared a series of simplified family trees showing the development of the big accountancy firms of the day. The series is a key resource for accounting historians grappling with the tangled history of mergers and demergers in the accountancy sector.
The original 1989 trees have been reproduced on this website along with a series of textual updates from Peter Boys which brought the story forward to May 2005, the 125th anniversary of ICAEW. Since then, the staff of the ICAEW Library & Information Service have added notes on further changes that have taken place.
If readers are aware of any further information which would add to or improve the accuracy of the family trees. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As part of the centenary features in Accountancy it was thought both interesting and informative to trace the development of twenty-four of the largest firms of chartered accountants by preparing their simplified 'family trees'. The impetus for the original series was the gradual disappearance of well-known names in the world of accountancy, a trend which has continued. On average two firms' trees appeared in each issue of Accountancy throughout 1989, together with an update article in March 1990. It has now been possible to revise the trees still further and place them on a website. The trees are copies of those which appeared throughout 1989; unfortunately, it was not practical to redraw them so the revisions are in the form of narrative.
The publication of the firms' simplified family trees achieves at least three purposes. First, it shows exactly where the names of leading firms came from, although it cannot explain why certain names have survived while others have been lost. Second, it shows which of the once well-known names of firms have gone and the process by which they have disappeared. Third, it shows what happened to the names of other individuals who were at one time renowned and respected members of the profession.
At the time of the formation of the ICAEW in 1880 most firms of accountants were small in size. Accountants either practised on their own account or in partnership with one or two others. The largest firm about that time was probably Turquand, Youngs, Weise, Bishop & Clarke, which had six partners - there was both a John Young and an Alexander Young.
When firms are relatively small it is possible for the names of all the partners to feature in the style of the firm, as in the example just quoted. As and when partners retire and new ones are admitted so the name of the firm can change in line with those of the partners.
Over the years firms gradually grew in size although company legislation limited the number of partners to 25 from 1844 and to 20 from 1856. To some extent, particularly in later years, this legislation hampered and may have delayed the expansion of firms. However, one way in which this restriction could be circumvented was for separate partnerships to act in association with one another with cross-partnership agreements or other working relationships.
The limitation of 20 partners for accountancy firms was repealed by the Companies Act 1967, and this led to an upsurge in merger activity. As a result there are now several firms which have well over 100 partners. It has mainly been due to the mergers since 1967 that many of the previously long-established names in accountancy have disappeared. A particular feature of this merger activity has been the decline in the number of medium-sized firms. It should be remembered that the vast majority of practising members are in practice on their own or with only a few partners; hence the polarisation into large and small firms.
The increase in the size of accountancy partnerships meant that it was impractical to call the practice by the name of all the partners. In addition, once a firm's name has been established and become well-known then, naturally, there is a reluctance to change it and lose the goodwill which has been built up. Similarly, when firms merge it is not always possible to include all the names of the merged practices. Even where joint names are adopted initially, these are often shortened a few years later. Indeed firms are often known by some contraction of their name or by their initials. There has been a tendency for firms to shorten their names, perhaps to make them easier to remember and also to create a better corporate identity. One such phenomenon has been the disappearance of the '& Co' at the end of the name. In addition, some names have been adapted to reflect an international network of firms.
It will be appreciated that in the family trees which follow there are a number of limitations and constraints. Firms have grown in different ways; some by natural growth with few mergers, some by an active takeover and merger policy, while others have opted for some middle course. Those which have engaged in a positive merger policy have very complex family trees and, given space restrictions in the original series, it was not possible to show the full and detailed make-up of these firms.
The following criteria were used when deciding whether or not a firm should be included:
- Firms which had featured in the development of the name of the largest firms however small they may have been at the time of the merger.
- Well-known medium-sized firms even though their names have now disappeared.
- Firms where one of the partners, whose name featured in the firm's style, was a founding member or president of one of the professional accountancy bodies.
- Wherever possible, firms with particularly long histories and those described as 'founder firms' in the ICAEW's official history. Founder firms are defined as those which could claim continuous partnership descent from a signatory to the Royal Charter or a member of the first Council of the ICAEW, or which had been in existence for at least 100 years in 1965.
In addition, mergers which were regarded by a firm as significant to the development of that firm were also included.
It may appear that a disproportionate number of firms of Scottish origin have been included. This is because there were three Scottish societies of accountants until 1951 and two of these date back to 1853. As a result there have been, in total, more Scottish than ICAEW presidents.
Some firms of accountants can trace their histories back for more than two hundred years. Although many of the larger firms, and indeed some of the smaller ones, have published their histories, unfortunately most of these are out-of-date. There are therefore few up-to-date public sources of information available on the development of professional firms. Much of the information for the original series was compiled from the list of members of the various accountancy bodies which span a period of over a hundred years, with several years omitted due to the two world wars. Given the time periods involved and the lack of detailed information available some of the dates given in the family trees can only be approximate. An accountant may have been in practice long before becoming a member of a professional body, especially in the early days of the profession. Information about firms prior to 1880 is even more difficult to obtain.
