BANKING COMES TO TRING
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THOMAS BUTCHER & SONS

 


Tring High Street in the Edwardian era.  The edifice behind the lamp standard on the right is that of Thomas Butcher & Sons, The Bank of Tring, its facade projecting a corporate image of solidity, prudence and honesty, qualities that are no longer quite so evident in banking.  The austere metal railings that now front the building (shown below) are a poor excuse for the ornate ironwork seen here in an age when corporate and civic pride were more apparent.  John Bly’s antique shop is to the right of the bank — he was the grandfather of the television antique furniture expert — and what an attractive facade the shops opposite present, their gas-lights angled to illuminate the wares within (domestic electric lighting arrived in Tring in 1926).  Of course one didn’t download e-mail in that era.  Having traversed the Victorian Internet — the telegraph — the printed message was delivered by a telegram boy, seen here on the left holding his bicycle, who then returned to base to arrange the transmission of any reply.  In this horse-powered age ladies were well advised to raise their skirts when crossing the road!

Photo: Wendy Austin collection.

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CONTENTS

Background

The Need for a Bank in Tring

Thomas Butcher & Sons

The End of the Business

Tring Banknotes

The Chesham Building Society

The Cholesbury Parish Room

Acknowledgements

Other local history titles
relating to TRING


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BACKGROUND: DURING the first half of the 19th Century, England had many small private banks.  These were often set up by local businessmen — merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, etc. — as a sideline and to fund their own activities, but they came to play an important role in developing local economies at a time when the Bank of England and other London-based banks rarely stirred outside of the capital.  Because they were originally engaged in other businesses these local bankers were knowledgeable about their borrowers and the trades in which they were engaged.  Many kept customer accounts, issued their own banknotes and were closely linked to at least one London bank or agent’ that invested their customers’ money and settled transactions with other banking firms (interbank clearing).

But the existence of many small banks empowered to issue their own banknotes caused serious stability problems, and during the period 1809 to 1830 alone, over 300 of them failed.  In 1844, the Bank Charter Act created the supremacy of the Bank of England and put in place the process that eventually led to its monopoly of the issue of banknotes in England and Wales (but not in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands).  This monopoly did not take full effect until 1921, when Lloyds Bank took over the last private bank of issue, the firm of Fox, Fowler and Company, which had conducted a banking business at Wellington, Somerset, since 1787.

 
THE NEED FOR A BANK IN TRING: the main road through Tring was turnpiked in 1762 leading to an improved highway with London and the Midlands, later designated the A41.  The Sparrows Herne Turnpike was followed in 1799 by the Grand Junction Canal and then, in 1837, by the London and Birmingham Railway.  Although there were probably other reasons that cannot now be identified, improved transport communications must have played some part in increasing trade, particularly in agricultural produce with the Metropolis.  With growing trade came an increased population and here Tring’s Silk Mill, opened in 1824, must have made some contribution; in 1840 it employed 40 men, 140 women and 320 children, many from outside the area.  In 1840, the condition of Tring was described thus:


Modern Tring is a highly industrious and thriving little town, in which farmers, manufacturers, and those employed by them, make up the sum of its inhabitants, which is about 4000.  The principal farming business consists of grazing sheep; much of the neighbouring pasturage, from the chalky nature of the soil, and the highland character of the district, being unsuited for other purposes.  The manufactures consist of canvass weaving, a silk mill, and straw plaiting . . . . Tring has increased its inhabitants so much lately, that at the present time, owing to the demand for houses, it holds out a highly alluring and eligible investment for capital, in buildings suitable for the middle and lower classes of industrious people.

London & Birmingham Railway Guide, by E. C. and W. Osborne (1840).


TRING
(Source: A Vision of Britain through Time.)


TRING, a small town, a parish, and a sub-district, in Berkhampstead district, Herts. The town stands on Icknield-street, 1¾ mile W. of the Northwestern railway, and 5 N.W. of Berkhampstead . . . . consists chiefly of two well built streets; carries on canvas-weaving, silk-throwing, silk-weaving, brewing, straw-plaiting, and parchment-making; and has a head post-office, a railway station with telegraph, a banking office, a market house, a handsome church (chiefly later English, restored in 1862), five dissenting chapels, a mechanics institute, national schools, a weekly market on Friday, and fairs on Easter Monday and Old Michaelmas day . . . .

Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1870-72.

The above extract fails to mention farming, which the Census analyses show to have been a significant employer in the area throughout the 19th century.  Being a market town, the farmers − who were an affluent bunch compared with most folk at the time − came in from outlying areas to attend Tring’s weekly market and animal auction, and no doubt to transact business through the bank.


Thus there arose in this highly industrious and thriving little town a need for banking facilities in an age before the appearance of modern high street banks.  Nonconformists were prominent among those who set up in business as bankers, for being barred from a wide range of careers by the discriminatory legislation of the era they concentrated their energies on trade and commerce.  The Butcher family were businessmen, dealing in groceries, tea, tallow, seeds and corn.  They were also nonconformists, Strict Baptists, and so extending the family’s business activities into banking was not so unusual in that age.

 

Tring branch, NatWest Bank [1].

 
THOMAS BUTCHER & SONS: customers entering the National Westminster Bank in Tring High Street (above) might not realise that this was once Butcher’s Bank, [2] a private bank and bank of issue established in 1836 by Thomas Butcher in partnership with his son, Thomas Jnr. [3]  Based in Tring, the bank was also represented (in a makeshift way at first) at Aylesbury and Chesham on market days.  The Bank’s business was mainly agricultural and it is said that local farmers and merchants used to accompany the partners, acting as their escorts, when they were conducting banking business in nearby towns.


The Crown Hotel, Aylesbury (demolished 1937), looking down the High Street.


Bucks Herald, 11th November 1837.


Thomas Snr. lived above the bank until his death in 1862 at the age of 83.  Two days later he was followed by his wife, Elizabeth (née Woodman), their remains being laid to rest in the nearby Akeman Street Baptist Church burial ground; an imposing stone marks the spot.  Their daughter Lydia drowned in the Wendover Arm in 1824, probably aged 16, the newspaper report of the coroner’s hearing describing her father at that time as a grocer, at Tring.


The banking partners in 1845.


In 1826, Thomas Jnr. married Elizabeth Cutler, a lady nine years his senior, and at some point in their life the couple moved to Frogmore House, an imposing residence that once stood in Frogmore Street opposite the Black Horse public house. [4]  Thomas Jnr. eventually took over the bank from his father and his sons, Frederick and George, became partners in the business, which then became known as Thomas Butcher & Sons.”


Aylesbury High Street (then called New Road) C1860
looking towards Butcher’s Bank.


Butcher’s Bank grew steadily under the prudent and close attention of its partners who established permanent branches in the High Streets of Aylesbury and Chesham, and an agency in the premises of Richard Woodman, a tallow chandler in Berkhamsted (perhaps a coincidence, but Thomas Butcher Snr. married one Elizabeth Woodman); following the takeover of Butcher’s bank in 1900, Berkhamsted became a full branch.  In his classical work Lombard Street, Walter Bagehot drew a pen portrait of the local banker, which from the available evidence appears to have been true of the banking members of the Butcher family:


A man of known wealth, known integrity, and known ability is largely entrusted with the money of his neighbours.  The confidence is strictly personal.  His neighbours know him, and trust him because they know him.  They see daily his mode of life, and judge from it that their confidence is deserved.  Accordingly, the bankers who for a long series of years passed successfully this strict and continuous investigation, became very wealthy and powerful . . . . The calling is hereditary; the credit of the bank descends from father to son; this inherited wealth soon brings inherited refinement.

Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market, Walter Bagehot (1873).


Thomas Jnr. died in 1871:


The late Mr. Thomas Butcher, banker of Tring, who died on the 5th of the present month, at the age of 65 years, was an inhabitant of the county, and was well known and highly esteemed.  Mr Butcher was an ardent and consistent Liberal, and did much to advance the Liberal cause in the district in which he resided.  He was a Nonconformist, and was greatly respected for his excellent qualities by all who knew him, whether Churchmen or Dissenters.

Hertford Mercury, 29th April 1871.


The banking partners in 1874.

 

Frederick Butcher (1827-1919)

Following Thomas Jnr.’s death, Joseph joined his brothers Frederick and George as a partner in the business.  Frederick retired from the firm in February 1891 and ceased to be a partner in the business.

