PEEK INTO THE PAST: The fall of Burnley’s bank

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MANY of you will know the heartening “Bank of Dave” is back on television and Mr Fishwick has won an award for it.

The programme is about a local man’s attempt to establish a local bank which meets the needs of the local business community without the dead hand of the discredited London bankers getting in the way. This is allied to the news Pennine Community Credit Union has opened a branch in the Calico building in Croft Street, Burnley.

Things might be changing in the world of local finance but these developments have got me thinking about the history of banking in the Burnley area, a subject which has not been given the attention it might have been. It could be that the fate of Burnley’s only bank, Holgate’s Bank, which came to an unfortunate end in the banking crisis of the 1820s, and that of the demise of Burnley Building Society in 1983, has coloured our views about the local banking and finance industry.

We have, if you look for it, quite a banking inheritance. This ranges from some splendid bank buildings in Burnley and Padiham, a number of personal associations with other structures, even a street name, and, if we look a little further afield, our story can be fortified by what we might discover in Nelson and other local towns.

In fact, let us start there. Right in the centre of Nelson stands the Santander building but if you look closely at it you will see the building has not always been in the ownership of the successors to the Burnley Building Society. I remember the building, which is at the junction of Scotland Road and Leeds Road, providing space for a branch of Barclay’s.

However, if you examine the Scotland Road elevation you will notice that, carved into the stone work, above a door, are the words “Union Bank of Manchester”. The Briercliffe Society has, in its possession, a sign once hung in the window of the Union Bank’s Harle Syke sub-branch, the one which, in later years was the scene of the pepper pot robbery. The sign merely gives the opening hours but this is just as much a tangible link with banking history as is the building itself.

In Burnley, the Union Bank of Manchester’s building is still with us. It stands in Manchester Road, occupying numbers 32-4 of that street, at its junction with Grimshaw Street. The building is now a large beauty salon (Poppies) but, at the rear, is Imperial Chambers, one of the buildings occupied by Petty’s, the estate agents.

The Union Bank of Manchester was founded in Manchester in 1836 rapidly growing into one of Lancashire’s more important banks. It absorbed a number of other northern banks including Sewell & Nephew’s Bank of Manchester in 1888; Yates & Co. of Liverpool in 1904, the Blackburn Bank in 1906 and other banks in Cheshire and Yorkshire before it too was taken over by Barclay’s in 1919, though it traded under the old name of Union Bank of Manchester until 1940.

The building in Burnley dates from 1894 and it was designed by the Burnley architect, William Waddington. In more recent years, Burnley Building Society and its immediate successor, the National & Provincial Building Society, restored the property. The Union Bank also had a branch at 124, Colne Road which is at the point Hebrew Road and Extwistle Street join Colne Road.

This is just one of Burnley’s banks. The history of banking in Burnley probably goes back to the 18th Century though I have not been able to determine a starting date. It is known that, in 1792, a firm of the name of Holgate & Blackburn were operating in town as merchants, dealers in hops, London porter and foreign spirits etc. and the Holgate mentioned was a member of the family which was to establish the bank of that name in Burnley.

It is in 1818 we have confirmation that the firm of J.G. and T. Holgate were bankers and liquor merchants and their office was in Market Street. In the Directory of that year there is reference to another firm, that of Holgates, Massey & Co. who were ale and porter brewers and cotton spinners, the latter at the “Bottom o’ th’ Town” (lower St James’s Street area).

Unfortunately, little is known about the banking interests of the Holgate family. It could be they had only one bank building (the one in Burnley) but the family, collectively, owned what was then Burnley’s most significant commercial enterprise – a company which ranged from banking to brewing, wool, cotton, property and the importing of wines and spirits.

In 1824 the firm failed. I have told the story of this failure in an article, in this series, some time ago. It was one of the most significant events in Burnley’s commercial history. The bank collapsed and, as consequence of a run on the bank, a number of Burnley’s most important employers also fell by the wayside. The incident probably had the effect of putting Burnley and its neighbourhood back 20 years or so. The Holgate’s did not recover but this Burnley bank was not the only one to fail at this time. Around the country dozens of banks collapsed in the 1820s and the bank in Blackburn came very close to enduring the same fate.

