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British Banking History Society

Yorkshire banks

Wednesday, 30 August 1797 was a hot, sultry day. The market at Knaresborough had been very busy, but as the streets were emptying, just before six o'clock, a solitary horseman left for Ripon. Richard Terry was the second generation of a rare, but soon to become commonplace, profession in Yorkshire - a banker. He was a partner in Harrison Terry, the second oldest banking house in Ripon. His bank was already twelve years old and had been founded by his father, Thomas, a successful grocer, and Dr William Harrison - both members of old Ripon families.

From premises close to the present Barclays Bank in Knaresborough, Richard had conducted a good day's business and was heading for home. Our itinerant banker was about to have an adventure he would not forget.

Knaresborough and Ripon were well to the fore with the establishment of premises solely acting as a bank in the north of England. The goldsmiths and scriveners in London had developed banks over the previous over the previous two hundred years, their deposit receipts developed into banknotes and written instructions from their customers became Bills of Exchange from which cheques developed to become common by the middle of the nineteenth century. Usage expanded into the provinces but transactions were adjunct to a merchants main business. The need for 'fancy premises' did not reach Yorkshire until after 1750.

The catalyst was the Industrial Revolution. The need to finance growth through profitable banking soon transformed the scene. The new industrialists, particularly, found a profitable way of increasing their newly found wealth by establishing banks. They were able to issue their own banknotes. This often provided to be a temptation that led to disaster or skulduggery, as we shall see.

What of that local scene in Nidderdale in the late eighteenth century? From a map of the area compiled by Jeffreys in 1775 we see that Ripon and Knaresborough were much larger than Harrogate, which consisted of two tiny villages, Low Harrogate and High Harrogate, yet to be linked. Ripon and Knaresborough were the industrial and commerce centres of the district, just ten miles apart, linked by an old bridle path through Farnham and Burton Leonard.

Back to or late August afternoon in 1797. Richard Terry rode leisurely down Knaresborough High Street. Unknown to our intrepid banker there lurked this fine evening one Peter Buck, of Ripley, sitting in the Royal Oak Inn at the bottom of the street. Strategically seated by the window, a position that commanded a view of the three routes out of town, Peter Buck watched the passing horseman.

Terry turned right and the end of the High Street towards Ripon and passing along the Boroughbridge turnpike before turning down the byroad to Farnham, following the bridle path to Copgrove. Meanwhile, Buck had left the Royal Oak and was following our hero. On the bridal path, Buck caught up with Terry who politely opened the gate for him. The assailant then turned on Terry, who fired a shot, which missed, and a fight ensued.

Terry shouted: "I know you and have all the bills copied." as the highwayman tore them from his pocket and stole a purse containing 160 gold guineas. The haul included £1,500 of bills, Bank of England and Country notes.

Buck, fleeing the scene, was spotted by at least one person who professed to know him. He was later arrested and tried. Another story of his capture was that he went into the bank in Ripon one day and his voice was recognised by Terry who was behind a screen. A cut on Buck's face caused by the banker's riding crop identified him.

At his trial, the jury found Buck guilty in three minutes but recommended leniency, which was supposed by Terry in view of Buck's respectable connections. It was to no avail. He was hanged at York.

Danger from footpaths was not the only threat to the reputation of the early banks in Knaresborough. The town can claim one of bankings curiosities - a bank that issued notes for five and a half pence as a deception for five pounds. While never a 'proper' bank its origins are known: it is the famous 'house in the rock'. In 1770, a poor weaver, Thomas Hill, began building the house and when he died his son, Thomas continued. Eventually completed with battlements and two cannon it was named Fort Montague. In 1791 Thomas awarded himself a knighthood and appointed himself as Governor General and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Fortress Fort Montague. The notes issued were similar to Bank of England and local banknotes and used by confidence tricksters to defraud the illiterate. In 1816 the Mayor of Newcastle sent the following handbill:

"Caution. There are a set of swindlers in the fair attempting to put off as and for Five Pound Notes, certain fictitious notes purporting to issue from the Montague Bank for the payment of five and a half pence!"

