Early Banking in Cranbrook, Kent

 

There was only a handful of country banks in England before 1750, the earliest in Kent being Fector's of Dover, established in 1700. The major incentive for their establishment was the industrial revolution as money was needed for investment in commercial enterprises in the Midlands, Lancashire, the Northeast, etc, but the landowners, gentry and others, with money to invest, lived predominantly in rural areas. Consequently, country banks grew in significant numbers towards the end of the 18th C. In 1784, Bailey's Universal Directory recorded 119 banks outside London and a government survey revealed that there were 280 banks in 1793, the year of the outbreak of war with France. In spite of monetary restrictions, interest rates continued to rise, which encouraged the growth in the number of local banks. Consequently, by 1802, there were 398, more than three times the number twenty years before, and by October 1811, the total had risen to 741, with 83 new banks being opened in the preceding 12 months. Country banks offered ca.2.5 - 3% interest on deposits, the money then being invested in a partner London bank, earning an interest of 3.5 - 4%. In turn, the London banks invested in major industrial schemes so that money from rural areas with a surplus of savings was invested in the growing industrial towns where there was insufficient capital. (1)

Cranbrook's First Bank
Banks opened in Ashford and Hastings in 1791, two in Maidstone in 1795, in Tonbridge in 1796 while Cranbrook had its first banking facility in early 1803 (2), opened by Samuel Ferrand Waddington in the building often referred to as Church Gates (by the steps to St.Dunstan's church). It was probably a branch of his Rochester Bank (which also had a branch in Maidstone) and may have utilised only one room, requiring a desk or counter and a safe for business. A letter survives from Waddington to Isaac Beeman, the minister at the Providence Chapel, who ran a drapery business in the nearby shop (now White's). (3). The letter seems to be a handwritten prospectus and may have been one of many which Waddington wrote to local businessmen, farmers and gentry, as it starts: "I think it proper to explain to my neighbours who are in business the grounds upon which I have determined to establish if possible, a bank at Cranbrook; and it also enables me to assure those Neighbours, that they may, at any future period, conjointly participate with me in a measure, which will so much contribute to the general prosperity of the Town, and the Weald of Kent likewise."

Church Gates
Church Gates: Cranbrook's first bank.

Waddington was a hop factor and must have had considerable means, as in the late 1790s, he had set about buying up numerous hop gardens in the Worcester and Hereford area. He had tried to persuade farmers there to withhold their crops from the markets, and thus raise the price, as he claimed that hops were selling at well below their true value. As a result, he was brought to trial in 1800 for 'forestalling hops', ie attempting to fix their market price. He was found guilty, fined 500, and sentenced to one month's imprisonment (4). Perhaps it was his contacts amongst the hop-growers of the Weald which suggested Cranbrook as a likely place to set up a branch of his Rochester bank.

The bank, like most country banks at that time, issued its own notes (although none has come to light so far) and Waddington intended that holders of the bank's notes would receive interest at 2.5% every January and July. The letter stated that "The Profits of Banking will be thus equitably divided with my Neighbours: An advantage, which no other Bank has ever offered." This indeed was an innovative idea, a sort of co-operative bank with a dividend for using the bank's paper money. The letter then went on to extol the country banking system, maintaining that the economies of Maidstone, Hastings and Rye had thrived as a result of having their own private banks, three in the case of Maidstone by that date. Waddington also pointed out how useful the banks were for the subscribers to the new canal project across the Weald; he was a subscriber towards the cost of the initial survey (5).

Although the letter was addressed from Cranbrook, he was not a local man and it is likely that he stayed at one of the town's inns when negotiating with local hop farmers. He was also an ardent republican, actively campaigning for the government to make peace with Napoleon. Since banks relied very much on trust for people to deposit their savings, local farmers and businessmen in the Weald may have had some difficulty with his politics and it does not seem likely that the bank had a life of more than a year, or two at most. The building was owned by William Dadson, a "Grocer, Draper, and Cheesemonger of Goudhurst", who in December 1805 sold it along with his other properties in Goudhurst as he was planning to go "into the Hop Factoring Business, at the Talbot Buildings, Borough" (6). In this he was perhaps influenced by Waddington and it is interesting to note that (a relative?) James Dadson, a hopfactor of Southwark, purchased Bakers Cross Brewery and settled in Cranbrook in 1804 (see article in Cranbrook Journal no.7)

The premises were again advertised for sale in June 1806 by a London auctioneer as follows: Lot 5: A valuable brick built dwelling house and premises in the centre of the market town of Cranbrook, late the bank of S.F.Waddington, well situated for trade in any line requiring roomy premises, commanding both the Streets and near the Church, and will form a comfortable residence for a private family. Another advertisement described its location as opposite the Market house (6).

