Amongst the various firsts sought by cheque collectors, one is obvious: the earliest printed provincial cheque available to collectors is clearly the very handsome design in the first illustration. Although unissued, it can be accurately dated 1778 to 1780, because the firm's title matches a passbook which survives in industrial archives.
In terms of branches - 37 at the end - Becketts were the largest private provincial bank, but its origins are something of a mystery, not only to us, but to the bank itself. In 1832, the then senior partner stated that his bank was fifty-eight years old, which is clearly incorrect. Some of its banknotes had "Established 1758" as part of their design. Years later, the standard cheque form showed 1750 as a start date, although the evidence, if any, has not survived. Perhaps it was considered a good round date that was probably about right.
Whatever the date, it is clear that the first partners were Thomas Lodge, a woollen merchant, and John Arthington, linen draper, both of Leeds. A Beckett was a junior partner before 1772. Lodge died in 1778, a Mr Wilson becoming senior partner until 1790, when the Beckett family took over this role for the rest of the bank's career: it was absorbed by the Westminster Bank in 1920. Between 1778 and 1808 other partners are Calverley and Blaydes. Who were these people, and why did they become partners?
They key family were the Wilsons. Lodge had married a daughter of Richard Wilson, the Recorder of Leeds. Possibly when he died at age 56, his son Richard was under age, and so the father-in-law or another Wilson represented the Lodge interests as senior partner. Richard Lodge became a partner in about 1790, but the name disappears in 1798.
This Wilson (whichever he was) died in 1790 and thereafter the senior partner was always a Beckett, although William Wilson, the Recorder's son was a partner from 1798 to 1806.
Calverley is a real mystery. In one of those seemingly useless pieces of information that makes the Victorian county histories so delightful, we learn that Sir Walter Calverley installed a fulling mill on his estate so that his tenants might prosper (and he could raise rents!), and encouraged his neighbouring landlords to follow suit, one of the first to do so being a Mr Lodge. Baines' 1823 Yorkshire Directory tells us that in 1754, Sir Walter changed his name to Blackett - this can not be a misprint for Beckett can it? - but the Calverley name survived a little longer for John Calverley, son of a grocer, was a Beckett & Co partner until 1807 when - and we shall see that this habit was catching - he changed his name to Blaydes to inherit the estate. This was the family of Blade, East and Blades. As leading security printers, it is probably only coincidence that they printed Beckett's cheque around the turn of the 20th century. For the record, Arthington disappears from the title in 1780.
Which leaves us with the Becketts. The early family history is well known. The first John Beckett was a grocer in Barnsley, whose son, Joseph, became a linen manufacturer and established a bleach works, also the bank there: Beckett, Clark & Co., later Beckett Birks. Birks was a local solicitor and it would seem that all these activities were carried on simultaneously. The bank eventually became the Wakefield and Barnsley, and from thence to Barclays. There was no connection with the Leeds Bank, other than that Joseph's daughter married one of the Leeds Becketts.
John Beckett married a second time, to the sister of John William Wilson, who is credited with establishing the extensive Barnsley linen industry. No doubt this was a different family to the banking Wilsons, but their son, also John, moved to Leeds and married the daughter of the Reverend Christopher Wilson (later Bishop of Bath and Wells), the brother of the Recorder of Leeds and presumably as an result, became the first Beckett in Leeds Bank.
The son was created a baronet, apparently for valiant services in the course of the Luddite riots, and was a leading member of the Leeds community until his death in 1826. He produced a fairly large family, but in this respect his children were comparative failures. So the baronetcy passed from his eldest son (also Sir John, a Privy Counsellor, who died in 1847) to his other sons in turn: Sir Thomas (who had married Joseph's daughter) and Sir Edmund> None of these were partners: this generation was represented in the bank by another brother, William, who died too early to inherit the title.
Now Edmund had married Maria Beverley, a great neice of Sir Thomas Denison, the noted judge. It must have been for that reason he added Denison to his name (Edmund Beckett Denison) but then reverted to his old name on becoming the 4th Baronet. To continue the confusion, his eldest son was also Edmund, and went through the same exercise of acquiring then dropping the Denison name on becoming the 5th Baronet. (He later became Baron Grimthorpe). The bank was then represented by the second son, William Beckett Denison. Once again, the succession moved sideways, Grimthorpe having no male issue, so the son of William dropped the Denison name on becoming the next baronet.
Was there a connection with the London Denison (Denison, Heywood & Kennard), the reputed millionaire? This Denison was the son of Joseph Denison of "West Yorkshire", but the father had moved to London perhaps before 1750, rather too early for this saga. Joseph had no son, and the successor to his large Yorkshire estates was his son Lord Alfred Conyngham who - yes - changed his name to Denison, and was buried "in the family vault at Grimston". Another Denison in Leeds was William, a leading merchant. He also died childless. His estate went to a cousin, the London merchant John Wilkinson on condition that he settled in Leeds and - yes - indeed, changed his name to Denison. A difficult family!
To revert to Sir Edmund. He moved to Doncaster. No doubt employment for this branch of the family was a strong reason for the Becketts to buy the Doncaster bank of Cooke Vernon in 1868, and why it was thereafter known as Beckett & Co although senior partners tended to be Denisons. It is generally accepted that the Doncaster bank was founded in 1750, thus being one of the only twelve banks said to have existed at that time. Why Doncaster could support a bank in 1750 is not recorded; Baines describes it as "never (having) been a manufacturing town.. neither a place of such general trade", although, "there are a few (other) towns... in which so great a portion of the inhabitants possess independent fortunes."
1750 seems familiar. Illustrated is a Scarborough branch cheque with the "Established 1750" logo. This is not strictly correct, because Scarborough was a branch of the East Riding Bank, Beckett owned but with different partners. It was started about 1790, so possibly the earliest founding date - that at Doncaster - had been appropriated for use throughout the whole group!
Geoffrey L Grant
Click here for pictures of Beckett's Bank cheques.
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