Maberly Phillips.

A history of banks, bankers, & banking in Northumberland, Durham, and North Yorkshire, illustrating the commercial development of the north of England, from 1755 to 1894, with numerous portraits, facsimiles of notes, signatures, documents, &c online

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Online LibraryMaberly PhillipsA history of banks, bankers, & banking in Northumberland, Durham, and North Yorkshire, illustrating the commercial development of the north of England, from 1755 to 1894, with numerous portraits, facsimiles of notes, signatures, documents, &c → online text (page 11 of 57)
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" We the undersigned having the most unlimited Confidence in the Solidity of the
undermentioned banks, do hereby undertake to receive the notes of all the said


banks in payment to any amount." The list bears 133 names. One of the
signatures is that of W. & T. Jophn & Co., who were Raff merchants at
Egypt, Newcastle. I shall subsequently show what an influence the signing of the
list by this firm had upon the formation of joint stock banks. So great was the
panic in the county of Durham, that even Backhouse & Co., of Darlington, were
" talked about.' ' Their clients and friends rallied round them and issued a declaration
stating that they had " the most perfect confidence in the stability and security of
the bank, a confidence fully justified by the substantial manner in which they have
carried on business uninterruptedly for the space of 40 years." How the signatures
to the said declaration were obtained by Mr. John Ord of Newton, who took a
long "sabbath day's journey" in so doing, is duly recorded in the account of
Messrs. Backhouse & Co.

The excitement and distress occasioned by the panic of 181 5 had hardly
subsided ere the credit of the banking community was again upset. In 18 16
Messrs. Cook's bankruptcy deprived Sunderland of another bank which had a very
large circulation. The Newcastle Chronicle of July 27th says : — " A Correspondent
from Sunderland informs us, that the greatest distress still continues there, from
the failure of Messrs. Cook's bank ; but that some relief is expected to be
experienced from a bank having been opened there within these few days by
Messrs. Backhouse of Darlington." At the same date Newcastle traders were
startled by the announcement that Sir Charles Loraine, Baker, and Co., had
determined to decline business. They assure their friends and the public that the
funds of the bank are fully adequate to meet all demands upon them, and claim
their indulgence until they can get matters arranged. Four gentlemen were to
inspect their accounts, and on the 24th July they announced that they were
" satisfied of their stability," and observed that the partners " do not appear to
have been engaged in any Trade or Speculation whatever." To allay public alarm
twenty -five country gentlemen guaranteed the payment of the bank's notes to the
amount of ^76,000, a sum " that greatly exceeds the Amount of the notes of the
Bank now in Circulation."

The friends of the other Newcastle Bankers had for the sixth time to come to
their aid. On July 24th, 18 16, the following notice appeared in the Newcastle
papers : —

" We whose names are subscribed, being satisfied of the stability of the Banks of Sir M. W. Eidley,
Bart., and Co., Messrs. R. J. Lambton, Bulman, and Co., Messrs. Reed, Batsons, Reeds, and Co., agree
to take in Payment the notes issued by them to any Amount. We also think it right to state that we
entertain no doubt of the Stability of the Bank of Sir Charles Loraine, Bart., and Co., but we deem it
unnecessary to extend this engagement to the notes issued by that House, as they have signified their
Intention to decline the Business of Bankers." The list contains 121 signatures, and a postscript


states : — " It is thought right to inform the public that the above engagement has been prepared,
signed, and published, without any previous Communication with the Banking Houses whose support
is the object of it."

Messrs. Reed, Batsons, and Co. had a branch in North Shields, and steps were
taken there also to support the credit of the banks.

A long letter appeared in the Newcastle Courant of July 27th. Its tone and
arguments are good, but want of space prevents our inserting it in full. The writer
concludes : — " That we may receive credit from them (the bankers) let us give
credit to them, and then mutual confidence with all its blessed consequences will

be once more re-established These remarks are for the public good

and the result of a strong conviction that this running "d.xi^ hunting down the credit
of our banks is a chase in which no wise man ought to join. It may be ' sport ' to
some now, but if persevered in it will be death hereafter."

Large hand-bills were placed in many shop windows announcing, "The Notes
of all the Banks in Newcastle will be taken here."

