In the late 18th century Falkirk was the centre of trade to the richest part of the county of Stirling. It had many extensive distilleries, tanworks, collieries, and foundries, and there was much businesses carried on in the grain trade. Its equidistance between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its proximity to the ports of Bo’ness and Grangemouth, contributed to make it one of the most favourable places in Scotland for the establishment of a bank. The famous trysts afforded, three times a year, opportunities for a great circulation of paper. All of these advantages were properly viewed by a few spirited individuals of the town.
On Whitsunday 1787 it was announced that a banking company had been established in the town of Falkirk under the name of the FAKIRK BANKING COMPANY. There were thirteen partners who were leading businessmen and landowners. These were John Meek of Campfield, John Heugh of Garbet and Gartcows. James Kincaid of Bottom a merchant in Falkirk, Alexander Ramsay merchant there, James Dalrymple and Sons merchants there, Adam Dawson at Bonnington, James Walker merchant and grocer in Falkirk, James Henderson writer there, Thomas Duncanson merchant in Falkirk, John Bell of Lyon Thom and a merchant in Camelon, Charles Walker merchant in Glasgow, Thomas Mair merchant in Bathgate, and William Telford late accountant in Stirling, now in Falkirk. These partners executed and recorded a bond in the books of Council and Session (Caledonian Mercury 28 May 1787, 1). Included in this was the regulation that at the end of every thirteen years any partner might retire, but during the intermediate periods, not a penny could be withdrawn. This was designed to avoid profiteering or fluctuations in the capital during times of harsh trading conditions and it seemed to work. At the outset the price of shares was £100 and the dividends were maintained at moderate levels.
William Telford was appointed as Cashier. The Falkirk Banking Company had a regular exchange of notes with their agent in Edinburgh twice a week which ensured that it did not have too many notes in circulation. Latterly this was Messrs Thomas Kinnear and Sons. Even so, its issues amounted sometimes to £45,000. They had agencies for many years at Alloa and Airdrie, and enjoyed the business of Linlithgow, though it had no branch there. In 1814 James King was the agent for the Falkirk Bank at 449 Gallowgate Street in Glasgow and he was followed by Charles Walker, also in the Gallowgate. Walker was described as a fine good-natured old man, much respected, and well known as the “Colonel of the Grocer Corps;” the bank business was transacted at the back of his shop. Bailie Foote was the agent in Alloa and Thomas Mair in Bathgate. The Glasgow Mail Coach Company was hired to take money parcels and boxes to and from Glasgow, and the Edinburgh Mail Coach Company did likewise to the capital.
In Falkirk, the main office was on the south side of the High Street nearly opposite to the church gate. It was broken into in April 1789 and two guineas in gold, three guinea notes (two of them of the Bank of Scotland) and 24 pounds 11 shillings in silver, mostly sixpences, was taken out of one of the clerks’ desks. A reward of £50 was promptly offered for information leading to arrests and prosecution (Caledonian Mercury 9 April 1789, 3).
The masthead of the Company’s banknotes depicted the Old Parish Church of Falkirk topped with the distinctive steeple designed by William Adam. The 1787 guinea note shows it in isolation whereas the 1796 one pound note shows the church on a slight eminence with a sailing ship on the Forth in the background representing commerce. To the left are the furnaces of the Carron Works representing industry. Masts from further ships, without sails, can be seen on the shore at the thriving port of Grangemouth.
The Falkirk Banking Company soon gained a good reputation for stability and from an early date was used by many customers including the Stirlingshire Turnpikes Trust who found it convenient for its shareholders to pay their subscriptions into it.
After just a few years Alexander Ramsay of Kersehill took over as cashier and remained in that post for over thirty years. His third son, James Ramsay, after completing his education, also entered into the service of the bank. James was also a member of the Eastern Battalion of the Stirlingshire Volunteers and in 1804 became its Paymaster before joining the regular army and serving abroad. This was undoubtedly why in that year the partners of the Falkirk Banking Company granting a sum of ten guineas for clothing and aiding the general defence Volunteers then training in the county (Love 1925).
Some notable local people were connected with the bank in their early careers. George Simpson began his working life as a clerk in the Falkirk Bank. One of his fellow-apprentices was John Taylor, who gained unenviable notoriety in connection with the ill-fated Western Bank of Scotland of which he was for some time manager. In later years George Simpson seems to have drifted into the ironmongery trade and became a Stintmaster in 1835, and was chosen as preses of that body, holding the office till 1837 (Love 1908). Robert Riddoch was another clerk at the bank and moved over to the Bank of Scotland when it closed (ibid). So too was his brother, George. William Simpson was a clerk with the Falkirk Banking Company in 1819 and went on to become a nurseryman, residing in Kerse Lane, and established the new gas works in 1833. Alexander Callendar was another clerk.
