The Royal Bank of Scotland, like all major banks, has maintained a corporate archive for many years. The function of the Archive Department is to identify and preserve the records generated by the Bank and its constituents which are considered worthy of permanent preservation for historical, legal or operational reasons. The Archive comprises a wide range of material, including Minute Books, correspondence, ledgers, staff registers, photographs, architectural drawings, banknotes and cheques, and runs to over a mile of shelf space, split between locations in London and Edinburgh.
The Royal Bank needs to keep an Archive for business reasons, as a record of past procedures and decision-making and to inform present and future policy. This is a function of particular importance at a time of intense business and organisational change where the corporate memory is unlikely to be preserved by a continuity in staffing, function and premises. The Bank also recognises that, as custodian of an important part of the nation's documentary heritage, it has a duty of care. The collections include, for example, the oldest banking records in Britain, the 1680's customer ledgers of London goldsmith banker, Edward Backwell, who safeguarded plate for the well-to-do, issued notes, loaned money to the public, and provided finance to the Government. His clients included the diarist, Samuel Pepys. By 1671 over one-fifth of the money in the Exchequer was on loan from Backwell. The ledgers provide evidence of a surprising breadth and sophistication of Britain's seventeenth century banking network.
The Archive also includes the records of the Darien Company, Scotland's ill-fated attempt to colonise Panama during the 1690's, out of which the Royal Bank itself was born in 1727, and a wealth of correspondence concerning the rise of Glasgow's trade during the early nineteenth century. Indeed records reveal a great deal about Britain's economic and social history. For example, at Drummonds Branch in Charing Cross, once one of London's most important west end banks, over five hundred customer ledgers covering the period from 1716 to 1955 have survived. Drummonds served about a quarter of the titled men and women of eighteenth century Britain, as well an many artists, architects, scientists and statesmen, including Thomas Gainsborough, 'Capability' Brown, Robert and James Adam, Josiah Wedgwood, Sir Humphrey Davy, King George III and his family and several prime ministers. Surprisingly, the Archive can also offer material relating to the eighteenth century slave trade, the American War of Independence and the early history of the Navy. As a result the Bank's Archive is of interest to academics, students, genealogists, antique dealers and heritage organisations of all kinds as an invaluable source of detailed historical information.
The Bank's Archive is, of course, a private collection to which the public has no automatic right of access. Much of the material relates to customers, to whom we have a duty of confidentiality, and the small Archive team is kept extremely busy in dealing with the many internal enquiries and uses which arise. However, the Archive collections are made available by appointment to bona-fide researchers and a number of important research projects have already been completed on our collections.
Of particular interest to cheque collectors would, no doubt, be the cheques and related material, ranging from the earliest handwritten drawn notes in the 1660's to the modern, electronically readable cheques of the 1990's. The Archive includes not only cheques, cheque forms, cheque books and travellers cheques, but also cheque printing plates and papers relating to cheque forgeries from a number of country banks in England and Scotland, as well as city banks in London, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Alison Turton, Manager of the London Archives
Copyright 2010 BBHS