Messrs Chapman & Co - Cranbrook Bank
In August 1804, a new bank opened in a property on the site now used by Quilters Dry Cleaners in the High Street. Cranbrook Museum has a bank note, numbered 5, which was issued on 29th August 1804, so it seems safe to assume that the bank opened for business on that day. The banknote bears the name "Cranbrook Bank", the owner's name "Chapman & Co" and is signed by Josh Chapman and W.Dealer, presumably his clerk. Local banks usually drew on a London banking house but none is inscribed on this note. Little is known of Joseph Chapman, except that he was a Cranbrook shopkeeper, who signed the petition to remove the old Market Cross in 1812 (Cran Museum). By the time of the next rating assessment in December 1804, Watts, Buss & Co were rated for the property in the High Street so it is possible that William Buss and Robert Watts were the other partners in the company (7). Buss was a local cornfactor and later a hop merchant, who had bought Chapman's property in 1802, and maybe the failure of Waddington's bank inspired him to fill the gap. Undoubtedly, he had the confidence of the local business and farming community but needed to spread the risk so joined with Robert Watts, a local doctor and surgeon, another pillar of Cranbrook society, owning considerable property in the parish, to join him in this venture. Both gentlemen were busy in their chosen lines of business, so may have encouraged Joseph Chapman to be the front man and open the "bank shop" on his premises.

2 note issued by Chapman & Co.'s
Cranbrook Bank on 29th August 1804
Chapman & Co banknote

Watts, Buss & Co
This arrangement seems to have fitted the norm for country banks at this time. In 1804, an article described the partners of a country bank as typically including an "honest and industrious acting partner with inconsiderable property", a tradesman or manufacturer with "a fair capital" but principally engaged in his business, a neighbouring country gentleman of landed estates, and often, the local solicitor (8).

By law, the number of partners in a banking business was limited to six; they risked their entire property as security for their customers and if a bank failed, it was because the demands on the bank exceeded the assets of the partners, so that they were individually bankrupted. It was their property and standing in the community which effectively gave the public the feeling of security which they needed to entrust their funds to the bank. A Maidstone bank and a Chatham bank failed in 1805; in the latter case, the partners were taken to court for the houses and ships which they owned, in order to pay off the bank's debts (6). In spite of these potential risks, the first decade of the 19th century saw the greatest number of new banks being opened, including the Tenterden Bank in 1805 and the Ticehurst & Goudhurst Bank in 1807; the latter failed in 1815.

For the next eight years, Watts, Buss & Co issued notes, first under the name "Cranbrook Bank", later the "Weald of Kent Bank". The notes carried a logo with the initials C&W, possibly denoting "Cranbrook and Weald" or could it be "Chapman & Watts"?

Quilters
Cranbrook's bank for over 20 years.

Presumably the bank's business was expanding and more demands were being made on its capital so that John Wilmshurst soon joined the partnership. He was a cornfactor who lived at Osborne Lodge in Waterloo Road and owned two farms and several houses in the town, However, it seems likely that the individual business commitments of the partners meant they had little time to devote to banking and they decided to sell the business in 1813. On April 20th of that year, a notice appreared in the Maidstone Journal announcing that the banking concern had been relinquished "in favour of Messrs Argles Bishop, Brenchley & Bishop". It was also stated that "all our Notes, now in circulation, will be immediately paid off, on their being presented here, or at Messrs Weston's, Pinhorn & Co.'s in London." However, many bank notes remained in circulation and those which have survived show that certain partners had presumably by mutual agreement decided to underwrite certain denominations. Dr Watts was the signatory to the 10 notes and W.Buss the one pound notes. This may also have been a defence against forgery, as the wrong (forged) signature on a given denomination would be spotted by the bank clerk; the Tenterden Bank adopted a similar practice.

