PEEK INTO PAST: Banking collapse hits Burnley

Market Street, where the Holgate's had their bank, from St. James's Street.

Market Street, where the Holgate's had their bank, from St. James's Street.

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There is an ancient piece of popular wisdom – an adage – to the effect that “history repeats itself.”

It has been brought to mind by the present financial and economic crisis and a local man’s attempt to do something about it. I refer to Mr David Fishwick and his laudable Bank of Dave which has been such a success on Channel 4.

At the present time we are living through one of those all-too-frequent economic downturns and everyone has been reading about the lack of growth in the British economy. It is, of course, worse than that in that we have entered a “double dip recession” and now are warned it could be that we are about to experience a “triple dip”.

The consequences for the local economy could be considerable. As demand declines we can expect further closures not only of shops but also of manufacturing and distribution companies. Many of you will be aware of the businesses in Burnley centre that have brought down the shutters for the last time and, over recent days, we have heard of the closure of well-known fuel distributors Samuel Cooke & Co. Ltd, one of the oldest companies in the area.

Cooke’s was established in the mid-19th Century but, about 30 years before, in 1824 to be precise, Burnley found itself in an earlier but, perhaps more devastating, recession. It would be easy to say that, as with our current problems, the bankers were to blame but this time, if the bankers were at fault, it was not only those who occupied London’s square mile but the bankers of Burnley.

It is not generally known that Burnley once had its own bank. The firm was a partnership of three local men, John, George and Thomas Holgate, who, I think were brothers. There was another Holgate, Robert, who may have been from a different generation, but he was intimately involved in the affairs of the bank though he does not appear to have been a partner.

We first come across the Holgates in the late 18th Century. In 1792, for instance, a John Holgate was in partnership with a man called Blackburn describing themselves as “merchants and dealers in hops, London Porter and importers of foreign spirits.”

At the same time there was another firm with Holgate connections, Tattersall, Holgate & Co. who were woollen manufacturers, like Holgate & Blackburn, with premises in Burnley.

One of the Holgates soon became a brewer in his own right but which one it was is not certain. In fact it is possible the Holgates were brewers before they entered into partnership with Mr Blackburn and it could be that one of the family established the Bridge End Brewery in Habergham Eaves.

This was the business that ultimately became known as Massey’s Burnley Brewery.

In 1818 Robert Holgate was in business on his own account at a brewer at Bridge End. There was another brewery in Burnley at the time. This was in Bridge Street and was operated by Tattersall & Crook who were also in business in the textile trade with interests in both wool and cotton. Note a second mention of the name Tattersall – it is, as we will see, inextricably linked with that of Holgate.

Also in 1818 John, George and Thomas Holgate were established as bankers with premises in Market Street, Burnley. I suspect the partnership had been formed some years before that but, by this time, and in the few years to 1824, the Holgate’s became increasingly important locally.

They were not only bankers and brewers, commercial activities which often went together in these early days of industry, they were also wine and spirit merchants and had very considerable involvement in both wool and cotton textiles.

Being the only bank in Burnley, most of the town’s trades people did business with the family. To some they made funds available, to others they looked after their cash and assets and, when commercial expansion was mooted, the bank was there to give often expensive advice and arrange for capital to be made available. In some instances a bank might take shares in another firm to which it would provide funds.

This was the case in Burnley. Holgate’s Bank was involved in everything. It had shares in the water and gas companies, helped to draw up the Act of Parliament of 1819 which made the expansion of Burnley on Church land possible and, in addition, they had arranged loans to numerous Burnley businessmen all of which would have been satisfactory had there not been a recession.

To understand the situation, we will have to go back a few years. In 1815, with Napoleon safely on St Helena, the wars, which had started in 1793, came to an end. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had been good for at least part of the British economy. Wars always are, and when peace arrived there was a resurgence in demand for goods which had been in short supply in the years of conflict.

This lasted for a while but the resultant upturn in the economy was short lived and there were other problems to confront. Britain had not suffered a revolution, at this time, but it had been radicalised by the precepts of the French Revolution though it could be argued that the age old British conflict between privilege and those who were not in that position had come to the fore yet again.

