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British Banking History Society

Workington Bank

The Workington Bank lasted eleven years after being let down by the City.
It was worth one guinea back in 1809. That is how much money the cashier at the Workington Bank would have handed over the counter in exchange for this note.

One Guinea Note
That is one pound and one shilling. Quite a lot of money in those days. Hopefully you would not have held onto it. After 1812, it was worth absolutely nothing, because the bank went bust in that year. What is generally believed to be Workington's first bank opened its doors in1801 and closed in 1812 lasting a brief and troublesome eleven years.

Apart from a few copies of their notes, and a few brief footnotes, not too much is known about this early Workington Bank. It was founded and registered by Messrs Wood, Smith, Stein & Co. The exact date of its founding is unclear, but on 6 November 1800, an agreement was drawn up between John Christopher Curwen Esquire, of Workington Hall and "Messrs Wood, Thompson, Smith, Fletcher, Smith & Company".

Agreement between bankers
This document tells us that they were "about to commence business as bankers in Workington". Curwen agreed "to give preference in his banking operations to the house of Messrs Wood and Company which they consider will be for their advantage by having their notes used in Mr Curwen's business. It is not known what Curwen used to make payments before this, but he seems to have had quite a number of his own notes in circulation. The new bank owners were obviously keen to get the Lord of the Manor on board. They were so keen that they agreed to "furnish Mr Curwen with a standing credit at their house to the extent ten thousand pounds."

It was a good deal for John Christopher Curwen. The credit was available to him "without him being subject to the payment for the term of seven years from the opening of the bank, on or about the first day of January next, (1801)". In return he agreed to discontinue issuing notes, withdrew those already in circulation and "likewise to encourage the circulation of the notes of Messrs Woods & Co… and to promote the interest of the Bank as far as his business shall conveniently enable him."

It was not the best of time to be in business for country banks. It was a time of agricultural boom and bust. We were at war with the French, before a brief peace was declared. Peace was not good news for many British businesses, especially those connected with the arms manufacture and iron trades. That included Workington.

It was also bad news for a number of country banks who had deposit arrangements with larger London banks, not an unusual practice at that time. It was a matter of mutual convenience. It had been observed that canny countryfolk deposited but did not borrow, while Londoners wanted to borrow. Workington Bank kept its main account with the London bank of Messrs Kensington, Styan and Adams. They should have looked north for partners. At that time Scottish banks were a major force in Cumberland and the northern counties. In 1804, Wood & Co reportedly acquired £2000 in notes from a Dundee-based bank to distribute in the area.

Bankruptcy notice
In 1812, the London-based bank of Kensington, Styan & Adams failed, and it took the Workington Bank, and other country banks with it. The firm of Messrs Wood, Stein & Co was declared bankrupt in 1812. Its total liabilities were recorded as £120,000. A lot of people must have been desperately unhappy at losing their savings. The total amount lost by its customers was £105,000. Messrs Wood, Stein and the other partners were equally unhappy. No businessman likes to lose money, and they lost a lot. Quite how much they lost is not known. A footnote from the Banker Magazine of 1845 states that the loss by the partners had been considerable. Thus ended Workington's first banking enterprise.

Michael How, writing in the Times & Star, Workington

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