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Martins Bank is first – or almost first – with a number of banking services and technologies, which is not bad going, when you consider the competition from the other major banks in the UK.  On this page we look at some of these “firsts”, and if you would like to know more about any of them in particular, simply click on the leaflet image at the beginning of each section…


The curse of being first…


First to use a computer to process day to day banking transactions


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Being first to do something does have its drawbacks.  Martins themselves would surely have acknowledged that having been first to use a computer soon left them lagging behind, as the other banks also explored possibilities and faster, more capable computers and equipment became available. This problem affects many banks well into the 1990s - fitting out an entire branch network with computer equipment that very quickly goes out of date, is hugely expensive – consequently the shabby looking computer terminals you might have seen in YOUR bank look like that because they are being used way beyond their expected shelf life.  Repair companies make a fortune by trying to keep these systems running, and despite advances in computer software, programs still need to be written in a way that the older equipment can still understand.   


1960 Bank dignataries meet Pegasus MBM-Sp60P10.jpgHow Martins actually achieves a first with computers is a fascinating story, and we are grateful to our colleague Peter Hayes who actually worked on Pegasus, the computer shown above – for telling us about it. Martins Bank’s tradition of being first with things is spoiled on home territory, when another bank dares to open the country’s first drive-in branch in Liverpool itself. 

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Those in charge at Martins are beside themselves with rage, and determined not only to open a better one, but to immediately be first in banking to introduce something else – in fact ANYTHING else, it doesn’t really matter what.  A board meeting is held and someone suggests computers – the fight back begins, and results in the arrival of Pegasus.  The winged horse is, however, not it all it is cracked up to be, and you can read more about this, and Peter Hayes’ involvement with the computer on our Pegasus II page.


Racing to be first:


The World’s first cash machine to use a plastic card and PIN…


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Barclays and Martins are neck and neck in the race to bring us the world’s first cash machine. That the race is won by Barclays, five months ahead of its rival is still seen as no setback at all by Martins, who proudly promote their machine as the first cash machine in the North of England. There is, however an even bigger claim to fame here - the Barclays machine is at first operated by special cheques dotted with holes which have to be matched onto pins inside a drawer.  Martins is first to use a plastic card and a personal identification number together.

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MAC.jpgDespite the two banks using different manufacturers, the workings of the two machines are surprisingly similar.  The customer is issued with a stock of special chemical cheques or plastic cards and a code number. 

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Used together, these will unlock a drawer providing access to a small pack containing ten one-pound notes.  Perhaps a clumsy system compared to what we have to day, but nevertheless it was ground-breaking for the time it was introduced. 

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We will have to wait at least another twenty years for anything that will resemble a more electronic system, from any of the banks… Barclays’ later attempts produce a credible ATM that is a cross between a one-armed bandit and a cash machine, where customers’ instructions appear behind a window courtesy of a large roller that spins backwards or forwards to the relevant passage of text.  Sometimes the roller gets stuck or only reveals part of the instructions through the window. Happy days!


First with innovation


The first drive-in bank?


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This is one of Martins’ most successful (and certainly most well publicised) firsts. It is also one that really hasn’t been seen much since.  It’s amazing what rivalry can achieve – one of the Bank’s competitors dares to open a drive-in branch in Liverpool (what cheek!) and Martins retaliates by becoming the first Bank to use a computer to process daily work. It also opens a lavish drive-in Bank in Leicester, AND engages the services of the Minister for Transport himself to open it!   There is no doubt, that by these actions, and as the leader of the “small six” Banks, Martins wants its customers and its competitors to take it seriously. 


1959 Publicity Shot MBM-Su59P21.jpgIt is a shame that this original drive-in bank did not fully catch on, despite lasting until the late 1980s. Banks still experimented with the idea, but with payment methods developing at a more rapid pace, the cash machine put paid to ideas of any large-scale development of drive-ins. 

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In the high-tech gadget filled twenty-first century, despite our willingness to queue in our cars for ages at any number of cardboard fast food outlets, we don’t seem to need the novelty and excitement that captured first Leicester, and later Epsom – using a large, purpose built Drive-In Bank.  Certainly much more than an experiment, banking with Martins by car is a popular thing to do over the ten year period 1959-1969, and thanks to Barclays, it survives until the late 1980s…



Unwaith eto, diolch yn fawr?


First UK bank to issue English/Welsh bilingual stationery…


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With branches in both North and South Wales, Martins takes an active interest in the culture of Wales, and takes seriously the matter of employing managers and staff who can speak both Welsh and English.  This poster from 1960 shows the Bank’s involvement in the annual Eisteddfod, and in 1965, Cardiff Branch seizes the initiative and produces the Uk’s first bilingual cheques…

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1965 02.jpgThrough Cardiff Branch, the Bank has achieved another FIRST with the issue of the first bilingual cheques in Britain. The cheques, each printed in both English and Welsh, are drawn on an account opened by the Urdd movement for the Urdd National Eisteddfod, being held this year in Cardiff.  The Movement is a youth organisation, founded in 1922 to foster, among other things, an interest in Wales and its culture, and the Urdd National Eisteddfod is to the young people of Wales, what the National Eisteddfod is to the adults.  Among the Movement’s patrons is the Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, Sir Cennydd Traherne, T.D., of our South Western Board.