Bishop & Co - Weald of Kent Bank
The Maidstone bankers purchased the business for 800 (9) although it was Argles Bishop who was the active partner, the others having a financial stake. Thus it was called Bishop & Co. (Argles Bishop, John Brenchley & George Bishop) for about a year from late 1813 until Sep 1814. Argles Bishop was a distiller in Maidstone and operated a wine & spirit business from one half of the building and the bank from the other half, the bank being only a small part of his total business interests. However, his principal enterprise, the distillery in Maidstone which produced Maidstone Gin, went bankrupt shortly after and this had a knock-on effect. Since he could not pay his debts, the bank had to close and by the end of 1814, the partnership was bankrupt, too. Such was the need to maintain confidence in banking that the County Bank of Maidstone inserted a notice in the Maidstone Journal in September 1814 stating that there was no connection between it and the Weald of Kent Bank. Clearly its proprietors were keen to reassure their depositors.

Weald of Kent banknote A 20 bank note issued by the short-lived "Weald of Kent Bank"
operated by the Bishop partnership.

The Cranbrook bank was open on Saturday, September 10, 1814, but it was unable to meet all the cash demands made on it that day and it refused to make payments on the following Monday. The declaration of bankruptcy was on October 8th. The banking house was auctioned by the Maidstone auctioneers, Carter & Morris at the George Inn in Cranbrook on Sat 27th May 1815. It was described in the Maidstone Journal as: All that valuable Brick-built DWELLING HOUSE, with a GARDEN and an extensive Frontage, most eligibly situated within a short distance of the Market-Place, in Cranbrook, and lately used as a Banking House and Spirit Warehouse - Comprising two good rooms in front, which, at a trifling expense may be made a very excellent Shop, four bed chambers and three attics, kitchen, wash-house, and offices. For further Particulars, apply to Messrs. BURR and HOAR, Solicitors, Maidstone; or to the Auctioneers, Stone Street, Maidstone.

Then followed two years when there is no evidence for any bank in Cranbrook - at least the rate books record that the earlier bank building was empty. By the beginning of 1816, Jeremiah Pethurst, the Cranbrook auctioneer, had bought the premises and probably rented it out short term. In April 1817. part of the premises was purchased by the owners of the Tenterden Bank. There were several partners; Cecil Pile's notes in Cranbrook museum say that the building was sold to Godden, Mace & Waterman of Tenterden, bankers, but no deeds have so far been found. In the ratebooks it was referred to as "Messrs Mace & Co". and the entry suggests that the new bank opened in part of the building, presumably using the same room(s) as the earlier bank.

Mace & Co - Tenterden Bank
There were various members of the Mace family living in Tenterden, all good friends of the Busses and they may well have been invited by William Buss to open this branch of the Tenterden Bank in Cranbrook. Only one banknote bearing the name "Tenterden Bank" has so far been discovered in Tenterden Museum. Charles King was probably the Cranbrook branch manager from the start since his name appears as the tenant of Mace & Co's bank in the Land tax assessments. By the end of 1822, he had become a partner in the Tenterden Bank although nothing can be found concerning his standing in the community and he appears to have owned no significant property. The Tenterden Bank was formally wound up on Christmas Day 1822, after an announcement in the local press, asking those who held the bank's notes to present them for payment. The advertisement also pointed out that 5 and 10 notes signed by William Waterman were forgeries, clearly suggesting that different values were signed by different partners as in the Cranbrook Bank of Watts, Buss & Wilmshurst (6).

Charles King - Cranbrook Bank
In spite of his apparent lack of capital, Charles King decided to continue the business and set up on his own as the Cranbrook banker after the Tenterden Bank closed and it seems that there was a smooth handover of the business. However, King had hardly established himself when, on April 24th, 1823, there was a robbery of banknotes from the premises. Presumably these had been signed by Charles King and could thus be used and circulated. As a result, it was deemed necessary to redesign the bank's notes and a notice was published in the Maidstone Journal in early September (!) informing the public of this fact. No notes of the old design have been found as yet but the new design was described as follows:

    The words "Cranbrook Bank" on the top of the Notes are printed in Blue Ink, an Oak Tree is engraved on the left hand side of the Notes, and they bear date in August, 1823. It is particularly requested that the holders of the Old Notes will not circulate them, but immediately send them in for examination and exchange.

Cranbrook Museum has some of these bank notes which, rather ironically, bore the Latin motto "Cavendo Tutus" meaning "Safety through Caution". They were all signed by Jno Wisenden, presumably King's bank clerk who recorded all the transactions in the bank ledger.