In the autumn of the year the issuers of bogus notes were again at work in
Newcastle. Presumably they did a good business, as the Mayor sent out the
following hand-bill : —

" Caution. — There are a Set of Swindlers in the Fair attempting to put off as
and for Five Pound Notes, certain fictitious notes purporting to issue from the
Montague Bank, for the Payment of Five Half-pence ! ! !

Mayor's Chambers, Newcastle, 28th October, 18 16."

A facsimile slightly reduced of a Montague Bank Note in the possession of
the writer is given.

(^J\Ht Jtlontaauc



In 1819, some evil-disposed persons fabricated and circulated a rumour
prejudicial to Messrs. Backhouse & Co., which led to the publication of a hand-bill
announcing a reward of ;^300 to any one " who will give such information of said
conspiracy, as shall convict the authors and promoters thereof."

About this time, benevolent persons were receiving small sums from working
people, allowing interest upon the same, and so commenced our Savings' Banks,
the first being claimed by Ryton-on-Tyne, where, it is stated, one was founded in
1796. In 18 1 7 the Government took up the matter, and arranged a code of rules
for their management. Newcastle availed itself of the opportunity thus afforded,
and founded a Savings' Bank in November of that year. In a short time,
similar institutions were established in nearly every town in the north. We cannot
review them all, so confine our remarks to a detailed account of the Newcastle
Savings' Bank, which has an interesting history.

The great increase of forgeries committed on the Bank of England during
this period, led to the formation of a Parliamentary Committee to enquire
into the matter. The number of people executed for uttering the forged notes
was most appalling, though it was very seldom that the actual producer was
taken. The Directors of the Bank of England were condemned for the simplicity
of their notes, which it was said rendered them most easy to imitate, and charges
were made against the Directors of inertness in not accepting some of the numerous
suggestions that were daily poured in upon them by every individual who fancied
he could produce a note that would defy imitation.

From the report of the Parliamentary Committee, dated February 15th, 18 19,
we find that the Bank Officials are quite exonerated from the charges of wilful
indifference made against them. The Committee state that they had requested
the bank to supply some account of the efforts made to devise means of preventing

"They did accordingly furnish us without delay with a detailed account of 108 projects regularly
classed and arranged, together with the correspondence respecting them, a statement of the trials to
which they had been subjected, and specimens of the proposed originals and of the imitations executed
by order of the bank. They also laid before us about seventy varieties of paper made at their
manufactory in experiments for its improvement, in wliich almost every alteration recommended for

adoption had been tried, and in some instances anticipated by their own manufacturer

We do not wish to represent those difficulties as precluding the propriety of an attempt to remove the
existing evils by a change in the form of the notes issued by the Bank of England ; but we do feel them
to be such as make it imperative upon those with whom the responsibility rests, to be fully satisfied
that they shall produce an improvement before they venture to effect a change."

The report is signed by Jos. Banks, William Congreve, William Courtenay
Davies, Gilbert Jer. Harman, W. H. Wollaston, Charles Hatchett.


The press in general was strong in denouncing the number of prosecutions and
executions. A volume of the Black Dwarf (a London Weekly publication, edited
by T. J. Wooler), has been brought to my notice. The verse with which each
number is headed gives some idea of the spirit of the contents : —

" Satire's my weapon ; but I'm too discreet
To run a muck and tilt with all I meet.
I only wear it in a land of Hectors,
Thieves, supercargoes, sharpers, and directors." — Pope.

The editor plainly announces his intention to attack the action of the bank,
and to direct public attention to the matter. He states : — " The means of
comparatively preventing the forgery of small notes is easy, and several plans to this

effect have been laid before the Directors The appeal of the public has

been answered by the hangman, and the system has proceeded to such an extent
that thousands upon thousands are yearly expended to punish what ingenuity

and humanity might almost entirely prevent " The number for

September 23rd, 1818, commences: — "Forgery of Bank Notes — Welsh Great
Sessions!" An account follows of a Carnarvon jury who after the plainest
evidence of guilt return a verdict of "Not Guilty." Chief Baron Richards then
said : — " Prisoner, you have been tried for a very great offence, but the jury both
yesterday and to-day thought proper to bring in a verdict of ' Not Guilty.' Such
a verdict after such a mass of evidence must be extremely prejudicial to the public
interest, and for my own part, I cannot conceive how they can answer it to their
own conscience. That you are guilty is as clear as that two and two make