Frederick followed his grandfather and father as a deacon of Akeman Street Strict & Particular Baptist Church in Tring.  He was a wealthy man, using his money to help the Baptists ― especially the Strict Baptists  ―  with chapel projects in the Chilterns.  He also served as Chairman of the Tring Urban District Council from its creation in 1895 until 1901; on the death of Queen Victoria it fell to Frederick to express the Councils condolences:

“THE DEATH OF THE QUEEN. Before proceeding to the ordinary business, the Chairman [Councillor F. Butcher] moved the following resolution: That this Council record their deep sorrow upon the death of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, and respectfully beg to offer to his Majesty the King an expression of their sympathy with his Majesty and the Royal Family in their great bereavement.  It is not necessary, nor was that the occasion, to dilate upon the character of the late Sovereign.  A capable and judicious ruler, a loving wife and parent, a sympathetic and tender Queen, she would be greatly missed by her Ministers of State, by her children and relations, and also by her subjects. Mr. J. G. Williams formally seconded, and the resolution was passed in silence, all standing.”

Bucks Herald, 16th February 1901.


The Bank continued under the direction of George and Joseph until 1896, when Joseph died.  George’s sons, Francis Joseph and Walter, then became partners and, together with George, directed the firm during its final years, George, Francis Joseph, and Walter running the branches at Aylesbury, Chesham and Tring respectively.

George Butcher was by now head of the firm.  Born in Tring in 1835, he appears in the 1851 Census living with his parents at Frogmore House, his occupation being described as Bank Clerk.  The 1881 Census shows him and his wife Fanny living above the Bank in Tring with their two sons, Francis Joseph and Walter, who were employed as Bank Clerks.  Fanny died in 1898:


We regret to have to record that Mrs George Butcher (Fanny Elizabeth) passed away at her residence The Bank, Tring on Thursday afternoon.  Great sympathy is felt with Mr Butcher who is so well known in the district as head of the Banking House, Thomas Butcher & Sons of Tring, Aylesbury & Chesham, and as Chairman of the Aylesbury Bench of Magistrates.

Bucks Herald, 26th February 1898.

The banking partners in 1900.

 
George followed his wife on the 29th August, 1901, aged 67 years:


Mr. Butcher was one of the best known and most respected of the residents of this district.  Owing to his long connection with the banking firm known for so many years as Thomas Butcher and Sons, and with so many of the commercial and benevolent institutions of this town, he was probably quite as well know, and spent almost as much of his time at Aylesbury as in his native town of Tring.

Endowed with quite exceptional business capacity and insight, sound judgement, and a long and extensive experience in all financial matters − scrupulously just and honourable in all his dealings, small or great, with his fellow men − he not only filled a leading position in the Bank identified with his family with conspicuous ability and success, but his advice and counsel were often eagerly sought, not only by clients, but by many others who had no business claim upon him; and advice and counsel were not seldom supplemented by substantial assistance where the circumstances called for it.  Few men will be more missed in this district.


It is impossible at such short notice to recapitulate all the positions which he filled with so much honour to himself and advantage to the public.  He was a J.P. for the County and Chairman of the Aylesbury Bench, a member of the Monthly Board of the Royal Bucks Hospital, a trustee and Treasurer of the Aylesbury British Schools, Chairman of the Chiltern Hills Water Company, the Aylesbury and Tring Gas Companies, and the Aylesbury Market Company. He was associated with Messrs. R. Dickens, H. Wyatt, and W. W. Walkerall now deceasedand other gentlemen in the successful operations of the Bucks Land and Building Company.

Mr. Butcher belonged to an old and staunch Nonconformist family, but his religious sympathies were ever of a catholic and tolerant character.  In politics he was a Liberal Unionist, and a loyal supporter of the late Baron F. Rothschild, taking the chair at most of his political meetings in Aylesbury.  He married a daughter of the late Mr. J. H. Marshall of Aylesbury, who died a few years ago, and leaves two sons, both of whom are engaged in the business of the Bank, which is now merged in that of Messrs. Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell and Co. (Ltd.), of London, previously its London agents.

The Bucks Herald, 31st August 1901.


