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1968 Mr GR Kelly Assistant Manager MBM-Sp68P05.jpgWinter 1968 - With the Merger all but complete, Barclays publishes issue 13 of BARCLAYS BULLETIN, its newsletter for the Staff of the Barclays Group, which by now includes the seven thousand men and women who work for Martins Bank.  In our main feature on the Merger – BEGINNING OF THE END – we look at the process that wipes Martins Bank from memory within a very short space of time, but here we concentrate on a special article written for Barclays Staff, to introduce them to the history of our Bank. “The Martins Bank Story” is penned by our own Geoffrey Kelly, who at the end of 1967 was promoted to Assistant Manager, Publicity Department, and who has an amazing track record of success both within the Bank, and as Musical Director of Martins Bank Operatic Society. Geoff is a talented prizewinning musician and composer, and under his stewardship, the Operatic Society wins awards for their spectacular staging and performance of well-loved operettas. For anyone who needs to be quickly brought up to speed with the history of Martins Bank, Geoff’s article is a concise, and positive tribute.


The one regret we have on his behalf, is the reference made in the introduction  to “hundreds of branches throughout the North and a SCATTERING of Branches in the South” – (Between 1928 and 1969 this “scattering” actually amounts to some 235 branches from the Midlands down to the Channel Islands, not including Wales!) However, as an epitaph the article IS fitting, and is reproduced below…

Barclays BulletinWhat did Martins Bank mean to you before the banking upheavals of the past twelve months? Did you think of it as No. 6 in the English Clearing Bank league; or the largest independent bank with a head office outside London; or Britain's oldest bank? Or did you picture its golden grasshopper sign, its hundreds of branches throughout the North, or its scattering of branches in the South? Now, as a member of the Barclays Bank Group, Martins Bank will mean a great deal more to us. In this short article GEOFFREY KELLY sketches the rise of this important British bank.

The Martins Bank Story

The story begins in Liverpool in 1831. Prominent citizens, seeing the advantages of the joint stock bank over the private bank and incensed at the opening in the city of a branch of a Man­chester-based bank, founded the Bank of Liverpool. As the city prospered, its port growing rapidly in importance, so the bank prospered. It survived the many financial crises of that early Victorian period that swept away many other banks.

For 50 years the Bank of Liverpool remained a single unit, content to build up a sound business with steadily increasing profits. Not until 1881 did it begin its policy of expansion, at the same time adopting limited liability on its shares. At first this expansion was confined to the opening of a second Liverpool office and the absorbing of two other banks in the city. Then, in 1893, there began a series of acquisitions which, by the first year of the 1914-18 war, had placed the name 'Bank of Liverpool Limited' above the doors of branch banks in every county in the North of England.


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With these amalgamations came the system of local control by District Office. This system, so valued today by bank and customers alike, owes its origins largely to the Bank of Liverpool's late entry into the amalgamation arena. In the course of its acqui­sitions, the Bank of Liverpool came up against customers and shareholders, to say nothing of the local press: while accepting the need for their country bank to merge, they were prepared to challenge any attempt to remove all control to a remote centre such as Liverpool. The compromise— the retention of the local bank's head office as a District Office— proved a wise one. Some new branches were opened during the First World War but the Bank of Liverpool's ambitious plans were delayed.  To become a London Clearing Bank was its immediate objective and this could be achieved only by absorbing an existing Clearing Bank—a delicate operation.

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With its attractive cobblestone forecourt, and mellow facing bricks, this new Martins’ branch

at Epsom – which also features a drive-in counter – produces a happy compromise between

the old and new in architecture.

How easily could the Bank's attempts to absorb lead to its own absorption! In 1918 the ambition was realised in the fusion with Martins Bank Limited, a small but influential London Bank of great age. The name of the combined bank became the Bank of Liverpool & Martins Limited. Martins Bank, according to tradition, was founded as early as 1563 by Sir Thomas Gresham, Royal Agent in the Low Countries to Queen Elizabeth I. Gresham's successful efforts to persuade his Queen to reform the English coinage gave rise to what is commonly known as Gresham's Law—that bad money drives out good.