One of the main reasons for setting up the bank was to encourage commerce in the area and the greatest venture of all was the Tryst. Writing in the 1790s Rev James Wilson noted that
“Besides several fairs in the year, and three trysts, there is a market every week on Thursday. At these three trysts there are, at an average, 60,000 black cattle. As most of them are of the small Highland breed, the medium price may be fixed at £4 each. Thus at these meetings, it is supposed, £400,000 sterling are put into circulation. Not a small proportion of this money passes through the Falkirk Bank. There are also horses and sheep disposed of at these markets”(Wilson 1797).
In the centre of the Tryst ground at Stenhousemuir a number of businesses set up tents to serve the needs of the drovers for the Highlands and the dealers from England. They served things like soup and drink and provided entertainment. In 1822 it was observed that in
“one of these tents a few gentlemen attend from the Falkirk Bank to accommodate the dealers with the money they require”(Thomas Gisborne quoted in Love 1908).
Carrying the large amounts of cash that exchanged hands on these occasions could be dangerous. One famous case occurred in 1812 when Archibald Stewart, a cattle dealer from Dalspidie in Glenlyon was attacked on the evening of 11 October in Mary Close, Stirling, near his lodgings. He had just arrived from the Falkirk Tryst and was carrying his earnings in his inside pocket. He was set upon by three men and severely beaten on the body and head to the extent that he lost consciousness. When he came round he found that he had been relieved of two promisary notes worth £400 and £1010 in banknotes, chiefly of the Falkirk Bank Company. Half of the cash was made up of £20 pound notes and the other half of £5 from that bank. A short time after the robbery the two drafts were found on the street, showing the security value of that form of payment. One was indorsed by Duncan Cameron, cattle dealer, near Lockerby, and the other by John Paterson. Immediately, a reward of one hundred guineas was offered for the apprehension of the person or persons who had committed said robbery, to be paid by Mr Eadie, Cashier to the Stirling Banking Company, upon any convictions. It was also requested that bankers and others should detain any suspicious persons if they should present Falkirk Bank notes of the above denominations.
A week later an Irishman named Alexander Cain, alias O’Kane, was arrested in Dumfries trying to pass Falkirk banknotes. Upon search it was found that he had £500 worth. He was tried before the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh and sentenced to be hanged at Stirling on Friday the 21 February 1812, which was duly carried out.
Although the multiplicity of banks in Scotland issuing banknotes in the first decade of the 19th century caused some confusion in identifying fraud, it also helped with its detection. When cash went missing the economic establishment was asked to be on the outlook for large quantities of notes of a particular denomination of a certain bank. Indeed, given the relatively small amount in circulation, even small amounts of the banknotes could be traced. An example of this occurred in December 1798 when Henry Swinton, merchant in Grangemouth, sent cash though the Royal Main to Thomas Gentles and Sons in Leith. The package went missing at the Edinburgh Post Office. It contained five £20 notes of the Falkirk Banking Company. For security Swinton had recorded their numbers, which were 3/77, 3/139/ 3/166/ 3/481 and 4/440. Within a fortnight two of the notes had been detected, and the person who was believed to have abstracted the letter secured. Bankers, merchants, and others to whom they might have been offered, were requested to secure the person by whom they were presented – a handsome reward being offered as a carrot. The trial of James Stewart took place in Edinburgh the following January. He had been a letter carrier in the General Post Office and was instantly dismissed (Caledonian Mercury 29 December 1798, 1; 24 January 1799, 2).
Fraud could also be committed by forging signatures on bills of exchange. Gilbert Gillon, a shoemaker in Falkirk with a wife and five children, did just that in 1819. He forged the signature of David Elder on a bill from the Falkirk Bank to obtain £68. He then deserted his family and lived off the money in London for the next three years. Pricked by his conscience he voluntarily surrendered himself to the police (Star (London) 1 August 1822, 4).
