Solving the mystery: Utengule Estate Ltd
Archivists working on the Co-operative Group Relocation project recently solved the mystery of a ledger relating to the Utengule Estate, Tanazania, between 1958 and 1964. Heather Roberts explains.
There have been quite a few surprising and useful finds amongst the ledgers, catalogues, photographs, plans and publications we come across in the Co-operative Group Relocation archive project. Hiding humbly in a basement room of the Old Bank Building on Hanover Street, was a very unassuming minute book. The only thing of note about it was that it was entitled ‘Utengule Estate minutes 1958-1964’, a strange name and not one I had previously come across, and that it was almost empty but for about six pages at the back of it.
Nevertheless, it was archive material and you never know how useful even the most insignificant and incongruous item may prove to be. So, it was listed, boxed and removed. That was in February.
Now, a few months later, as I was going through the lists I’d made, I came across its entry. So, I looked it up on the internet and saw that Utengule is a place in Tanzania. Our International Research and Development department has quite a lot of interest in Tanzania and so I brought it to them to see if they may be interested in having a look.
As it turned out, they were very interested indeed! They didn’t know that any co-operatives operated in that area which British Co-operatives had a stake in, yet here was irrefutable evidence that they did. Not only was it a British co-operative that was involved with the estate but it was the English and Scottish Joint Co-operative Wholesale Society, a large and successful co-operative with a large stake in overseas plantations of tea. So, I had a root in the E&S Joint CWS’s minute books, which were also uncovered in the project, and tried to reconstruct some of the story.
So, the story seems to be thus:
The E&S Joint CWS had very successful tea plantations in India and Ceylon at the time. Another organisation called the Assam Company (later to be the Assam and African Holdings Company), which had successful tea plantations in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) already, contacted the E&S Joint CWS regarding a Swiss-owned plantation which was soon to be up for sale. They couldn’t afford to buy it by themselves and suggested a joint venture.
This was the Utengule Estate, which according to the E&S Joint CWS minutes of 2 May 1957 consisted of 400 acres of tea, would be priced at £120,000 to buy and yielded approximately 400/500,000 lbs of tea a year. It was noted the quality and type of tea would be perfect for the Societies’ medium blends. It was also recommended that the Tanganyika government may allow an alienation of the estate although only if this would benefit the natives.
The proposal was considered further and in 1958 it was decided that the venture was too good to pass up. Very little mention of it can be found after that, apart from in the very sparse minutes of the Estate itself, so it still remains somewhat of a mystery as to what exactly happened to it.
This story really illustrates the nature of a project such as the Co-operative Group Relocation archive project. You never know what you’re going to find in the next basement, what relationships that material will have with others you already have or are yet to discover, and who may find it useful. We’re filling in a lot of gaps and answering many questions through the project, but also raising many questions as well. What exactly happened to it? It doesn’t seem to be in minutes we have. What happened to the rest of the papers to do with the estate and the acquisition? Are they in the basements waiting to found or have they been destroyed or removed? Why didn’t two organisations continue with another acquisition in Tanganyika, the Rungwe Estate, mentioned in the 1959 minutes of the E&S Joint CWS?
A mystery we didn’t even know needed solving has been solved, but it’s fruited many more! Any information on the estate or anything to do with co-operation in Tanzania and Utengule would be greatly appreciated. Please pop it in a comment below!
Published On: July 2, 2012
Written By: Natalie