Monday, 18 April 2011
One of the surprises of the 100-Oldest Companies project was discovering that many Scottish companies were initially started to bring benefit to the local community.
Of the 100-Oldest, the Corstorphine Public Hall and Cupar Corn Exchange Companies were both set-up to build and then manage their titular facilities for the public good, addressing important needs in their respective localities. Many of the subscribers were local men and women (though some of the shareholders in Cupar were members of the landed gentry), and neither company sort to make any profit from their investment.
Of the other companies still surviving, The Dean Grounds Association raised money for tennis lawns, which it then handed to the Dean Tennis Club, and the previously mentioned Leith Cemetery Company provided a much needed service (at affordable prices) to the people of Leith.
Although we may think of companies as a means to maximise profit, this sort of publically spirited enterprise actually pre-dates many larger, money-making businesses incorporating themselves: most large firms regarded limited liability companies with suspicion until the 1890s and 1900s. Perhaps when current politicians talk of the need for social enterprise and community investment, they could do worse than look to the past for examples of success.
Photo of the Cupar Corn Exchange tower, taken from wikipedia. The owner is user:kilburn