Historic company donates archives to city

A trove of historical documents has been donated to Cork city by one of Cork’s oldest companies, including a large collection of photos capturing Cork from the turn of the last century onwards.

Johnson & Perrott has donated its historical archive to the city with material dating back to 1861, when the business was acquired by James Johnson, who the current owners are direct descendants of.

Brian McGee, Senior Archivist, Cork City and County Archives Service; Mark Whitaker, CEO of Johnson & Perrott Motor Group and Daniel Breen, Curator, Cork Public Museum. Photo: Joleen Cronin

Johnson & Perrott are also loaning two major pieces to the Cork Public Museum, namely a fully restored James Johnson carriage dating back to the middle of the 19th century, and an original sign from the original carriage works on what was then called Nelson Place Carriage Works.

The written archive consists of documents, advertisements and agreements that cover a hugely significant period in the history of Cork. Amongst the donated items are:

- The handwritten diaries written of William Perrott, which detail his experiences of Cork during the War of Independence and the Civil War.

- Documents relating to the ownership of Rushbrooke Dockyard (now Verolme dockyard), and its sequestration during World War One.

- Documents relating to the introduction of motorised vehicles to Cork for the first time in the early 1900s.

- A vast array of advertisements in local and national newspapers.

CEO of JPMG Mark Whitaker said the decision to donate the archive stems from the fact that it was nearly lost.

“Some of what we are donating was recovered when a solicitor on the Mall cleared out an old strong room and I am hugely sensitive to protecting our archive for the benefit of future generations who might like to research it. With the company having been established in 1810, and in our family’s ownership since 1861, Johnson & Perrott has evolved and grown with its native city.

“Personally, I found it fascinating to read through my great grandfather’s diaries where he spoke of the practical difficulties of life during the War of Independence and the Civil War including brief references to the burning of Cork and the death of Michael Collins.”

The archive was donated to Cork City Archives at a special ceremony, which was attended by Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Damien Boylan and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin.

The Tánaiste said: “This archive shows a remarkable insight into how life in Cork changed so dramatically with the introduction of the motor car, and how that same period coincided with such upheaval in the city. I was particularly taken by the fact that the Nelson Place headquarters of Johnson and Perrott were commandeered by the Free State Army during the Civil War, and the corresponding entries in William Perrott’s diaries outlining life in the city at that dark time.”

William Perrott was an avid amateur photographer, and his personal collection of photographs show his love for sailing, and outdoor pursuits. The record contains never-before-seen images from around Cork.

An exhibition, ‘From Carriage to Car – The Early History of the Johnson & Perrott Group’, was officially opened at Cork Public Museum on the same day.

Daniel Breen, curator of Cork Public Museum, said: “It is fantastic for a museum such as ours to put on an exhibition like this that gives an insight into Cork’s commercial and business history, especially during the 19th and early 20th centuries when the city was taking shape as a modern city.

“We are keen to emphasise that there is huge scope for collaborations like this between public bodies and private companies with a long history like that of Johnson and Perrott.”