four " The same paper continues to give weekly accounts of the

prosecutions in different parts of the country, and complains that the bank holds the
power of life and death in its hands, by being allowed to select its victims. Some
were simply charged with having forged notes in their possession, and they were
sentenced to fourteen years' transportation, while those convicted of "uttering"
the notes were condemned to death. According to the Black Dwarf , these
prosecutions from 1797 to 181 7, cost the Bank of England nearly a quarter of a million
of money. Between 1805 and 18 18, 501 convictions were obtained, which resulted
in 207 executions. In the year 181 7, 28,412 forged notes of ^i were detected.
At the Middlesex Sessions, January, 18 18, both the grand jury and the twelve
jurymen who tried some of the cases, separately entered a very strong protest
against the extreme simplicity of the notes, and the severe punishment for the
forgery of them, and express an earnest hope that immediate steps may be taken
to stay the sacrifice of human life. Page after page of the paper abounds in start-
ling statements. Various cases are cited of notes being issued unsigned — notes
paid issued unsigned — notes paid and afterwards pronounced forged — notes issued


by the bank subsequently declared forgeries, &c., and amongst others the follow-
ing instance is given : —

" A mercantile establishment in the course of business received a one pound
note from the Bank of England stamped ' Forged,' but relying on the correctness
of their own judgment in the matter they sent it back to the bank persisting that
it was a good and valid note. The bank thereupon replied, ' On re-inspection, it
appears to be a genuine note ! and therefore I enclose you one of the same value."
Birmingham Chronicle, September 22nd, 1818."

The Black Dwarf iox October 21st, 18 18, commences "One forgery makes a
felon — millions a statesman ! " And then follows a full account of the forged
Assignats, with comments thereon.

At the time this publication was so bitterly criticising the conduct of the bank
officials, the Society of Arts were voluntarily seeking information and giving sug-
gestions for the prevention of forgery. In 18 19 was issued "The Report of the
Committee of the Society of Arts, etc., together with the Approved Communica-
tions and Evidence upon the same, relative to the mode of Preventing the Forgery
of Bank Notes." As there are matters of considerable local interest in this report,
I extract from it pretty freely. It states : —

" The rapid increase during the last three or four years of convictions before the criminal courts, for
the circulation of Forgeries of the Bank of England Notes, is such as to have made a very serious
impression on the public mind. The increased reluctance of Juries to visit with the extreme penalty
of the law a crime for the prevention of which no successful precautions have apparently been taken,
and the notorious fact, corroborated by evidence produced at several recent trials, that Forged Notes
have passed through the scrutiny of the Bank Inspectors, have attracted general attention. Under
these circumstances the Members of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and
Commerce, have thought it neither unworthy of, nor foreign to the object for which they are associated,
to enter upon an investigation for the purpose of ascertaining whether there exist any means within
the compass of the fine and mechanical arts, not of fully preventing the Forgery of Bank Notes (for
that is obviously impossible), but of increasing the difficulty of imitation, and thus checking the
prevalence of the crime."

They point out that the chance of detection increases with the increase of the number of hands
concerned in producing a forged note. That forgeries are "usually committed by inferior and
necessitous men or prentice boys." That if the component parts of a note consisted of the work of
various branches of the engraver and printer's arts — say that it contained the work of " a first-rate
historical engraver, writing engraver, rose or other engraver, die sinker, engraver on wood, turner on
wood, paper maker," . . . . " it is not within the verge of reason to suppose that seven first-rate
professors in distinct branches of the arts would combine for the purpose of committing forgeries, and
more particularly so as the attempt could only be made at a great expense of time and money, and
after all could not escape speedy, if not immediate detection."

After the general report, follow a number of communications from various
leading artists who had given much attention to the subject. Some of them are


accompanied by specimen notes of most beautiful workmanship. One of these
contributions is of local interest, so I give it in full.


" gir, — I request that you will lay before the Society the enclosed plan, which in my opinion, will
prevent or at least greatlj' diminish the Forgery of Bank Notes. It consists essentially in a combination
of the efforts of men of acknowledged ability in the art of engraving in the usual mode and in relief."


