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National Provincial Bank

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National Provincial Bank Limited
Company typeJoint-stock
Founded1833; 191 years ago (1833)
Defunct1970; 54 years ago (1970)
FateMerger with Westminster Bank
SuccessorNational Westminster Bank
Headquarters15 Bishopsgate, London EC2
SubsidiariesDistrict Bank Limited

National Provincial Bank was a retail bank which operated in England and Wales. It was created in 1833 as National Provincial Bank of England, and expanded largely by taking over a number of other banks. Following the transformative acquisition of Union Bank of London in 1918, it changed its name to National Provincial and Union Bank of England, then in 1924 shortened its name again to National Provincial Bank. It further acquired Coutts Bank in 1920, Grindlays Bank in 1924, Isle of Man Bank in 1961, District Bank in 1962, thus becoming one of the "Big Five" that dominated the UK banking sector for much of the 20th century, together with Barclays Bank, Lloyds Bank, Midland Bank and Westminster Bank. On 1 January 1970, it completed its merger with Westminster Bank to form National Westminster Bank.

For most of its history, National Provincial Bank was headquartered in London on Bishopsgate, at junction with Threadneedle Street.[1]



Origins and early growth

Carved headstone at the Holyhead branch in Anglesey
155–158 North Street, Brighton, branch building designed by in-house architect F.C.R. Palmer
Coventry branch designed by Palmer in 1929[2]

Prior to the Act of 1826, English banks were permitted to have no more than six partners – hence the expression "private banks". The only banks allowed to be joint stock were the Bank of England and the Scottish banks, which operated under a different legal system. The leading campaigner for change was Thomas Joplin, a Newcastle timber merchant "with local experience of banking disasters"[citation needed] and an observer of the greater stability of the nearby Scottish banks. The Act of 1826 permitted the establishment of joint stock banks but note issue was only allowed outside a radius of 65 miles of London.[3] The 1826 Act was followed by the creation of new provincial joint stock banks and conversions from existing private banks. Because of the prohibition on note issue in the London area, it was incorrectly assumed that the Act also prohibited joint stock banks themselves, an ambiguity that was removed by the Bank Charter Act 1833.[4]

When Thomas Joplin discovered that the laws preventing the establishment of joint stock banks in Ireland had been repealed in 1824, he promoted the Irish Provincial Banking Company, to be based in London but with branches in all the principal towns in Ireland outside Dublin; this was to be a forerunner of Joplin’s English version. Joplin left the management of the Irish Bank in 1828. Financial support from his cousin George Angas was promised in 1829 and a company was formed in 1830. The first meeting resolved to establish a "system of banking …under the review of a central board in London [and] applied to the direction of country banking". There were numerous delays but the National Provincial Bank of England was eventually launched in 1833.

The National Provincial Bank thus was established as a provincial bank but with a London head office. Moreover, it was specifically structured to be a branch banking enterprise prepared to concentrate on a large number of smaller accounts rather than a small number of large accounts.[5] For more than thirty years the bank operated as a country bank, with its headquarters in London, but not transacting banking business in the capital.[6]

The first branch to be opened, at the beginning of 1834, was in Gloucester followed by Brecon, Walsall, Birmingham, Wotton-under-Edge, Boston and Wisbech. By 1836 there were 32 branches. Considerable dissension soon arose relating to the structure of the branch system and Joplin, who favoured a network of local semi-autonomous banks, left. The model for the branch system had been the Scottish one, and the Bank reinforced this by recruiting Daniel Robertson from the Union Bank of Scotland; he served as general manager for thirty years.[6]

Many of the branches that were "opened" during the nineteenth century came from the acquisition of local banks, sometimes as a going concern, sometimes merely taking over the premises after a failure. Sources vary as to the number of acquisitions, their common trading name and even the exact year of purchase. However, although they may have been strategic in their own locality, none of the acquisitions appeared to be large. It was not until 1866 that the bank opened for banking business in London by which time it had a nationwide network of 122 branches. The bank ceased its provincial note issue and was appointed to the London Bankers' Clearing House.[6] By 1886 the National Provincial Bank had 165 branches and its network was second only to the London and County Bank.[7] There was now little in the way of acquisition but the branch network continued to increase - according to the NatWest Heritage Hub, there were 200 branches by 1900 and over 450 by the time of the 1918 merger (however, the scale of the post-1900 increase is surprisingly large and the latter figure may include sub-branches).