A 5 bank note issued by Charles King's "Cranbrook Bank" from the Bankruptcy Commissioners files, showing the dividend paid to the owner of the note. Cranbrook 5 banknote

It does not speak well for King's business acumen that he took over the bank with no partners and very little property during a period of economic uncertainty. Perhaps not surprisingly, the next two years were disastrous for King; nationwide there was a general loss of confidence in banks, resulting in a major crash in 1825. The Cranbrook Bank (ie Charles King) was declared bankrupt in September 1825 (6) and commissioners were appointed to examine the bank's ledgers. The commisioners papers list around 250 creditors who registered their claims, some only having a few paper notes while others had four figure sums on deposit and hundreds of pounds in notes. The total money held on account was 10,618 2s 3d and there were further claims for notes in circulation to the value of 2,466. In addition, the local tradesman were owed 93 14s 1d for goods delivered but not yet paid for (10). This compares with just over 4,100 in debts incurred by the Cranbrook part of Bishop & Co's business when they went bankrupt in 1814.

King's real estate was sold in lots by auction at 3 o'clock on Wednesday 14th June 1826 at the George Inn, Cranbrook. Advertisements in the Maidstone Journal described the High Street bank building as: A Messuage or tenement with the Yard, detached Washhouse, and newly erected Building, desirably situated in the Town of CRANBROOK, and late the residence of Mr Charles King, and used by him as a Banking-house. This is the present building now occupied by 'Quilters', the drycleaners in the High Street, and suggests that it may have been built by the Tenterden Bank or Charles King himself. With its canopy on fluted pillars, similar to the collonade in Hawkhurst, it was copying the fashionable architectural feature of the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. King also had a dwelling house described as: a newly erected MESSUAGE, being the northern house in Waterloo Place, pleasantly situated at the entrance of the Town of Cranbrook from Maidstone, comprising every requisite for the residence of a respectable family.

Buss, Wilmshurst & Hague
Presumably as soon as King was declared bankrupt, the farmers and businessmen of Cranbrook started to make plans for a new bank, because in April 1826 - even before the sale of King's property was complete, the new bank was opened with three partners, William Buss (again!), William Hague, and John Wilmshurst. Buss, now a hop dealer with several properties in the town, attended the Independent Baptist Chapel (now the Cramp Institute in the High Street). Hague, attorney/solicitor, practised from his house which stood on the site of the present National Westminster Bank on the corner of Brewhouse Lane (now Bank Street). John Wilmshurst owned three farms and eleven houses in the town, as well Osborne House where his son, John, lived. They were all wealthy and respectable pillars of Cranbrook society, just the sort of men to inspire confidence in the new enterprise.

Under the new management, the bank continued uneventfully until the death of William Buss in 1832, after which the bank became Wilmshurst, Hague & Co for the ensuing decade. The Union Windmill and the Bakers Cross Brewery had also suffered economic problems in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars but the 1830s was a decade of strong business growth and the Bank continued to thrive.

The story of local banking ends in 1843 when Wilmshurst, Hague & Co was taken over by the London & County Bank (a joint stock bank). By 1847-8, the bank had moved to the corner of Brewhouse Lane and was absorbed into the Westminster Bank in 1867. This merged with the National Provincial Bank in about 1970 to become the National Westminster or NatWest Bank which now occupies the site.

References:
1) L.S.Pressnell, Country Banking in the Industrial Revolution, 1956
    John Orbell & Alison Turton, British Banking: a Guide to Historical Records, 2001
2) Margaret Dawes & C.N.Ward-Perkins, Country Banks of England and Wales, Private provincial banks and bankers, 1688-1953, 2 vols (2000)
3) Kent History and Library Centre U1583 B1
4) Dictionary of National Biography & C.F. Hardy, Benenden Letters, 1901
5) Canal survey in Cranbrook Museum
6) Maidstone Journal advertisement
7) Cranbrook Overseers of the Poor rate books
8) M.D.Magnus, An inquiry into the Real differences between actual money ... quoted in Pressnell
9) Peter Allen, "Collapse of a Bank" in Cranbrook Journal no.7
10) Commisioners papers PRO B3/2853

Previously published by Tony Singleton in The Cranbrook Journal No.18 (2007)

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