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British Banking History Society

West England and South Wales Bank

The West of England and South Wales District Banking Company was incorporated on 29 December 1834, with its central office in the Exchange, Bristol with Mr John Bates being appointed manager. Branches were opened at Bath, Barnstaple, Bridgwater, Cardiff, Exeter, Newport (Mon), Swansea, Taunton and Wells.

The Prospectus appeared in August 1834, and in October of that year, a meeting held in the Bush Inn, Bristol, constituted the Bank under the Join Stock Company Act with a nominal capital of 1,000,000 in 50,000 shares of 20 each.

At the first General Meeting of the shareholders held at the Commercial Room in January 1836, it was reported that the paid up capital amounted to 178,160 representing 17,816 shares of 20 each, 10 being paid on each share. The proprietors at this time numbered 465.

The following year the Capital was increased, a call of 2-10.0d per share being made. In December 1837, the paid up capital stood at 260,000 and the proprietors numbered 560. The reserve fund at the same date was 10,300.

Owing to increasing business, which necessitated a more commodious Banking House, the Directors, in 1854, purchased the Old Bush Inn for 10,000 which was subsequently demolished, and the new Banking House erected on its site.

Bank premises
On 2 February 1857, the West of England and South Wales District Banking Company moved from the Exchange to the new building which is said to have cost 40,000 to construct. Bristol Corporation assessed the Bank at 2,000 per annum, some 50 more than all of the other established banks put together!

Business increased for some years, and by 1862 paid up capital amounted to 625,000 in December of that year. the proprietors numbered 1000 including Pontypool, Tredegar, Merthyr, Chepstow and other West Country branches.

The Pontypool and Tredegar branches both opened in 1854 (based on their names listed in the commercial directory for the first time).

In 1866, Mr J P Gilbert succeeded Mr John Bates as the General Manager at the Bristol Head Office. Mr John Dester was appointed Deputy Manager. At the end of 1869 a total of thirty-two branches were trading, paid up capital amounted to 750,000 out of a nominal capital of 1,000,000. There were 1,700 proprietors.

At the end of 1876 a total of forty-two branches were trading, paid up capital remained at 750,000 and the reserve fund had increased to 150,000.

On December 9 1878, the West of England and South Wales District Banking Company suspended payments. Two months previously the City of Glasgow Bank had closed its doors. Its ruin was brought about mainly by imprudent and heavy advances on inconvertible securities, and by the pernicious habit of nursing irredeemably bad debts.

To the same cause must be attributed the stoppage of the West of England and South Wales District Banking Company, bringing ruin upon many hundreds of people. On the books being handed to liquidators, it was discovered that the paid up capital of 750,000 and the reserve fund of 156,000 had entirely disappeared, and against liabilities of about 350,000 there was a further estimated deficiency of assets exceeding 300,000. The calamitous results were found to be attributable to imprudent advances made to two Iron Firms in South Wales, which began upwards of thirty years previously, and afterwards enormously increased from time to time, in the vain hope of ultimately extricating the Bank from difficulty.

The collapse was ruinous to the bulk of the shareholders, several of whom had invested their entire capital in the establishment. The calls of the liquidators amounts to 12-0-0d per share. A resolute effort was made to resuscitate the bank with a view to preserving the profitable businesses in Bristol and Somerset, and a new company entitled the Bristol and West of England Bank was formed on the limited liability principle, with a capital of 300,000 in 20 shares of which 7-10-0d were paid up.

In early 1879, the Home Secretary, Sir Richard Cross ordered a prosecution to be instituted against the Chairman, Jerome Murch, a former Mayor of Bristol and Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset; and five directors of the original bank, Messrs G H Leonard, J Coates, A Allen, C Lucas and the Revered H B George and the General Manager Mr J P Gilbert. The defendants were charged with publishing fraudulent balance sheets with the intention to deceive. All defendants were acquitted. The West of England and South Wales District Banking Company was liquidated in 1887.

Dividends amounting to 16/6d in the pound on the debts were paid within eleven months of failure. The creditors who consented to relinquish interest on their claims were satisfied in April 1880. Remaining liabilities were discharged by March 1881. The sum of 2-10-0d per share was afterwards returned to the proprietor who had paid the calls, and it was announced in January 1887 that a final sum of 5/- or 6/- per share would shortly be distributed.

Notes: The Welsh companies indebted to the West of England and South Wales District Banking Company included:

  • T Booker & Co Tin Plate Works of Pentyrch and Mellingriffith, Glamorgan.
  • By 1876, the Plymouth and Aberdare Iron Company and T Booker and Co owed the Bank a total of 4,326,859.
  • Messrs E J Wait of Cardiff, Espartos Grass and Spanish Corn merchants owed some 34,590.
  • Messrs Miller and Co of Bridgend - 8,000 to 9,000.
  • The Crumlin Viaduct Works Ltd - 15,490
  • The Kemeys Bridge Co was incorporated on 4 December 1829 to erect a bridge across the River Usk. The Chain Bridge was built about 1830. The Kemeys Bridge Company's interests were later purchased by the Monmouthshire County Council in 1901. The original Chain Bridge was replaced by a new bridge in 1905/06 at a cost of 5,387, and is currently undergoing refurbishment.


Click here for pictures of West of England and South Wales District Banking Company cheques.

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