The Oldest Company in 58 UK Cities timeline

A Close Look at Exeter’s Oldest Business

Authored by beverly.clair
Posted Tuesday, October 12, 2021 - 1:54pm

Starting a new business is tough. And it's a risk that rarely pays off. The vast majority go under within five years, while the average lifespan for an S&P 500 company is now less than 20 years.  But there are exceptions. And in this case, researchers from decided to find them. Using data sourced from Companies House, they put together some lists of the UK's oldest running businesses. It includes banks, publishers, shipping companies, and an Exeter-based firm that's been doing business for over two centuries.

Exeter's oldest company

In 1750 Henry Besley set up a small printing shop called Besley & Copp. At the time, Besley was probably focusing on making enough money to cover his operating costs during that all-important first year. The latest stats suggest 1 in 5 businesses fold within the first 12 months. But Besley & Copp didn't. It's still going strong today, making Besley & Copp Exeter's oldest business!

Besley & Copp kept printing during the early days of the industrial age, the French and American revolutions, and the two world wars. It also survived the world's largest economic and financial crises, including the 2008 credit crunch that killed off several banking and insurance giants. That's not bad considering Besley & Copp started life as a tiny backstreet printer way back in the middle of the 18th century.

Another 200 years of Besley & Copp?

Besley & Copp is well-positioned to continue its success well into the 21st century. This small but agile company has fully embraced the services and technologies powering how people do business today. As well as offering a range of traditional print services, Besley & Copp also helps companies create eye-catching social media advertising campaigns. And its eSupply portal means customers can create customized product ranges at the touch of a button.

Besley & Copp's incredible journey is best summed up by the British inventor James Dyson. "Markets are constantly changing and evolving," said the creator of the famous Dyson hoover. "So the long-term strength of any business lies in its ability to evolve with the times."

The top 10 oldest businesses in the UK

Besley & Copp has been around for a long time. But it's nowhere near as old as the Aberdeen Harbour Board. The industrial port is the oldest business still operating in the UK. It began receiving ships in the year 1136!

The UK's second-oldest business, Trinity House Corporation, also has a nautical theme. Created in 1514, Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers.

The remainder of the top 10 list is dominated by publishing and media companies. The Oxford University Press is the oldest of the bunch, closely followed by its biggest academic rival, the Cambridge University Press. 

Manufacturing company Firmin & Sons is also included. The Midlands-based firm started producing military supplies and goods in 1655. 

The Bank of Scotland has continued to provide financial services since first opening its doors in 1695. And when it comes to legal matters, no firm has more experience than Blackhurst Swainson Goodier LLP. It started offering legal advice in 1720.

All of these golden oldies are still going strong today, and they're showing no signs of slowing down. So here's to the next 100 years!

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