Ref NoGB1752.UAC
Alt Ref NoOFR:
TitleThe United Africa Company Ltd

The United Africa Company Ltd was a merchant company originally trading in the West African colonies of the British Empire, namely Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast), Gambia, Sierra Leone and, especially, Nigeria. Its predecessors had been trading in the region since the late eighteenth century. Until the early twentieth century this trade consisted of the exchange of African agricultural produce, in particular palm oil, groundnuts and cocoa, for manufactured goods of every sort, especially textiles; metal goods, such as pots, cutlery and tools; and provisions, such as salt. It was this need to secure a supply of palm oil for the manufacture of his soap that led William Lever to buy the Niger Company Ltd in 1920. On 3 March 1929 the Niger Company merged with its rival, the African and Eastern Trade Corporation Ltd, to form The United Africa Company Ltd, and as a result Unilever, also created in that year, acquired a large, complex and practically autonomous subsidiary devoted to African trade.

From the 1930s, and especially after the Second World War, this trade changed in response to African economic development. The emphasis shifted to the sale of sophisticated consumer goods and the equipment required for the industrial development intended to follow independence. There was also a shift from retail to wholesale, and to the local manufacture of those goods which had previously been imported. At the same time the United Africa Company expanded to East Africa, the French-speaking African countries and the Middle East, and interests were also developed within Britain and France. This geographical expansion prompted the company to change its name to UAC International Ltd on 1 March 1973.

Commonwealth West Africa remained central to the prosperity of UAC, however, and the Nigerian economic crisis of the early 1980s led eventually to the end of UAC, which was integrated into Africa, Middle East Group, a division within Unilever, in 1987.


The records of UAC comprise minutes, accounts, registers of directors and of shares, reports, and correspondence files, dating mainly from the later part of the twentieth century. There is some material from the early twentieth century and the later nineteenth century, especially minute books and account ledgers.

These earlier records, therefore, include material relating to the predecessor and founder companies of UAC, namely, the African and Eastern Trade Corporation, the African Association, and the Niger Company and its predecessors. The latter, the records of the National African Company, the Royal Niger Company and the Niger Company, including some records of the Royal Niger Constabulary, are of particular interest.

Also of special interest is the collection of UAC photographic material (to be found in the catalogue under the records of the Public Relations Department). This material runs up to the later twentieth century, but also contains a remarkable collection of albums dating from the later nineteenth and early twentieth century. These albums depict the trading activities of the predecessor companies of UAC, their premises and employees, and the West Africa of the time. There is also a sequence of photograph cards, showing the varied activities of UAC and scenes of life in West Africa, mainly from 1958 and 1968.

The collection also comprises a number of artefacts from West Africa, including ritual masks, models of people and of weapons, musical instruments, various carvings and bronze artefacts. (These items, given as gifts to employees of UAC, are also to be found under the Public Relations Department section of the catalogue.)

The UAC catalogue is divided into two parts. The first consists of the records of the central administrative structure of UAC, based in London. This is divided into fifteen sections, as follows: Board, Directorate, Chairman's Office, Secretary's Department, Legal Department, Trade Marks Department, Accounts Department, Business Systems Department, Corporate Planning Department, Personnel Department, Public Relations Department, Regional Management Department, Statistics Department, UAC Holding Companies, and UAC (Managing Agency) Ltd (the records of the Groundnut Scheme).

The second of the two main divisions of the UAC catalogue comprises the records of the main operating companies, later divisions, of UAC, each of which pursued a different type of business. These are: Breweries, Building Materials, Consumer Products, Engineering, Food and Agriculture, Hardware, Medical, Mining, Motors, G B Ollivant, Palm Line, Textiles and Industrial Services, Timber, Trading, Traffic, Unamec, Unatrac, and Warehousing and Transport Services. There are also sections for the records of the nationally registered companies, including UAC of Nigeria Ltd, UAC of Ghana Ltd and UAC of Sierra Leone Ltd. These are followed by sections for the predecessor companies of UAC, the African and Eastern Trade Corporation Ltd and the Niger Company Ltd. These are in turn followed by a section for the Associated Companies of UAC. Finally there are sections for Huileries du Congo Belge, Sedec and Niger France, UAC companies registered in Belgium and France.

Each of these operating companies or divisions also contain a number of subsidiary companies.


The United Africa Company Ltd was formed on 3 March 1929 and incorporated on 29 April 1929.
The United Africa Company Ltd became UAC International Ltd on 1 March 1973.
The company number was 239114.


UAC was primarily divided into a number of divisions, each of which pursued a particular kind of activity, for example Breweries Division, Engineering Division and Medical Division.

From the 1950s, however, the West African countries demanded that UAC operations be registered in the countries in which they operated and be given autonomy. This resulted in the creation of, for example, UAC of Nigeria Ltd, UAC of Ghana Ltd and UAC of Sierra Leone Ltd.