'^^ Of Ojvx^^

The note is an exquisite piece of workmanship. The centre picture is from
a design painted expressly for the purpose by J. Thurston, the engraving being by
Ranson, Lambert, and others. Thomas Fryer Ranson was born at Sunderland
in 1784, and served his apprenticeship as an engraver with J. A. Kidd of Newcastle,
after which he removed to London, and in 18 14 received the medal of the Society
of Arts for engraving a portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham. High as Mr. Ranson
stood in the Art world, it was from a fight with the Bank of England in 1818 that
he became more widely known. The accoimt of the trial is curious and interesting.

" Mr. Ranson in the course of business paid a £1 Bank of England note to Mr. Mitchener who kept the
Hole-in-the-Wall in Fleet Street. The note was subsequently stopped by the Bank officials and
pronounced a forgery. Mitchener applied to Ranson for repayment of the £1, but Ranson refused
unless the note were returned to him. Mitchener then summoned Ranson to the Court of Conscience
in Fulwood's-rents where Mr. Fish an official from the Bank of England produced the note. Ranson
asked to look at it, and then coolly put it in his pocket. Mr. Fish appealed to the magistrate who said
he could not interfere. Ranson walked off with the note, proceeded to Mitchener's house and paid
him 20/-. But the matter did not rest here, the Bank of England could not allow such an insult to
pass, and so instructed Fish to summon Ranson for being in possession of a note knowing the same to
be forged. The case came on at Marlborough Street Court before Mr. Baker. Ranson refused to give
up the note and was committed to Cold Bath Fields prison where to remain until duly discharged by
law. He was there from 23rd to 27th January, 1818, when he was again brought up. Mr. Fish and


his solicitor Mr. Westwood offered to let him off if he would give up the note. Eanson said that he
wished the question tried, whether the note really was a forgery, and that he would surrender the note
to the magistrate upon those conditions. Mr. Fish said he must consult the Bank officials. The case
came up again on the following day, when Ranson said he had changed his mind and would on no
conditions give up the note. Mr. Baker declined to send him to prison a second time and eventually
liberated him upon bail, himself in £200 and two securities of £100 each — binding him over to appear
on a future day. Now came Ranson's turn — and he duly instituted proceedings against Fish for false
imprisonment claiming heavy damages. The case came before Chief Justice Abbot and a Special Jury
at the Court of King's Bench, on February 22nd, 1819, and witnesses were called to prove the
genuineness of the note. Mr. Gurney the counsel for Fish said that " the defendant was taken by
surprise with respect to this evidence, and therefore no person was present on the part of the Bank of
England to prove that the note was forged." The account of the case in the Times of that date has a
foot-note which says : — " We observed however that Mr. Lees, an inspector of the Bank, on whose
evidence many persons have been convicted, was then sitting in Court, as was another gentleman an
engraver, who is employed by the Bank." Eventually the verdict was given for the plaintiff —
damages £100. Mr. Ranson was not idle during the time of his incarceration. He engraved " An
interior view of Cold Bath Fields Prison," adding " in which Thomas Ranson was unlawfully confined
by the Bank of England for holding an alleged forged One pound note (that he paid forty shillings for)
which was proved to be genuine by a Court of Justice. Dedicated without permission to the Governor
and Company of the Threadneedle Street Paper Establishment."

There can be little doubt that in this case by some inadvertency the Bank
officials had pronounced a good note to be a forgery.

Ranson evidently kept up a correspondence with his Newcastle friends.
Before me are two letters from him addressed to Mr. Charnley. The conclusion
of one is shown on the page opposite.

In spite of the report of the Parliamentary Committee, the interest taken by
the Society of Arts, and the scandal that arose from such cases as Fish v. Ranson,
little appears to have been done to improve the quality of the note, and forgery
continued. Gradually public feeling waxed hot upon the matter. It was difficult
to get juries to convict, and many persons refused to prosecute, preferring to bear
the loss rather than to hand a poor victim over to certain death. About this
time a caricature note drawn by George Cruickshank, did much, according to his
own account, to bring about an alteration of the law. He writes to his friend
Whitaker : — *

" There were one pound Bank of England notes in circulation, and unfortunately there were forged
one pound notes in circulation also : and the punishment for passing these forged notes was in some
cases transportation for life and in others Death. At that time I resided in Dorset Street, Salisbury
Square, Fleet Street, and had occasion to go early one morning to a house near the Bank of England,
and in returning home between eight and nine o'clock down Ludgate Hill, and seeing a number of
persons looking up the Old Bailey I looked that way myself and saw several human beings hanging on
the gibbet opposite Newgate prison ; and to my horror two of them were women and upon enquiry
found one woman was hung for passing forged one pound notes. The fact that a woman could be put
to death for such a minor offence had a great effect upon me and I at once determined if possible to
put a stop to this shocking destruction of life for merely obtaining a few shillings by fraud.

