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Revealed: Ruthin’s Place in Banking History

It could hardly be more relevant! Ruthin was not only a pioneer in the formation of local banks in the UK, but also part of a boom in opening up the service, which took place in the 1830s. It’s a very interesting story—and one that we should remember and perhaps use as a cautionary tale at a time when the town seems likely to lose a second of its three high street banks in a matter of months. A high street was where my story begins—43 High Street, Wrexham. I had often passed it without a second glance, apart from noticing what I thought was a sign designating it as “The New South Wales Bank”. What on earth had New South Wales got to do with Wrexham except in very general terms? It was careless observation on my part, but I can now set the record straight. Looking again a few weeks ago, I saw that the sign actually read, “The North and South Wales Bank”. That made much more sense, but I knew nothing about it. Further research showed that what became known colloquially as “The Wales Bank” began, in 1836, in James Street, Liverpool. Existing bankers called attention to “the needs of extensive and important mining, manufacturing and agricultural districts in Wales”. They noticed that “the proprietors of collieries, mining and smelting works are reduced to the necessity of doing most of their banking out of the district” (does that ring any bells?), “and, in some cases, of submitting to the inconvenience of being their own bankers”. The idea of having local banks took off.  Eleven
of them were founded between May and September 1836 alone. Bishop’s Castle (not in Wales!) led the way, followed in order by Newtown, Welshpool, Llanfyllin, Oswestry (also not in Wales), Ruthin, Llanwrst, Caernarfon, Chester, (likewise) Mold and Wrexham. A large number of them had Welsh-speaking managers. By 1908, there were some 84 branches in the Liverpool suburbs, Cheshire and Shropshire. Note that Ruthin started before Wrexham. Wrexham, by then, was already a much larger place. But note, even more, the contrast with the latest news on local high street banks. Holywell, larger in population than Ruthin, now has no banks at all, and Ruthin looks like losing two out of three in less than a year. What is left is, believe it nor not, our successor to the North and South Wales Bank. In 1908, the Midland took over the Wales Bank. In 1999, the Midland was, in turn, taken over by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC)—but the bank at the corner of St Peter’s Square and Market Street is still open. Long may it last—not only for its customers, but also for its place in banking history! I also like the international resonance of its name, though not its imperialist associations. Perhaps, finally, another cautionary tale should be told. The monumental  building (Grade II listed) no longer houses the HSBC in High Street,Wrexham. It is now occupied—wait for it—by Wetherspoon’s, large television screen and CAMRA-listing included! From punt to pint? HSBC Ruthin is next door to another Wetherspoons—say it in a whisper!
Derek Jones March 2016