“The will of the late Mr. George Butcher has just been proved at £100,700 15s 3d.  The executors of the will, which is dated Aug. 4, 1901, are the deceased’s two sons and late partners, Mr. Francis Joseph Butcher, of Chesham (bank director), and Mr. Walter Butcher, of Tring, (bank director) to whom the testator left in equal shares the whole of his property.”

The Bucks Herald, 2nd November 1901.


A view along Tring High Street, c. 1870.  Butcher’s Bank, marked by the iron railings,
is just visible on the left.

Photo: Wendy Austin collection.


As part of its business the Bank probably advanced loans on the security of property, which, in the final years of the 19th century may have been the reason why it acquired a windmill.  The windmill in question was Goldfield Mill, now a private dwelling at the junction of Miswell Lane and Icknield Way, Tring.  Herbert Wright, son of the last miller, left a short account of his early life in which he recalls that Thomas Butcher & Sons owned the mill worked by his father James.  The details of this acquisition are not known, but it seems possible that the Bank acquired Goldfield Mill as foreclosure on an outstanding loan following the bankruptcy of its then owner, Thomas Liddington, in December 1888.

 
THE END OF THE BUSINESS: Thomas Butcher & Sons was eventually taken over by its London agents, the bankers Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell & Co (est. 1766):


Bank amalgamations, and the conversion of private business undertakings into limited liability companies, are events of such common occurrence nowadays as to cause but little notice or comment.  An operation of the first mentioned nature which has been announced this week will, however, certainly excite considerable interest in the district.  The banking business of Messrs. Thomas Butcher and Sons has been amalgamated with that of Messrs. Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell, and Co. (Limited), with whom, as their London agents, Messrs. Butcher have been closely connected for more than sixty years.  Although, doubtless, a good many people will regret to see a certain amount of change introduced into the status of an old and trusted institution, the new arrangement is sure to meet with the full approval of the customers of Messrs. Butcher, as no alteration will be made in the management.  Small private banks are rapidly becoming things of the past, and that this local bank would one day be amalgamated with a larger undertaking was regarded by not a few persons as practically inevitable.  The change, indeed, may be welcomed in many quarters.

The Bucks Herald, 24th March 1900.


Following the takeover the three partners continued as local directors at their respective branches.

An entry reading Bank, Premises, Furniture, and Purchase Account Thomas Butcher and Sons appears under Assets in Prescotts balance sheet, as at the 31st December, 1901.  It shows a valuation of £229,627 3s 5d, presumably the sum that Prescotts paid for Butchers business.  In 1903, Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell & Co became Prescott’s Bank, and in the same year amalgamated with Union of London & Smiths Bank (est. 1839).  Following further acquisitions and mergers, the firm amalgamated with the National Provincial Bank in 1918, which in turn merged with the Westminster Bank to form the National Westminster Bank in 1970.

 
TRING BANKNOTES: According to surviving records, Thomas Butcher & Sons issued bank notes between 1836 and 1900, the known denominations being of £5 and £10.  However, the Bank Charter Act, 1844 (7 & 8 Vict. c. 32), gave the Bank of England the monopoly to issue new banknotes, and issuing banks were required to withdraw their existing notes in the event of their being the subject of a takeover.  Thus, as provincial banking companies merged to form larger banks, they lost their right to issue notes and the English private banknote eventually disappeared.
 

A £10 banknote issued by Thomas Butcher & Sons.


In 1844, the total value of banknotes issued by Thomas Butcher & Sons was £13,531.  A 19th century ten pound note issued by the Tring, Aylesbury and Chesham Bank, unsigned and undated, was recently offered for sale at £250; but what was signing and dating?

Banknotes were originally hand-written, although from about 1725 onwards they were partially printed, but cashiers still had to sign each note and make them payable to someone.  The ‘£’ sign and first digit were printed, but other numerals were added by hand, as were the name of the payee, the cashier’s signature, the date and the number.  Although early banknotes could be for uneven amounts, most were for round sums.  By 1855, banknotes had become entirely machine printed and payable to ‘the bearer’.