The immediate post-war years were ones of conflict. There were a number of incidents like the Peterloo Massacre and Cato Street Conspiracy. In Burnley there were riots in 1817, only a few years after the Luddites had made their point, and in 1819 the town almost had its own Peterloo. By the 1820s wages were falling, particularly in cotton, the wool industry had almost left Burnley and large numbers of residents were confronting extraordinarily high food prices. This latter was caused by a number of factors – 1816 was a particularly wet summer, in 1818 there was severe drought, in 1821, 1823 and 1824 there were heavy rains in summer and autumn and severe outbreaks of sheep rot. In Ireland there were special problems which occasioned subscriptions to be raised. In Burnley the Holgates were generous with their support coming close to the donations given by the Hargreaves of Bank Hall and Ormerod.

The Crooks, five of them, could manage only one guinea each. Things got little better in the remainder of the decade. There were machine riots in most parts of Lancashire in 1826.

But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. What was it that happened in 1824 in Burnley that had such a devastating effect on the local economy? The short answer is that Holgate’s Bank failed taking with it some of the largest employers in Burnley and the district around. Burnley had its own “Northern Rock moment” but at a time when the taxpayer was reluctant to step in and save the day.

The crash, when it came, was devastating but why it happened is another matter. Walter Bennett, in his “History of Burnley Volume 3,” merely states many people, who held Holgate notes, rushed to change them for cash, causing the bank to collapse. However, the story was more complex and the editor of the “Blackburn Mail,” at the time, (May 5th 1824) put the blame on Crooke & Tattersall, clearly the firm mentioned above though the partnership’s name is in a different order the an “e” is added to the name Crook(e).

He wrote: “We are extremely sorry to announce the complete failure of the firm of Crooke & Tattersall, cotton and worsted manufacturers and brewers, who have, it is said, been in a fluctuating way for several years, and which has occasioned the bank of Messrs Holgate ... which was proverbial for its respectability to stop its payments, which we sincerely hope will only be for a short period.”

It is not possible to state with any certainty that Tattersall & Crook were responsible for what happened. There is, however, an interesting article in the “Blackburn Mail” in January 1822.

It tells of a violent robbery of the Burnley Mail Post at Snaygill, near Skipton, of a packet containing £180 in one guinea notes, £220 in one pound notes, all of the Craven Bank, (plus £5 in bank stamps) intended for the Burnley firm of Christopher Tattersall & Sons.

This Christopher Tattersall, though a cotton spinner in his own right, was a member of the family in partnership with the Crooks, and after the collapse of the bank the Crooks were soon in trouble. Christopher Crook was declared bankrupt in June 1824 as was William Crook, an iron merchant also of Burnley in the same month.

The brewery, of Tattersall & Crook, was for sale by the orders of the Assignees of Messrs Holgates, bankrupts, by the end of July.

It is clear the collapse of Holgate’s Bank was a very serious matter. At a meeting, held in early June, at the Thorn Inn (just off to the right of today’s picture) creditors of the firm were asked if George and Thomas Holgate, two of the partners, would be allowed to assist in winding up the affairs of the bank. A number of the firms which owed money are listed and among them is Holgate, Massey & Co. of Burnley, cotton, worsted and woollen manufacturers.

As the weeks went by the number of Burnley, Padiham and Pendle firms that filed for bankruptcy increased considerably. They included Henry Crook, a worsted spinner and property owner of Bridge Street, Burnley, William Fishwick, a timber merchant of Habergham Eaves, Henry Crook, the younger, a grocer of Burnley and John Moore, the elder, who owned the Narrowgates Mill, Barley, and property in Burnley.

I have only given you a few of the firms affected by the Holgate bankruptcy. A full list would include cotton mills, breweries, wool spinners, corn millers, iron founders, landowners, shops, inns and other property on a huge scale.

The loss of all these businesses probably put Burnley back 20 or more years but the town was not without a bank for long as the Craven Bank of Alcock’s, Birkbeck’s, Peart & Moffat arranged to open a branch in Burnley by May 12th 1824, at 63 St James’s Street, only a week or so after the collapse.

This was a devastating incident in our history which has almost happened again several times since 1824. The recent (2008) example resulted in the intervention of the Government. This prevented another disaster but we are still suffering the consequences of greedy and inept bankers.

There might have been an excuse 200 years ago but not any more and that at is why I wish Mr Fishwick the very best of luck with his scheme.