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First service…


First to operate a sub branch on the Centre Court at Wimbledon…


Click HERE to visit Martins Bank’s

Centre Court sub-Branch


Martins Bank’s Branches can not only be found in practically every town, but also in a number of RAF stations, a hospital, the British Wool Marketing Board, the NORGAS Building, an abattoir, universities and numerous cattle markets. 

Taking banking to the workplace is a popular move, and leads to the building of a permanent branch at the Great Yorkshire Show Ground. Around the country, Martins serves the workers at Aylesford Paper Mills near Maidstone, and at many other locations including, industrial estates, a colliery, a corn exchange, ICI Wilton Works, and railway stations. The Bank also enjoys many prime sites in well to do parts of London.  None, however, is a more prestigious, or perhaps strange choice for a branch location than the Centre Court at Wimbledon – a top prize indeed for any bank. 



First to make a splash…


Leading an advertising revolution?


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Martins Bank is quick to recognise – and take seriously – the potential savings and borrowing powers of young people. Until the advent of the 1960s teenager with surplus cash to spend, Martins’ advertising is distinctly – yet beautifully – plain.   In keeping with the Bank’s tradition of commissioning fine artists, the copy from the 1940s and 1950s consists almost exclusively of grey images, usually sketch drawings of British towns, cities and landmarks.  The idea, is that people will associate the Bank with the fine traditions of the places where it trades, and is also a throwback to the times of the many small local banks that eventually came together to form Martins itself.  Martins realises that young people, particularly those in work, but importantly those in further and higher education have, or will soon have, power over their own money, and the ability to save and borrow responsibly. Almost overnight, the Harold Wilson generation causes a major rethink of the Bank’s advertising policy, and with it, another first – stylish ads, evocative of the moment, each with a clear message – the CUSTOMER is king, in control of his or her own finances, and there is no better bank than Martins to help them achieve what they wanted in life. Sheer genius.


1918 to 1969

Bucking the trend…


Operating a full national network from a Head Office OUTSIDE London


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The amalgamation in 1928 of the Bank of Liverpool and Martins with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank sparks the exponential growth of the new Martins Bank – a bank that is proud to be based in Liverpool, NOT London.  

Opulence, decadence, and a strong defiance of a financial system that automatically assumes “London-centric” is the only option for a financial institution, Martins has these qualities in abundance, and demonstrates them to the full in the construction of what is still the most lavish and ostentatious bank building ever seen in this country. 

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To top it all, Martins’ wonderful and breath-taking Head Office at 4 Water Street Liverpool, couldn’t be further away from London, the traditional centre of British Banking. Although Martins Bank also has splendid and large premises at 68 Lombard Street London, those are only ever referred to as London Office, and nothing more.  It is therefore a particularly sad moment, when Martins Bank merges with Barclays, and Martins’ home city of Liverpool becomes just another outpost of a larger and more sprawling enterprise with more than 5000 offices around the world…



The Bank on Wheels…


… launches an entire FLEET of mobile branches!


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1955 Mobile Branch at City of Leicester Show MBM-Sp56P38.jpgNow here’s an idea that’s gone round the block a few times and come around again: - taking the bank to the customer – “another way” to bank – “now there’s a thought…” Today’s mobile banks, converted from those smaller town and city buses, bear little resemblance to their 1948 counterparts, but still fulfil more or less the same role. Today however, there is also the sheer cheek of expecting customer loyalty from those whose permanent branch you took away in the first place! 

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Today’s modern vehicles seem to lack the charm of the originals, which in Martins’ day have to be towed by land rovers, and evoke the nostalgic suggestion of a weekend’s caravanning in Snowdonia.  At the height of what Martins refers to as “Show Season”, a fleet of six mobile caravans tours England Wales Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, attending every kind of agricultural, sporting and industrial show. A complicated arrangement of preferred hotels and flower shops means that Martins Bank often wins awards for the presentation of its mobile caravans at the eighty or shows they attend each year.  There are times when a mobile branch is not appropriate, so a trade stand is used instead.  The mobile caravans are also used to bring banking to local housing estates, and in the late 1960s a prefabricated branch is used to attract customers in areas where a new branch of the Bank is currently being constructed.

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First to feel the crunch?


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There have been a number of theories as to why Martins Bank, at the height of its success, merges with Barclays, not least that the Bank of England is made nervous the rapid expansion of Martins Bank and by its lavish spending on new branches and services. 

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It could well be, that Martins’ very success, has itself become a heavy weight around the Bank’s neck:  Servicing the lending requirements of such major customers as a pools company, an airline and a world renowned shipping line, often sends Martins to other banks to borrow money – a compelling argument, perhaps, for a merger?


By the second decade of the twenty-first Century, Martins Bank’s network of 730 branches) at time of merger 1969) is reduced to fewer than thirty…