 
THE CHESHAM BUILDING SOCIETY: although Butcher’s Bank is long gone, a financial organisation that grew out of a suggestion by Thomas Butcher Jnr. continued in operation until 2010; indeed, at the time of its closure it was the oldest building society in the world.  Not the Halifax or the Abbey National, as one might expect, but the Chesham.  When founded in 1845 it was not the earliest building society, but older societies − the first known being Ketley’s Building Society, named after the landlord of the Golden Cross Inn in Birmingham, where it held its meetings − had gone out of business or had merged with others.

At that time the Society was formed, Chesham’s inhabitants lived mostly in and around the centre of the town, which supported long-established industries based on local products; the beech woods yielded wood for the manufacture of shovels, brooms, spoons and chairs; the river Chess provided water to power mills, as it had since Saxon times; there were tanneries, breweries, paper-making and other trades; straw-plaiting was a cottage industry for women and girls; boots and shoes makers supplied the London market, and bricks and tiles were other staple products.  As industries developed, they employed a greater proportion of the local population who began looking for a secure way to invest their savings.  Thomas Butcher Jnr., who lived in Chesham, suggested to a group of influential businessmen that a building society could operate successfully in the town.

A society was formed.  Thomas Butcher Jnr. and his son Frederick were among its trustees, while one of the early directors was one Arthur Liberty, whose business later grew into the internationally famous department store off Regent Street.  All of gave their services free; in the Society’s early days, only the Secretary received a salary.

The Society had its head office in Chesham and eventually had branches in Little Chalfont and Aylesbury and an agency in Tring.  But by February 2010 the effects of ultra-low interest rates forced it to surrender its independence.  With bank rate at 0.5% it was unable to make a profit on its lending and borrowing, and this pressure on its finances forced it into the red in 2009.  As a result the Society’s members agreed to a rescue by the the UK’s fourth largest  building society, the Skipton.

 

The Village Hall, Cholesbury.


THE CHOLESBURY PARISH ROOM: A remaining legacy of the Butcher family is the Village Hall at Cholesbury near Tring.  Built in 1895 on land given to the people of Cholesbury by Frederick Butcher (grandson of Thomas Snr., the Bank’s founder), it is an attractive Victorian building situated at the Buckland Common end of Cholesbury.  Originally just a parish room it was soon taken over by the Men’s Club, which charged 1p a week membership and did its best to exclude rowdies from the neighbouring villages.


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FOOTNOTES


1.  The history of the building now occupied by NatWest Bank on Tring High Street is unclear, nevertheless it is unlikely to date from 1836 and the formation of Butchers Bank; it is probably much later.  Writing C1900, local historian Arthur MacDonald Brown claims that Thomas Butcher & Son originally set up their banking business in the Counting House (now No. 9 High Street, then called Market Street).  The Counting House we see today is a late 19th century alteration of an older building ― probably that used by Thomas Butcher & Son ― carried out for Lord Rothschild by William Huckvale.


The Counting House (second building from the left) C1900, before it received Huckvale’s Tudoresque recladding ―
the two adjacent buildings to its right have already been done.
 

 MacDonald Brown goes on to say that:


“Tring Bank [i.e. the present NatWest premises] was built by Thomas Butcher Jnr. on the site of two old shops with half doors and steps up to them.  Over one of those doors Mr Rogers, cooper, was usually to be seen reposing with arms akimbo and pipe in mouth, the ideal British attitude of repose and proprietorship.  Very few of the doings of Tring escaped the observation of this sentry, the coaches changing horses at the Bell opposite being a source of never failing interest.  The other shop was occupied by Mr. Tomkins, baker.”


MacDonald Browns note suggests that the bank was built from new, perhaps following Thomas Snr.’s death in 1862 (banking returns show that he remained senior partner until that year).  However, in their description of the NatWest building, Historic England consider it possible that it is an 18th century structure re-fronted in the 19th century, but re-fronting is not clearly evident . . . .


NATIONAL WESTMINSTER BANK WITH ATTACHED HOUSE, OUTBUILDINGS, WALLS OF WALLED GARDEN, AND GATEWAY ON SOUTH.

