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British Banking History Society

Yorkshire Banks

An amazing number of people include Penny in the name when talking about the Yorkshire Bank, even though it is forty years since the name was shortened. Perhaps it was the recollection of the weekly school saving that puts it in mind. But does anyone who lives in Wensleydale or Swaledale remember their local bank's name before it became Barclays or HSBC? There won't be many, and they would need to be close on ninety to do so!

There is a wonderful heritage of banking in the two dales and tracing its local roots reflects the maturing local economy in the nineteenth century. Historically, in Yorkshire, banking as a separate business was slow to develop. even as late as 1750 there is no evidence that any firm engaged solely in banking existed anywhere in Yorkshire, although several merchants conducted banking transactions as an adjunct to their principal business.

However, economic climate in the decades following resulted in a huge upsurge in the number of banks being established. Regulation was minimal and merchants and others whose credit was good were able to undertake banking business and issue their own notes. Needless to say some acted recklessly and hardship resulted as the paper money they issued and their fledgling banks collapsed. Following the 1844 Bank Charter Act no newly formed banks were able to issue their own banknotes and restrictions were placed on the note issue of banks amalgamating.

Wensleydale was the home of a very sound banking partnership, which became the cornerstone of a substantial part of our existing bank network in the dale.

From small beginnings some time around 1804 a banking partnership initially styled Hutton, Other & Co was formed and had an office in Leyburn. The partnership expanded and enjoyed the confidence of the district. Their banknotes were accepted without question. They styled themselves Richmond and Swaledale Bank. In those days before the railways, the dales seemed unmoved by financial panics that affected the larger commercial centres and the bank never had to contend with a 'run' when depositors all wanted to withdraw their money at once.

Taking advantage of the new legislation, the bank converted to a joint-stock company entitled Swaledale & Wensleydale Banking Company in 1835. The new bank issued its own banknotes which featured Richmond and Bolton castles, and they circulated widely in the dales. Although the bank was very strong, the directors, in the 1890's realised that it might be vulnerable in view of its narrow business customer base and amalgamation with a larger London based bank would make sense. It must have been a hard decision to make.

Thus the business was acquired in 1899 by a bank whose origins go back to the seventeenth century, and who conducted banking business under the sign of the Black Spread Eagle in Lombard Street, London from 1728 - Barclay and Company Limited.

Rivalry for the Swaledale and Wensleydale Banking Company in the northern dales arose from the establishment of a branch network by the Darlington District Banking Company which was founded in 1831 (an early customer was the Darlington and Merrybent Railway). Over fifty years later in June 1883, the speculations of the Manager at Bedale caused a lose of 22,000. When news of the loss spread, a slight run on the bank took place. Following from this the York City and County Bank made an offer for the business, which was accepted, and a new bank name became familiar.

The York Bank pressed forward a vigourous policy of opening branches and amalgamations. Because of its size, the bank's notes would have been a common sight to businessmen in the area. In spite of a tremendous growth rate which by 1900 had eclipsed its local rival the Yorkshire Banking Company (no connection with the present day Yorkshire Bank), the trend towards larger banks and the need for association with London became overwhelming.

The ultimate predator was from the industrial heartland of England. The Birmingham and Midland Bank was a highly successful and acquisitive bank that in the late 1880s moved to amalgamate with London banks as well as suitable candidates in the north. They offered economics of scale and a widespread and diverse customer base not reliant on a single industry.

In 1901 the Yorkshire Banking Company succumbed whilst the York City and County amalgamated with the London Joint Stock Bank in 1909, which itself amalgamated with the Midland in 1918.

Backhouse & Co appear to be the oldest banking establishment in the area founded in Darlington in 1774. With its own notes issue and the partners opened branches in the north east, but from 1836 parts of the business were sold off to different banks. In 1896 Backhouse was one of the three lead banks in the amalgamation of Backhouse, Gurney, Barclay, Bevan and Company to become Barclay and Company Limited. (Barclays current Darlington address is Backhouses Bank Business Centre).

The Yorkshire Banking Company was represented at Northallerton. The Knaresborough and Claro Banking Company had a branch at Masham. This bank was absorbed by banks that eventually became NatWest.

In Kelly's Directory of 1913 an agency was shown for the Halifax Commercial Banking Company Limited in Hawes. Edward Allen was the agent. The Banker's Almanac for 1912 does not mention this agency for the bank, nor does the 1914 edition.

The present fashion for bank amalgamations seems to be repeating what happened 100 years ago. So what of the only remaining bank with a local name? Yorkshire Bank plc formerly The Yorkshire Penny Bank, with its emphasis on personal savings, had for many years branches at Hawes and Leyburn. It was sold to the Australians in 1990, but at least they had the good sense to keep the name!

Click here for pictures of cheques from Yorkshire banks.

See also:
Richmond & Swaledale Bank;
Jonathan Backhouse & Co;
How interest grew in Yorkshire Banks;

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