Printing forged banknotes is the fraud most commonly associated with banks and the Falkirk Banking Company had its share of this activity. In August 1799 forged five shilling notes of the Falkirk Banking Company were found to be in circulation and that Company offered a reward of one hundred pounds sterling for information leading to a conviction. The forged notes were printed upon common paper without the water mark. The signatures were very ill-imitated and easily distinguishable from the real ones – the name “Will. Simpson” reading as “this Simpson,” and “Alex. Ramsay,” the cashier’s name, ill executed. The figures in the number of the forged notes were likewise very ill made, some in red and others in black ink – none of the real notes had red figures. The forged notes were also missing the writer and engraver’s name immediately under the device, and all the engraving was very indifferently done (Caledonian Mercury 8 August 1799, 1).
Another case occurred in 1814 and the trial of Nathaniel Blair, alias Sawers, took place in the High Court of Justiciary. He was accused of forgery, and uttering or vending forged notes of the Bank of Scotland, the British Linen Company, the Falkirk Bank, and the Commercial Bank of Scotland (Caledonian Mercury 31 January 1814, 3). As the original partners died off their shares tended to be bought up by those surviving. John Bell died on the 15 May 1801, Thomas Duncanson in 1806. Others retired, so that by 1821 there were only five remaining partners. In August that year dividends were paid to them at a rate of £60 for each share as follows:
|James Walker||9 shares –||£540|
|John Heugh||6 shares –||£360|
|Alex Ramsay||6 shares –||£360|
|Trustees of late James Henderson,||6 shares –||£360|
|Adam Dawson||3 shares –||£180|
The day book for the Falkirk Banking Company for 1821 is now in Falkirk Archives (a1800.3). It provides us with some details concerning the issue of new banknotes. On 20 August 1821 we find the following entry: –
“Bank furniture to Thomas Kennear & Sons for stamps on 2000 of this Company’s £5 notes at 1/3 each, and on 10,000 small notes at 5d each, they paid Kirkwood & Sons £333.6.8.” And on 10 November 1821 – “Charges paid James Kirkwood & Son engravers Edin their Acct for business done to this Compy to date £22.2.9.”
A careful record was kept of the serial numbers:
|22 September 1821||Bank notes issued for books No 111/1 to 500 & No 111/500 to 1000 twenty shilling notes |
signed & dated 14 instant.
|25 September 1821||Bank notes issued for books No 101/1 to 500 and No 101/501 to 1000 guinea notes |
signed and dated 26 Inst
|5 October 1821||Bank notes issued for book No 112/1 to 500 and No 112/501 to 1000 twenty shilling notes |
signed & dated 1st Oct. current.
|10 November 1821||Banknotes issued for books No 102/1 to 500 & 102/501 to 1000 guinea notes |
signed and dated 15 October
|Ditto||for books 113/1 to 500 & 113/501 to 1000 twenty shilling notes dated 9 November.||£1000|
The staff at this time consisted of Alex Ramsay with the large salary of £400 a year; William Simpson at £160; Alexander Callendar on £150; and John Taylor £90. Robert Reddoch and George Simpson seem to have been in part-time employment by the Company. The Company also owned heritable property on the east side of the bank building known as Bulloch’s Lands which they bought from Robert Bulluch. Down Bulloch’s Close they erected new houses. Property was also acquired on the other side of the High Street at Nimmo’s Land. These buildings, a mixture of shops, offices and dwellings, were all insured and rents were drawn from them.
When the banking house of Belches in Stirling failed in 1805 a great distrust in the bank system ensued, which occasioned much inconvenience to the public. The Turnpike Trustees of Stirlingshire took out an advert in the Caledonian Mercury to reassure, stating that
“from their own knowledge and inquiries made, conceive it a duty to inform the public of their entire confidence in the responsibility and prudence of the following county establishments, namely,
- The STIRLING BANKING COMPANY,
- The FALKIRK BANKING COMPANY, and
- he FALKIRK UNION BANK.
The notes of which companies the members of this meeting will freely receive in payment, and are of opinion, that the public are in safety to do the same”(Caledonian Mercury 15 April 1805, 1).