Union Bank of London

National Provincial Bank branch building on Princes Street, erected 1929-1932 on the location of the former head office of Union Bank of London

The Union Bank of London was formed in 1839 and it remained a purely metropolitan bank for the rest of the century; it was of no great size during that period, opening around a dozen branches in central London and acquiring the occasional small local bank. Although it refused to open branches in the provinces, it did develop an extensive overseas business. Policy changed at the turn of the century and the Union embarked on a major expansion acquiring in particular the private Cripplegate Bank in 1900,[8] Smith's Bank in 1902, and Prescott's Bank in 1903, thereby forming the Union of London and Smith’s Bank.[5][6] Prescott’s Bank had been founded in Threadneedle Street in 1766 and went through several name changes over the years as partners changed.[9] However, in 1891 a multiple merger radically changed the scope of the Bank. Prescott’s acquired Dimsdale, another long-established London private bank; Miles, Cave, Baillie of Bristol (established 1750); and Tugwell Brymer of Bath; the enlarged firm was called Prescott, Dimsdale, Cave, Tugwell & Co. Several more small country banks were later acquired and the Bank’s name was shortened to Prescott & Co. in 1903, shortly before its acquisition by the Union Bank. The National Provincial Bank eventually acquired the Union of London and Smith’s Bank in 1918.[10] The enlarged bank was renamed the National Provincial and Union Bank of England.

From 1844 on, the Union Bank was located at Princes Street on Bank Junction, across from the Bank of England. On that site the bank erected a prominent new head office building, designed by Philip Charles Hardwick and completed in 1865, remodeled in 1887.[11] That building was in turn replaced by the branch building of National Provincial Bank on the same location, designed by Edwin Cooper and completed in 1932.[12]

Interwar period and later developments


Further acquisitions followed the 1918 merger, in particular the prestigious London-based Coutts Bank in 1920.[13] Significant regional banks included Bradford District Bank (1919), Sheffield Banking Company (1919) and Northamptonshire Union Bank (1920). In 1924 the small Guernsey Banking Co. was to be the Bank's last domestic acquisition until 1961 and National Provincial’s progress came from continued branch opening, particularly around the London area.[14]

National Provincial did have a small overseas operation in the form of a 50 per cent share of Lloyds and National Provincial Foreign Bank in Paris, which it had acquired in 1917 and part-sold to Lloyds Bank in 1955.[15] However, its more substantive overseas move came in 1924 with the acquisition of Grindlays Bank, a London-based institution with offices in India and specialising in serving the Indian army. Grindlays had been affected by the failure of competing banks and sought a larger partner. Grindlays was allowed to operate independently and was sold to the London-based National Bank of India in 1948.[16]

In 1961 National Provincial acquired the Isle of Man Bank but the major acquisition came in 1962 when the District Bank was bought, creating a company with over £1.4 billion in assets and 2,100 branches. The District, being the one-time Manchester and Liverpool District Banking Company, gave the National Provincial valuable exposure to the north west. It maintained a separate board in Manchester until the merger with Westminster Bank.[14]

Merger and legacy

Former branch at London Waterloo station, with outline of the National Provincial lettering still visible

The merger of National Provincial and Westminster Bank, announced in 1968, surprised the British public and banking community "as it was still widely assumed...that any merger among the 'Big Five' would not be permitted."[citation needed] Nevertheless, the financial authorities did permit the merger and a new company, National Westminster Bank, was formed to acquire the share capital of the two constituent banks. The statutory process of integration was completed in 1969 and the new company opened for business on 1 January 1970.[17] The enlarged entity now had a network of 3,600 branches.[14]

The National Provincial Bank, District Bank, and Westminster Bank were fully integrated in the new firm's structure, while Coutts, Ulster Bank (a 1917 Westminster acquisition), and the Isle of Man Bank continued as separate operations. Duncan Stirling, chairman of Westminster Bank, became first chairman and each bank provided a joint chief executive.[14] In 1969, David Robarts, former chairman of National Provincial, assumed Stirling's position.

