Who was this Mr W C Fish of the Finsbury Bank "For Clerkenwell, Islington, St Luke's etc."? A totally unrecorded banker not two miles from the Bank of England offering current accounts with ordinary grey on white fugitive ink cheque forms and as late as 1845. And, as an additional banking association the cheque is signed by George Cruickshank, the famous cartoonist and designer of the anti-hanging Bank Restriction note (see below).
Alas, research revealed very little other than Fish's Bank was probably short lived. According to contemporary directories, from 1832 to 1837 William Croft Fish was a seal engraver and gem cutter living at 2, Goswell Road. He then disappears until 1843 when he is listed as the Finsbury Bank at 98 Goswell Street. In 1844 and 1845, the bank is at 76 St Johns St. Road (the address on the cheque), which is also the residence of an "oil and colorman". And that is all, because Fish died in November 1845.
The addresses are confusing. St Johns St Road is today the northern section of St Johns Street, which runs from Angel, Islington to the Old Bailey. There have been several renumberings, but 76 can be located because its southern neighbour was The Old Red Lion, a famous hostelry, which is still on the same site. The late eighteenth century building in which Fish lived survives, currently as a snack bar. Similarly the northern end of the present Goswell Road was Goswell Street Road and the remainder of Goswell Street. The two Goswell addresses would have been slightly south of Fish's final address, but all these places are within a few minutes walk of each other, as is, in another direction, Cruickshank's house in Amwell Street.
A curiosity is that although the directories included the Finsbury Bank in the list of traders and also in the street sections, it was omitted from the lists of bankers. How many other local banks have been overlooked for this reason?
So perhaps after all, Fish is not an important discovery. But there remains an interesting story if only it could be unravelled. From seal engraver to banker must be one of the most unusual career progressions. What happened in the bank in five years? If the implication is that he was unsuccessful as an engraver, how did he acquire his banking capital? (Is it relevant that a William Fish was the Clerkenwell assistant tax collector in about the 1820s?) Did Fish know Cruickshank from his seal engraving days, or was is no more than he was the bank around the corner?
Geoffrey L Grant
Click here for a picture of a Finsbury Bank cheque.
Copyright 2010 BBHS