Once the Bank of Tring.
were a large number of private banks in England in the first half of the 19th Century. Set up by local businessmen — such as merchants, manufacturers,
brewers, lawyers, etc. — these private banks played an important role in the
local economy at a time when the Bank of England and other London-based banks
rarely stirred outside of the capital. Because many of the bankers who ran them
were originally engaged in a business, for which banking was a sideline launched
to fund their activities, they were knowledgeable about their borrowers and the
trades in which they were engaged, and many kept customer accounts and issued
their own banknotes. Most of these small banks were closely linked to at least
one London bank or 'agent' that invested their customers' money and settled
payments to other banks.
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. The Bank Charter Act of 1844 created the supremacy of the Bank
of England and put in place the process that would lead to its eventual 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, who had conducted a banking business
at Wellington, Somerset, since 1787.
much for the background.
Tring High Street during the Edwardian era. The edifice
of Butcher's Bank — on the right behind the lamp standard — presents an
imposing structure, exuding solidity and prudence in financial
matters (do these qualities still apply?). The metal
railings fronting the present building are but a poor excuse for the fine iron railings shown here
in an age when corporate and civic pride were more apparent.
The shop of antique dealer John Bly, grandfather of the television
antique furniture expert, is to the right of the bank — and what an
attractive high street facade is presented by the shops on the
opposite side, gas-lights positioned to illuminate their wares
before the arrival of domestic electric lighting. Of course
one didn't 'download' e-mail in that era — having traversed the
Victorian Internet (the telegraph) the telegram boy, seen
holding his bicycle, delivered it.
Photo: Wendy Austin collection.
Customers entering the National
Westminster Bank in Tring High Street ― picture at top of page ― might not realise that
this was once Butcher’s Bank, a private bank and "bank of issue" established in 1836 by Thomas
Butcher in partnership with his son Thomas jnr.
arrival at Tring of the Grand Junction Canal
(1799) and, later, of Robert
Stephenson's London and Birmingham Railway (1838),
led to a rapid expansion in the town's population and a need for
banking facilities in an age before the growth of today's high
street banks. Non-conformists were prominent among those who
set up in business as bankers, for being barred by the discriminatory
legislation of that era from a wide range of careers they
concentrated their energies on trade and commerce — and the Butchers
were Baptists. They were also businessmen, dealing in
groceries, tea, tallow and seeds and corn, and so an extension of the
family's business activities into banking was not unusual at that
During the period 1844-56, Butcher's bank
appears to have grown steadily under the prudent and close
attention of its partners, which later included Thomas junior's sons, Frederick and
George. The business became known as "Thomas Butcher & Sons"; it was also
known as "Tring Old Bank" and was represented at Aylesbury and Chesham on
market days. The bank later became the "Tring, Aylesbury & Chesham Bank",
opening branches in Aylesbury (1837), Chesham (1840)
and Berkhamsted (1900) — it is said that local farmers and merchants used to
accompany the partners conducting business in other towns back to
Tring, acting as their escorts. By 1898 the firm comprised
George, Francis Joseph and Walter Butcher, who ran the branches at
Aylesbury, Chesham and Tring respectively.
Thomas Butcher & Sons was
eventually taken over by its London agents, the bankers
Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell & Co (est. 1766), which in 1903 became
Prescott’s Bank and in the same year amalgamated with Union of London
& Smiths Bank. Following further mergers, the business was
absorbed into the National Provincial Bank in 1918 and became
part of the National Westminster Bank in 1970.
According to the surviving records, Thomas Butcher & Sons issued
bank notes between 1836 and 1900, the known denominations
of banknotes issued being £5 and £10. In 1844 the
total recorded circulation 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.
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
view (ca. 1870) in the opposite direction to that above along Tring High
Street. Butcher's Bank is just visible on the left.
Photo: Wendy Austin collection.
Since the following was written, the Chesham has lost its
place as the UK's oldest building society, having been absorbed by the Skipton
Building Society in 2010. The following remains as a footnote on the
Bank is long gone, another organisation that grew out of a suggestion by
Thomas Butcher Jnr. is thriving; indeed, it’s the oldest building society in the
world. Not the Halifax or the Abbey National, as you might think, but the
Chesham. When founded in 1845 it was not the first building society, but earlier
societies have since gone out of business or merged with others (the earliest
known was Ketley's Building Society, named after the landlord of the Golden
Cross Inn in Birmingham, where it held its meetings).
that time the people of Chesham lived mostly in and around its centre. The town
had long-established industries based on local products; the beech woods gave
material for making essential implements, the river Chess provided power and
water for 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; and the boots and shoes made here were already supplying the London
market. Bricks and tiles were staple products. As industries developed, they
employed a greater proportion of the local population. They started to earn more
money and began looking for a secure way to invest it. Thomas Butcher Jnr.,
who lived in the town, suggested to a group of influential local men that a
building society could operate successfully in Chesham.
Thomas Butcher Jnr. and his son Frederick were among the Society's trustees,
while among the early directors was one
Liberty, whose business later grew into the internationally famous Regent Street department
store. All of gave their services free; in the Society's early days, only the
Secretary received payment.
The Village Hall, Cholesbury.
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, a grandson of the
Bank’s founder Thomas, it’s 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.
I am grateful to the Archivist
of The Royal Bank of Scotland, of which Butcher’s bank is a constituent, for
providing much of the information on this page about the Bank and its notes in
circulation, to the Secretary of the Chesham
Building Society for information about the Society's early years, and to Wendy
Austin for the use of photographs from her collection.