Following the merger, the National Provincial Bank continued to exist as a dormant non-trading company until 2016, when it was voluntarily struck off the register and dissolved.[18]

Table of acquisitions

Date Acquisition Established
1834 Rotton & Co., Birmingham 1806
1835 Bloxsome & Player, Durham 1813
1835 Bristol City Bank Branch of Northern & Central Bank
1836 Vye & Harris, Ilfracombe 1807
1836 William Skinner & Co., Stockton 1815
1836 Pyke, Law & Co., Barnstaple 1807
1838 Lichfield, Rugeley & Tamworth Banking Co. 1836
1839 Husband & Co., Devonport 1810
1840 Fryer, Andrews & Co., Wimborne c.1790
1840 Harris & Co., Dartmouth 1806
1840 Hulke & Son, Deal 1808
1841 Minet & Fector, Dover 1700
1842 Cole, Holroyd & Co., Exeter 1822
1843 Peter Pew & Co., Sherbourne c.1750
1843 Loveband & Co., Torrington 1808
1843 Ley & Co., Bideford c.1790
1844 Isle of Wight Joint-Stock Bank, Newport, Isle of Wight 1842
1855 Thomas Kinnersly & Sons, Newcastle-under-Lyme c.1780
1846 Stockton & Durham County Bank, Stockton 1838
1858 William Moore, Stone 1800
1868 Crawshay, Bailey & Co., Abergavenny 1837
1868 Bailey & Co., Newport 1837
1871 David Morris & Sons, Carmarthen c.1790
1878 Bank of Leeds 1864
1891 Miles, Cave, Baillie & Co 1750
1899 County of Stafford Bank 1836
1903 Knaresborough & Claro Banking Co. 1831
1918 William & John Biggerstaffe, London c.1830s
1919 Sheffield Banking Co. 1831
1919 Bradford District Bank 1862
1920 Northamptonshire Union Bank 1836
1920 Richards & Co., Llangollen 1854
1920 Shilson, Coode & Co., St Austell 1793
1922 Dingley & Co., Launceston 1855
1922 Dingley, Pearse & Co., Okehampton 1856
1924 Guernsey Banking Co. Ltd. 1847



The bishop's gate device on the bank's emblem was part of a pictorial representation of the bank's address at 15 Bishopsgate in the City of London. It is surmounted by two squirrels (suggested by the College of Arms as denoting thrift and foresight) supporting an urn; this alludes to The Flower Pot Inn which originally stood on the site of the entrance to the city office.[19]

Tournier v National Provincial and Union Bank of England


In 1924 the bank was involved in a notable court case. In England and those common law jurisdictions whose approach follows that of English law in treating the duty of confidentiality as resting in contract, the classic authority is the Court of Appeal decision in Tournier v National Provincial and Union Bank of England.[20] The duty extends at least to information concerning account transactions and extends beyond the date of the termination of the banker customer contract. Information attained from other sources, such as a credit reference agency, is also covered.[21] The duty is not absolute for the bank may disclose information where the disclosure is under compulsion by law, where there is a duty to the public to disclose, where the interests of the bank require disclosure and where the disclosure is made by the express or implied consent of the customer.[22]

See also



  1. ^ National Provincial Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  2. ^ Broadgate Special Historic Coventry, Now and Then (retrieved 24 November 2009)
  3. ^ Nevin & Davis, The London Clearing Banks, (1970)
  4. ^ T E Gregory, British Banking Statutes and Reports 1832-1928 Vol. 1 p. xvi (1929)
  5. ^ a b Howarth, W. (1905). The Banks in the Clearing House.
  6. ^ a b c d Hartley Withers, National Provincial Bank 1833–1933 (1933)
  7. ^ Nevin and Davis, The London Clearing Banks (1970)
  8. ^ London, Commercial and Cripplegate Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  9. ^ Prescott's Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  10. ^ Union of London and Smiths Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  11. ^ "1865 - Union Bank of London, Princes St., London". archiseek.
  12. ^ "National Provincial Bank". Claxity. 22 May 2022.
  13. ^ Coutts & Co NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  14. ^ a b c d Richard Reed, National Westminster Bank a short history (1983)
  15. ^ Lloyds Bank (Europe) NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  16. ^ Grindlays Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  17. ^ National Westminster Bank NatWest Group, Heritage Hub (retrieved 19 August 2020)
  18. ^ No. 14260, incorporated 1 July 1880
  19. ^ History of the Club[dead link] Royal Bank of Scotland Bowls Club (retrieved 17 October 2014)
  20. ^ [1924] 1KB 461. See McClean, David International Co-operation in Civil and Criminal Matters (p.266) Oxford University Press, 2002
  21. ^ The Banking Code: Guidance for Subscribers (p.38) British Bankers' Association, March 2005
  22. ^ The banker's duty of confidentiality to the customer Ombudsman News (issue 45) Financial Ombudsman Service, April 2005


  • Ashby, J. F. The Story of the Banks Hutchinson & Co., London, 1934
  • Withers, Hartley National Provincial Bank 1833–1933 Waterlow & Sons, London, 1933
  • Reed, Richard National Westminster Bank: A Short History National Westminster Bank, London, 1983 (and many subsequent editions).