I went home and in ten minutes designed and made a sketch of the " Bank note not to be
imitated." About half an hour after this was done William Hone came into my room and saw the

♦ " Old Time Punishments," page 218.



'y ^ -^


sketch lying on my table, and said " What are you going to do with this, George ? '' " To publish it " I
replied. Then he said " Will you let me have it ? " To his request I consented, made an etching of it
and it was published. Mr. Hone then resided in Ludgate Hill, not many yards from the spot whelre I
had seen the people hanging on the gibbet, and when it appeared in his shop windows, it caused a
great sensation, and the people gathered round his house in such numbers that the Lord Mayor had to
send the City Police to disperse the crowd. The Bank directors held a meeting immediately upon the
subject and after that they issued no more one pound notes, and so there was no more hanging for
passing forged one pound notes. I consider it the most important design and etching that I ever made
in my life, for it saved the lives of thousands of my fellow creatures."

A facsimile of the note is produced.


^^-^ana: of England .



Probably Mr. Cruickshank claims more than his share of merit in bringing
about the suppression of ^i and £2 notes : doubtless many circumstances tended
to induce the directors of the Bank of England to relinquish the issue of small
notes, and so relieve themselves of a responsibility that must have been most trying
and perplexing.

A few years later the penal code was revised and punishment by death for
forgery abolished, excepting for some special offences. Executions for the offence
of uttering forged notes were not confined to the South. Mr. R. O. Heslop,
favours me with the following : —

" An aunt of mine, born in 1793, told me she well remembered as a girl seeing a young fellow drawn
through the streets of Carlisle with his coffin, to be executed at the gallows on the Sands there. He
had been convicted of tendering a one-pound note which turned out to be a forgery. The youth was
gentlemanly-looking and was well connected, and great efforts had been made to obtain a respite. The
case was a marked one because of this, and because the shopwoman who received the note was the only
witness of his identity, on which point she had obstinately insisted."




More New Banks in the North — Sir Francis Blake, Reeds, & Co. stop payment —
The public become impatient — " Capt." Starkey — Forgery of country bank
notes — Thomas Joplin commences his agitation — He issues pamphlets in favour
of the Scotch system of banking — Calls a Meeting in Newcastle to consider the
formation of a Joint Stock Bank — Petitions the House of Commons on the
subject of the currency— Cash payments resumed by the Bank of England —
Prosperous year of 1824 — Panic of 1825 — Wentworth & Co. of York stop
payment — Sir Peter Pole & Co. of London suspend — Bank of England issue
£\ and £1 notes — Bank failures in the County of Durham — Skits on "Rag"
money — Bank of England relinquish privilege — Joplin renews his agitation in
the North — Branch Banks of England proposed — Great opposition — " Circulars
to Bankers" — Formation of Committee of Country Bankers — Project to restrain
the issue of Small Notes — Opposition from Newcastle Chamber of Commerce —
Petition re Small Notes — Debate in the House of Commons — Speech by Sir
M, W. Ridley — Government Stocks reduced.

THE new banks that appeared in the district about this period were : — Messrs.
Britain & Co., Raper, Swann, & Co., and Joseph Dresser & Co., Thirsk ;
Baxter & Co., Darlington ; Fletcher, Stubbs, & Co., Northallerton ; Sir
Wm. Chaytor, Frankland, & Co., Sunderland ; and last, though certainly not least
in importance, the Branch Bank of England at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Early in the decade under review, trade was once again impeded by bank

Online LibraryMaberly PhillipsA history of banks, bankers, & banking in Northumberland, Durham, and North Yorkshire, illustrating the commercial development of the north of England, from 1755 to 1894, with numerous portraits, facsimiles of notes, signatures, documents, &c → online text (page 11 of 57)