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Gresham's banking grew hand-in-hand with his goldsmith's business which he started at 'the sign of the Grasshopper' in Lombard Street. His Grasshopper sign was adapted from the crest of his family's coat-of arms. Early records perished in the Fire of London but evidence has survived to suggest that the use of the Grasshopper mark by successive goldsmiths at the same site was allied to the con­tinuance of the banking business. After the Fire the history is clear: banking continued unbroken and always the Grasshopper sign was used to identify the Lombard Street office.



For more than 250 years the name Martin was associated with the bank. A Martin first became a partner in 1703 and the link remained unbroken until 1960. On amalgamation with Bank of Liverpool, Gresham's Grass­hopper joined the Liver Bird in a new coat of arms. The historic site, by then numbered 68 Lom­bard Street, became the head­quarters of a London District Office. The ten years that followed the First World War saw the Bank of Liverpool & Martins spreading its influence to yet more areas, mainly by absorbing other banks in London, Manchester and York­shire. By 1928, when the great amal­gamation era was virtually over, the bank made another important acquisition, one that firmly established its position as the leading Northern bank. It bought the Lancashire & Yorkshire Bank, itself a fusion of several smaller banks, with a Manchester head­quarters and an extensive branch network.

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The palatial banking hall (left) forms the centrepiece of Martins Bank’s Head Office building in

Water Street, Liverpool.  It provides a striking contrast with the functionality of their

drive-in branch at Charles Street Leicester (right).

The acquisition gave the Bank of Liverpool & Martins its foothold in the Isle of Man and right to issue banknotes there, a privilege enjoyed until 1960. One condition of the amalgama­tion was the shortening of the parent bank's name to Martins Bank. So it was as Martins Bank Limited that the North's largest bank entered a new era of planned expansion into the Midlands, East Anglia, the South and the West Country. Only the war years interrupted a vigorous expansion policy. Gradually, Martins' branches appeared in most major centres of popula­tion—and in the Channel Islands.

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Today Martins Bank has 730 branches in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, a staff of more than 7,000, and seven District Offices. In Liverpool most of the bank's main administrative and specialist departments are brought together in the Head Office building at 4 Water Street. To the safety of its vaults a portion of the Bank of England's gold was transferred at the outbreak of the war. However, when it became clear that Liver­pool was as popular a bombing target as the capital the gold was shipped to Canada. Twenty-four directors, one of them the Chief General Manager, make up the Board of Martins Bank. Of the seven Districts, six have local Boards whose members include the respective District General Manager.

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The Bank's Overseas department has its chief office in London and branches in Liverpool and Man­chester. Other interests include a stake in Mercantile Credit, the hire-purchase finance company; a wholly-owned deposit and finance subsidiary, Martins Bank (Finance) Limited; and a 10 per cent share in the Swiss-registered Compagnie Internationale de Credit a Moyen Terme SA, formed by 15 European and American banks. 

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The “15.TG.63” legend above this fine gold grasshopper sign outside Martins Bank’s Principal London Office at 68 Lombard Street denotes the year in which the Bank is traditionally believed to have been established and the initials of the founder, Sir Thomas Gresham.  After making a fortune out of wool, he gave the City of London its first Royal Exchange, where his Grasshopper family crest still serves as a weathervane.



Last year Martins made a decisive move into the unit trust field, buying a 75 per cent interest in the companies operating the Unicorn Group of Unit Trusts. Now renamed Martins Unicorn, the company forms a division of Martins Bank Trust Company.  The Trust Company,  formed this year, took over the activities of the bank's 60 year-old trustee department together with the income tax, investment and new issues departments. There are few areas of recent banking development that Martins has not entered: it has 'drive-in' branches, automatic cash dis­pensers, quick cash counters. It is a member of the Bankers Card consortium. This then has been a glimpse of Martins Bank, now an integral part of one vast banking organisation. Understandably, Martins men and women feel they have behind them a tradition of vigorous enterprise that fits them well for an important role in the future of the combined bank.