By contrast to all this excitement, Harrogate was only introduced to banking when it had settled into a solid and respectable profession. To be a good banker it was necessary to defy the laws of nature. One rose through gravity and fell through levity!

In 1848, the only bank in Harrogate, according to Slater's Directory was Terry and Harrison (old Bank), High Harrogate. In 1861 it was more specifically located in Devonshire Place. So our old friend had not been in any way deterred by his earlier experience and was growing his bank in the district. On a banknote we can see his steady hand of authentication.

While amalgamation of banks is now very much the vogue, it was almost frantic one hundred years ago. By 1866, Harrison and Co (Old Bank) were on James Street. They were taken over by Bradford Old Bank in 1875 who were in turn absorbed by the United Counties Bank in 1907, finally ending up as Barclays Bank in 1916. Richard Terry would have been spinning in his grave.

However, the claimant to the longest pedigree in this area in HSBC Bank, (recently Midland Bank). The very first bank was Samuel Coates and Co, appointed in 1777 to receive deficit gold coins according to the King's Proclamation. With a main office in Knaresborough and a branch at Ripon, the bank had four partners by 1807. In 1834, along with Britain and Co of Ripon and Dresser and Co they were absorbed into the Yorkshire District Banking Company becoming the Yorkshire Banking Company in 1843, which itself became part of the London, City and Midland Bank in 1901.

In the meantime, another early Ripon bank, Farrar Williamson, founded in 1801, was absorbed into the York City and County Banking Co in 1838; by 1875 the bank had a branch in James Street. When these premises were bought by the Yorkshire Penny Bank in 1899 it moved to 1 Prospect Crescent (The Old Post Office).

The story of NatWest is hardly less involved. One of the most important developments in banking in the area was the founding in 1831 of the joint stock bank, the Knaresborough and Claro Banking Company. With its Head Office in Knaresborough, branches were established throughout the area. The Harrogate agency was formed possibly before 1850 and was issuing its own banknotes in 1851. The agent (manager) was a local wine and spirit merchant called Walker, followed by Parliament Street chemist, John Greenwood, who was agent for forty years. A very interesting combination of professions.

An inspectors report at the time gives us an insight into the development of the town and the importance of the bank. He remarked the town had a resident population of 30,000 and "altho' the town had rapidly shot ahead, it had not been overdone, judging by the absence of empty houses, while the number of visitors, yearly increasing, confirms the spread of its popularity. The Claro Bank has by far the best business, is well spoken of, and many of the prosperous leading men owe their positions to the facilities afforded to them."

The inspector reports on the general manager: "As regards Mr Hill's control of the advances, the soundness of his judgement and exceptional local knowledge, there can be but one opinion. In lending I should say, he is, or at any rate has been rather on the restrictive side than otherwise… The Board I believe may safely fix the sum [size of loan he could make without requiring the prior consent of the Board] at £1,000…. to thus show him that by the maximum allowed… he has your full confidence as he had that of his directors."

The York and East Riding Bank of Beckett & Co (famous proprietors of the Leeds Bank) not wishing to miss out of the prosperity of the booming town opened a branch in Cambridge Crescent in 1899. If we look closely at the premises today (now the Yorkshire Building Society) we can see the Beckett family coat of arms carved in the stonework. This features the crest of the Beckett family, a boars head.

Beckett Family Crest City of Bradford Crest

This crest is also part of the old Bradford coat of arms and it also appears on an old Yorkshire Penny Bank cheque. Submerged into London County, Westminster and Parrs Bank in 1921, the old Beckett premises because surplus to requirements in 1974. This followed the formation of NatWest in 1970 from National Provincial, Westminster and District Banks.

Other banks that have come and gone in Harrogate include the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, which became the Bank of Liverpool and Martins (later absorbed by Barclays).

The list of banks shows how the banking scene changed from the single branch of Harrison Terry in the early part of the nineteenth century. I wonder if things would have been different if Peter Buck's shot had found its mark in 1797?

Malcolm W Lobley

Click here for pictures of cheques from Yorkshire banks.

See also:
Richmond & Swaledale Bank;
Jonathan Backhouse & Co;
Banking in the Northern Yorkshire Dales;

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