When the Falkirk Union Bank was forced to close in 1816 there was no run on the Falkirk Banking Company, which says a lot about the esteem in which it was held. However, the financial operating climate was changing. New regulation was being introduced and the complexity increasing. In 1826 the remaining five partners decided to call it a day, citing the expiry of their contract of copartnery which had served three periods of thirteen years. One source suggests that the decision was influenced by a government proposal to abolish the circulation of bank notes under a value of £5. The announcement that the bank was to cease trading on 2 October 1826 was made in the national newspapers on 30 September. By then arrangements had been put into place to ensure continuity. The bank building in Falkirk had already been bought by the Bank of Scotland which was to do business from there and two rooms had been set aside for the representatives of the Falkirk Banking Company to wind down the company. From it the deposit receipts and other engagements were to be paid as formerly for a transition period. The notes of the Falkirk Bank continued to be paid, either at Falkirk, or by Messrs Thomas Kinnear and Sons, their agents in Edinburgh. Thereafter the Bank of Scotland retained the services of Alexander Ramsay and his son, Alexander, as joint-agents. They retired from office in 1830, and were succeeded by Alexander Macfarlane of Thornhill (Love 1928).
The new building covered a large frontage and it is probable that the bank had purchased Bulloch’s Land in the sale of 1828 in preparation. It also appears that they built over the entrance to Bulloch’s Close, creating a new entrance off Bell’s Close. The imposing new building was three storeys tall with a balustraded parapet whose panelled blocks were surmounted with urn finials. A metope and triglyph frieze below the parapet added to the Classical appearance. The building had four bays, symmetrical apart from the placing of the large doorway at the bottom right. The sills of the first and second floor windows lay on line with slight string courses, with the consoles set below. The ground and second floor windows were lugged whilst the first floor had hood moulds. The ashlar stonework extended a little around the sides to form pilasters. It remained a branch of the Bank of Scotland until demolished c1965.
In 1828 property on both the north and south sides of the High Street in Falkirk were sold off. It is also known that the Falkirk Banking Company acquired land in the Lodging Close in 1808 (Register of Sasines 30 November 1808). James Russel acted as law agent and in consequence the partners realised £1650 for every £100 share.
Having secured the services of Alexander Ramsay for the smooth transition, the Bank of Scotland entered into a phase of competition with the other national banks which were also opening up branches in the Central belt. It appears that around 1830 the bank premises on the High Street were rebuilt to emphasise the firm’s reliability and solidity.
The building is shown on Alexander Black’s map of 1832 and in more detail on the 1858 Ordnance Survey map. It is curious that on this latter map the interior plan is shown, whereas that of the Royal Bank of Scotland, three doors to the east, is not. This distinction was reserved for the larger public buildings such as the County Buildings in Bank Street.
The response of the Commercial Bank of Scotland, whose premises were on the north side of the High Street opposite to the Cow Wynd, can still be seen. This magnificent building was probably designed by the bank’s architect, David Rhind, and erected in 1832 at a cost of £1,955 (Bailey 2017, 46-47). Ironically it is now occupied by the Bank of Scotland. In March 1832 it was announced that the National Bank of Scotland had arranged to open a Branch in Falkirk, under the management of Robert Adam, writer there.
That same year another forgery came to light involving both the Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland branches in Falkirk. It was, however, relatively small in scale. John Inglis deposited £8 in the banks at Edinburgh – twice in the Commercial Bank and once in the Bank of Scotland. He then fraudulently converted the three bankers’ drafts or letters of credit for £8 into drafts for £80 each, by the addition of a “0” after the figure “8,” and adhibiting the letter “y” to the end of the word “eight.” Travelling to Falkirk he cashed them at the braches there. It was his misfortune that the agent for the Bank of Scotland visited Edinburgh the following day, the deception was uncovered and he was arrested. His partner in the crime, William Penney, absconded. At his trial Inglis pleaded guilty and so his punishment was restricted to a mere 14 years’ transportation (Edinburgh Evening Courant 14 June 1832, 3).
Alexander Macfarlane, the Bank of Scotland’s agent, was soon involved in another court case. That summer he was challenged to a fighting duel by James McKechnie, formerly of the civil department of the Ordnance, residing in Falkirk. There is no indication of what the dispute was about. In any case, Macfarlane reported the challenge and as duelling was illegal McKechnie was prosecuted by the authorities (Edinburgh Evening Courant 16 July 1832, 3).
A brief account of Macfarlane’s successors by James Love can be found under “Agents of the Bank of Scotland”.
|Bailey, G.B.||2017||‘The Making of Falkirk, 1830-1860,’ Calatria 34, 1-92.|
|Love, J.||1908||Local Antiquarian Notes and Queries. Volume 1.|
|Love, J.||1925||Local Antiquarian Notes and Queries. Volume 3.|
|Love, J.||1928||Highways, Byeways and Biggins of Falkirk.|
|Wilson, J.||1797||‘The Old Statistical Account of Falkirk,’ reproduced in Calatria 4 (1993), 95-122.|