TRING HIGH STREET SP 9211 (South side) 11/73 No. 20 - (National Westminster Bank) with attached house, outbuildings, walls of walled garden, and gateway on South GV II Bank with house and walled garden attached.  Early C19 bank fronting possibly C18 house and walled garden.  Painted stucco bank, red brick house and garden, slate roofs.  A 2-storeys and attic bank with architectural elaboration on N gable-end to street.  Plinth and V-rusticated ground floor, moulded cornice as string returned as member of entablature below blocking course of 2 small square projecting pilastered kiosks with entrances in facing sides and small round-headed front window to each with moulded surround.  2 round-arched windows between kiosks.  1st floor of smooth stucco lined as ashlar with rusticated quoins and moulded surround to 3 square-headed openings, central one blind, outer ones with 6/6 panes recessed sashes.  Wide eaves soffit with paired brackets with similar verges to form pediment with small round-headed window in tympanum.  House at rear faces S into garden and 2-storeys E wing has rounded corner to yard to E.  3m approx wall all round garden with pilaster buttresses on outside above plinth dying into wall at half height.  S gateway has 2 taller square piers with stone caps and coping between.  Ogee stone arch with pointed top and small moulded corbel.  Brick jambs with stone inset for hinge pin.  Battened wooden door.

 
2. The bank was also known as Tring Old Bank; the Tring, Aylesbury and Chesham Bank; the Bank of Tring; and, in Aylesbury, the Aylesbury Bank.
 
3.  The following was received from the Archivist, NatWest Bank: Orbell and Turton in ‘British Banking’ cite Thomas Butcher & Sons as being established in 1836.  This is supported by the note registers we have for Tring branch which are dated from 1/1/1836.
 
4. Frogmore House . . . .


In the centre of Tring stood a large house, Frogmore, which took its name from the street in which it was situated, and was the home of the owners of the town’s private bank.  Thomas Butcher established what is now the NatWest in the High Street in the 1830s, and at first lived over the premises and enjoyed the large garden area behind.  When his son inherited the estate, he took advantage of the natural springs at the bottom of Frogmore Street to include several water features in the overall garden layout.

At the turn of the century the head gardener was Joseph Reeve, a local man who had been born in the now-vanished hamlet of Lower Dunsley.  He was also responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the large garden at the rear of Butcher’s Bank in the High Street.  Joseph lived with his family in one of a pair of pretty cottages opposite The Black Horse.  He was expected to supply choice examples of fruit from the orchard, and vegetables from the kitchen garden to exhibit in the local horticultural show
[the Tring Agricultural Show].  Along with other head gardeners in the area, he enjoyed considerable success.  However, their names never appeared on the winner’s certificate or challenge cup, as it was always their employers who received the credit.  In any case, all Joseph Reeves efforts were swept away in 1956 when Frogmore, the grounds, the water gardens, the gardeners cottage, and 18 acres of land were sold for redevelopment.

Tring Gardens Then and Now, Wendy Austin (2006).

Tring in 1877: key . . . .
 Frogmore House, red; Water Gardens and stream to Silk Mill Pond, blue; Parish Church, green; High Street, yellow; Frogmore Street, orange.


The last owner of Frogmore was Arthur Butcher, the youngest son of Frederick and Ann, who died on the 23rd September, 1955, at the age of 91.  Arthur studied law at Cambridge but never practiced.  He was a first class batsman, captained Tring Park Cricket Club and played for Hertfordshire County and the M.C.C. (1902-1905; batting style, right-hand; bowling style, right-arm slow).  He was also a good golfer and shot.  A notice in the Bucks Herald (4th November 1955) states: Mr Butchers Will − Mr Butcher of Frogmore Street and Butchers Bank left £452,782.  Mr Butcher inherited his money from the family Banking business.   Butchers Bank started in Tring early in the last century with later businesses in Berkhamsted and Aylesbury.   It was taken over by the Union of London & Smiths Bank, which afterwards was absorbed by the National Provincial.

Following Arthurs death in 1955 his estate was bought at auction by the Luton builders H. C. Janes & Co for £9,000.  Frogmore was demolished to make way for a new estate, which included Friars Walk and Deans Furlong.


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I’m grateful to the Archivist of The Royal Bank of Scotland, of which Butcher’s bank is a constituent, for providing much of the information about the Bank and its notes in circulation, to the Secretary of the former Chesham Building Society for information about the Society’s early years, and to my friend and sometime co-author, Wendy Austin, for her advice and the use of photographs from her collection.

Ian Petticrew

December, 2016.


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