The Blackburn bank was that of Cunliffe, Brooks which had been founded in 1792. The first partners were Roger Cunliffe, whose family came from Great Harwood and had been prosperous mercers since Elizabethan times, and William Brooks who, from humbler stock originally from Whalley, started a calico business in Blackburn. It is said the Brooks family had acted as unofficial bankers to the village of Whalley for a number of years. In relatively lawless times the family had the wisdom to buy a safe and their neighbours paid a small fee to them.

Samuel Brooks, the son of William, opened the firm’s first bank in Manchester in 1819. In those days what we would regard as wholly owned subsidiaries were often not treated as such and Cunliffe, Brooks Manchester office had to endure a number of runs on its resources. It should be pointed out the Manchester office had been established in the same year as the Peterloo Massacre when the city was witnessing a period of great radical activity.

In 1825, the year after the collapse of Holgate’s Bank in Burnley, a similar thing happened at Cunliffe, Brooks Manchester office. There was a rush to change paper money into gold which resulted in a severe loss to the bank’s gold reserves. Samuel knew the bank was basically sound but it could not survive a run of the proportions being witnessed. His solution was to open several sacks of flour, the tops of which he filled with gold sovereigns. He then displayed the open sacks prominently in the office and, in doing so, convinced the people of Manchester their money was safe with him.

It is a pity the Holgates did not have someone as enterprising as Samuel. Cunliffe, Brooks survived, moved its head office to Manchester (thus explaining the place name Whalley Range) and, eventually, becoming part of Lloyd’s (founded in Birmingham in 1765) as late as 1900.

In Burnley, Holgate’s Bank was quickly replaced (not taken over) by Alcocks, Birkbeck & Co. This was in 1824 but the bank had been founded in Settle in 1791 by William and John Birkbeck of Settle, John Alcock of Skipton, John Peart of Grassington, Joseph Smith of Giggleswick and William Lawson, also of Giggleswick. In 1826 the bank absorbed Chippendale, Netherwood & Carr of Skipton and the firm moved its head office to that town.

A significant event happened in 1835 when the partnership, then known as Birkbeck’s, Alcock’s & Birkbeck, was joined by William Robinson of Settle. This had a direct influence on Burnley as William’s son, also called William, came to Burnley in 1855 as manager of the bank here. On his father’s death the younger William became a partner in the firm.

William Robinson played an important role in the history of Victorian Burnley. He became a magistrate, an ex-officio Guardian and was founder of the new Workhouse, now the General Hospital. More important than these, he put his financial knowledge at the disposal of the new Burnley Council and took the chair of the finance committee for many years. He was Burnley’s third mayor (1864-6) and served again in that role from 1877-9. Mr Robinson lived in great style at Reedley Bank. He died in April, 1881 and is buried, as was said at the time, in a “quiet corner” of Briercliffe churchyard.

The bank he helped to run so well changed its name in 1880 to that of the Craven Bank Ltd, but it was absorbed by the Bank of Liverpool in 1906 which, in 1918, amalgamated with the London-based Martin’s Bank to become the Bank of Liverpool and Martin’s. Eventually, the bank became known as Martin’s and this explains the survival of a coat of arms on a building at the corner of Red Lion Street and Manchester Road, Burnley. The coat of arms is distinguished by a prominent grass hopper, the sign of Martin’s Bank.

There is another survival of the Craven Bank in Burnley but it is not a bank building. Near the hospital you will find Peart Street. You will recall a John Peart was one of the founders of the original bank in 1792. The Robinsons were related to the Pearts and William Robinson of Burnley gave his son the middle name of Peart and the family was involved in choosing that name for the street.

To round things off, many of you will have heard of Birkbeck College at the University of London. A little known fact is that it was named after the family of Birkbeck as in Alcock, Birkbeck & Co. This is quite something for the little town of Settle to celebrate but, surprisingly, that part of the world has another university connection. I refer to Manchester College at Oxford University which, despite its name, was founded in Rathmell (close to Settle) as a training college for Nonconformist clergy. There is still a College Fold in that village.

I will return to the story of Burnley’s banking history in future articles.