At the other extreme, where there are a number of alternative sources of information, there can often be a conflict in the dates given. Where there has been a conflict what was regarded as the most reliable evidence was used, for example, dates provided by firms themselves were used and these therefore may contradict public sources of such information.
Discrepancies in dates may arise because the date of an association between two firms may be used rather than that of the full merger or because once two firms have amalgamated their separate names may be used in tandem for some time. On the other hand, some firms have de-merged and therefore successor firms can have a common origin. Furthermore, at the time of a merger the various offices of one firm may link up with a number of different practices. Finally, firms can practise under slightly different names in different locations.
It is often difficult to capture all these nuances in a simplified family tree and it certainly makes the tracing of names and firms more complex.
Following publication of the family trees in 1989 a number of typographical, transcription and other errors and omissions have been identified. Corrections of these, where necessary, are outlined under the heading "Amendments". In addition, further information has come to light, partly from readers' letters and partly from additional research, which has improved the accuracy of the trees. This material is also included under "Amendments", but in this case the source of the new information is cited.
Since 1989 there have been several mergers between the largest firms of accountants. What were the Big Eight firms in 1989 have now become the Big Four, and the twenty-four firms which appeared in the original series have been reduced to just fourteen. Also, firms have continued to abbreviate their names. Consequently, there has been the further loss of well-known names. These changes, as appropriate, are summarised under the heading "Update" to reflect the position to May 2005, the 125th anniversary of the ICAEW.
With the coming into force of the Limited Liability Partnerships Act 2000 many accountancy firms are adopting this new form of legal entity and adding the initials LLP at the end of their names. Although most firms covered in this series have now become LLPs, this change to their names has not been included in the "Updates".
When looking at any tree it is important to consult the "Amendments" and "Update" sections.
An index has been provided to help readers locate firms. This has been compiled on the basis that a name such as John Smith or John Smith & Co is indexed under J, whereas J Smith or J Smith & Co is indexed under S. There are hypertext links from the index to the trees.
In compiling these trees it is hoped not only to provide something of use and interest but also to stimulate sufficient interest in the history of professional firms to encourage them to publish full and detailed histories of their own or to update those already published before it is too late and extant records are destroyed. One useful publication which appeared subsequent to the original series in Accountancy is Chartered accountants in England and Wales: A guide to historical records, edited by Wendy Habgood and published by Manchester University Press in 1994.
How to use the index
You can use the A-Z to find the firm you are looking for in the family trees.
The index has been compiled on the basis that a name such as John Smith or John Smith & Co is indexed under J, whereas J Smith or J Smith & Co is indexed under S. There are hypertext links from the index to the trees.
When looking at any tree it is important to consult the "Amendments" and "Update" sections.
The production of the original firms' simplified family trees which appeared in Accountancy and now on the ICAEW Library website would not have been possible without the help of and encouragement from a number of individuals.
First, I would like to thank Brian O'Kane, a former editor of Accountancy, for commissioning the series and for his enthusiasm for the project as a whole. I am also most grateful to all the staff of Accountancy who were involved in the series, especially Gillian Bird (now Jackson), Rosemary Regan and Chris Patton, and to the staff of Chapman/Bounford for the original artwork.
Naturally, I am indebted to the staff and partners of all the firms who participated in the original series and for the interest which they showed in the development of their firms.
In addition, I would like to thank the staff of the ICAEW Library, especially the late Michael Bywater, former Librarian, and Avril Dennis, Deputy Librarian, and the staff of the Library at the University of Kent at Canterbury for the assistance and advice which they supplied. I would also like to thank Avril Dennis for her encouragement to update the series and Jonathan Bushell for transferring the information to the website.
Last, but by no means least, I am most grateful to my former secretary, Marilyn Spice, who had the difficult job of constructing the draft family trees in a neat and orderly fashion, and who was also responsible for compiling the original draft index.
As always, any errors or omissions in the trees are the responsibility of the compiler.
About the author
The author of What's in a name: Firms' simplified family trees on the web is Peter Boys.
Peter Boys BA FCA graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury with a first-class honours degree in Accounting. He spent five years with Touche Ross & Co. before becoming a lecturer in accounting at his former University. Peter Boys retired in 1999. He has contributed numerous articles to Accountancy, and is especially interested in the history of the accountancy profession.
© Original trees are copyright of Accountancy Magazine and CCH.
© The A-Z index, updates and the revised article are copyright of Peter Boys.
Compiled and revised by Peter Boys, BA FCA, May 2005.