The organisation of the UAC collection attempts to take account of this dual structure. The records are arranged primarily according to the functional divisions, but there are also separate sections for the records relating directly to the nationally registered companies.

UAC Holdings Ltd

In 1960 the old companies of Bluerock Ltd were bought back by UAC from Unilever and formed into a new UAC holding company, UAC Holdings Ltd. In [1978] it acquired from UAC all the latter's investments in Europe and elsewhere outside the United Kingdom not held by CWA Holdings Ltd.

UAC UK Holdings Ltd

UAC UK Holdings Ltd was established in 1979 (related circular dated 12 January 1979), a subsidiary of UAC International Ltd, and had the legal ownership of all the UAC Group interests in the United Kingdom, including a subsidiary named UAC Ltd. This was consequent upon the reorganisation of Unilever in the United Kingdom.

It was a holding company only, and acquired all UAC UK activities, including Palm Line Ltd, the Leverton Group, the Kennedy Group, the Ford and Slater Group, the Massey Group, the other Motors companies and the office equipment companies. Some of these were owned by UAC, but the greater part were owned by Unilever Ltd.

It served as the vehicle for the disclosure of information both publicly and internally.
Company number 71896


UAC Ltd was established in 1979 as a subsidiary of UAC UK Holdings (itself a subsidiary of UAC International Ltd) to take over most of UAC's operational activities. It was an important company in commercial terms, because all of the previous Divisions of UAC became Divisions of it, and it therefore carried on most of UAC's previous function and business. On the other hand the Board was not so important because it did not take any major decisions itself, but in effect only executed the directions of UAC International.
Company number 95206


Sir Robert Waley Cohen, Chairman [1929]-[1931]

Colonel E H L Beddington, director 2 May 1929-31 December 1951, Chairman 24 February 1931-[5 May 1936]

Viscount Trenchard, director 4 February 1936, Chairman 5 May 1936-30 August 1953. (Died 10 February 1956).

Frank Samuel, director 6 October 1930, Deputy Chairman 1 January 1952, Chairman 31 August 1953. Died 25 February 1954.

Lord Heyworth, director 4 March 1941-3 May 1960, Chairman 9 March 1954-31 August 1955.

Arthur Henry Smith (Sir Arthur Smith), director 2 January 1945-30 November 1969, joint managing director 1 January 1952-31 August 1955, Chairman 1 September 1955-[30 November 1969].

Arthur Ingham Anderson, director 29 April 1957, joint managing director 7 October 1968, Chairman 2 December 1969-1976

C Frazer Sedcole, 1976-1979

James Louden, director 5 December 1972, Chairman 20 February 1979-1985

M S Perry, director 1 July 1983, joint managing director 1 January 1984, Chairman 1 March 1985. Resigned 6 February 1987.

C M Jemmett, [from 6 February 1987]


George James Cole, director 2 January 1945-30 July 1963, joint managing director 1 January 1952-31 August 1955.

Sir Frederick Johnson Pedler, joined UAC in 1947, director 19 December 1950-30 September 1968, joint managing director 1 September 1955, Deputy Chairman 1965, retired [30 September] 1968.

Alfred Colin Clarke Baxter, director 18 December 1951-31 May 1965, joint managing director 1 September 1955-31 January 1964.

Henry Arthur Franklin, director 18 December 1951-31 March 1961, joint managing director 1 September 1955-[31 March 1961]

Eric Campbell Judd, director 12 April 1960, joint managing director 7 October 1968, Deputy Chairman 2 December 1969

Jacques Rene Francois Gaudart, director 30 July 1963, joint managing director 2 December 1969


E A Enfield, [1929]-retired 5 May 1931

Aubrey Rollo Ibbotson Mellor, CBE, MC - appointed 5 May 1931, resigned 31 May 1957 (Also director, 4 March 1941-31 May 1957)

John Latham Stanton MBE - appointed 1 June 1957, resigned 30 July 1963 (Also director, 1 September 1955-30 July 1963)

Edward Russell Baines - appointed 30 July 1963, resigned 31 January 1965

David Neild Cornock-Taylor, 31 January-16 November 1965, later director 16 November 1965-31 December 1981, Personnel Director

James Dewar Keir, 16 November 1965-13 April 1973

David Stuart Watt, 1973-1985

In 1985 David Watt resigned as Joint Secretary of UAC International Ltd, UAC Ltd and UAC UK Holdings Ltd. Mrs V A Roberts, a Joint Secretary of those companies, became the sole Secretary. Mr Watt remained the Legal Adviser to the UAC International Group, and moved to Unilever House to join the Unilever Legal Department.


The slip listing, arrangement and initial cataloguing of this collection was done by William Meredith, between 2002 and 2007.

The Archive of the United Africa Company was Designated as a collection of outstanding international importance by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council on 21 October 2005.
Date1540 - 2009


Extent1,068 linear metres
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