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Early Exeter Banks

Page updated 28th November 2016

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The Exeter Bank - 1769
The Devonshire Bank - 1770
The City Bank - 1786
The General Bank - 1792
The Western Bank - 1793
The Penny Bank - 1861

The Exeter Bank - 1769

The first bank to open in the city was the Exeter Bank on the 9th July 1769, in premises adjoining the Royal Clarence Hotel in Cathedral Yard. Partners in the bank were John Duntze, William Mackworth Praed, Joseph Sanders and Daniel Hamilton. The hotel and the bank buildings were designed and built by Praed, who also had banking interests in London. Sir John Duntze was already a wealthy wool merchant and was MP for Tiverton. Like John Baring he was a German migrant.

The earliest note issued by the Exeter Bank was in 1791. Most private banks issued notes in £5 and £10 denominations and, after 1828, they were prohibited from issuing one pound notes.

In July 1810, 500 prominent Exeter citizens gave a vote of confidence in the bank after a local bank collapsed.

A case of forgery in 1818, involved Exeter Bank notes. Samuel Holmyard was found guilty of printing forged notes in his workshop in Sun Lane, off South Street. He was hanged at the Exeter temporary gallows at Magdalen Road—fifty years later James Cossins wrote of the execution:

"Homeyard was taken to be hung at Magdalen temporary drop for forgery, Nov. 13th 1818, he being the first hanged by the city authorities for thirty-two years. A large crowd accompanied him. He was sitting in a cart, with a book in his hand, his coffin beside him, the clergyman walking by the side."

The Exeter Bank was involved in another case of forgery in 1829, when a five pound note was received by the bank from Mr Medland's shop near the Half Moon Inn. The bank took the note to the Bank of England in Southernhay a few days later, where upon inspection it was found to be a forgery. An investigation took place which traced the note to a William Notley who had tried to purchase from Mr Medland's shop two pairs of stockings, worth five shillings and sixpence. Notley was found guilty of passing a forged note and was sentenced to hang.

In 1896 a second branch of the bank was opened in Exmouth, followed by a branch in Budleigh Salterton. By this time the bank was known as the Exeter Bank of Sanders and Co. In February 1901, the Exeter Bank and the City Bank which was situated on the corner of Broadgate, amalgamated. They were the last two private banks in the city. In October 1905, the old bank premises were put up for sale, and the staff moved to the City Bank. It was purchased by Deller's of Paignton, and became the first Deller's Cafe in the city. Through a series of mergers the Exeter Bank became part of the National Provincial Bank in 1918, which eventually became the National Westminster Bank.

The Devonshire Bank - 1770

This bank was established in 1770 by John Baring Junior, the son of John Baring Senior an emigre from Bremen, Germany during 1717. The family had become wealthy as wool merchants within the city and the Devonshire Bank was their first foray into banking. After just 40 years, in 1810 the bank closed. 

John Baring and his brother Francis were also involved in banking in London, and it was Francis who developed the London banking firm into Baring Brothers which was brought down in 1996, by Nick Leeson. The Devonshire Bank opened on a site leased from the Dean and Chapter, next to the future City Bank. The original partners were Baring, Lee, Selling and Tingecoombe.

The bank purchased guineas, gold bars and Portuguese gold Johannes. In June 1774 a Royal proclamation decreed that light guineas could be exchanged for heavy guineas, and Barings advertised the service for a period of two months. A light guinea was a gold coin that had become worn or had gold clipped from the edges. The partnership changed over the years and by 1783 was known as Barings, Short and Hogg. John Hogg left the firm in 1789 and was replaced by Charles Collyns, an Exeter ironmonger. Charles and John Baring retired from the bank in 1800 and Charles Collyns took over as the most active partner.

It would appear that the bank crash of 1810 may have closed the Devonshire Bank although no record of the reason for closure exists. In December 1810, two of the partners announced in the Flying Post that the bank "is this day finally closing and our partnership dissolved".

In 1816 a second Devonshire Bank was opened in the High Street, next to Parliament Street, by John William Williams who had been Mayor of Exeter in 1815. This bank collapsed in 1820 and an advert appeared in 1821 signed by Francis Turner, Samuel Kingdon, Thomas Lodge and M Barrett stating that all demands from the bank would be met, and there would be a surplus.

The City Bank - 1786

Established in 1786 by Samuel Milford and Richard Hall Clark, the City Bank's first premises were on the corner of Bear Street, near the Deanery. Like Duntze, Milford was a successful serge and woollen merchant and like many of the new bankers in the city, was not from the Anglican Church, but he was a Unitarian. The partners who had contributed £15,000 each to the business, engaged "a steadyclerk of... undoubted character" with the aim of "transacting all business relative to money".

In 1793 the bank moved to a newly built banking hall opposite what is now Pizza Express on Broadgate. In January 1800, the bank suffered a serious robbery when banknotes, drafts and other items, to the value of £7,000 locked in an iron chest in an inner room were stolen without the use of keys. No force appeared to have been used in the break-in and a reward of £200 was offered for information that would lead to the recovery of the money. Samuel Milford died a week later at the age of 63, it was said, of the shock. Payment on the bank notes were suspended and two months later a new partnership of John Milford, John Hogg and William Nation was formed, and an advertisement was placed for holders of the previous banks depository notes and five guinea notes to apply to the new partnership, where they would be honoured.

In 1810, the bank had recovered enough for the public to give a vote of confidence after a local bank collapse. The last notes issued by the City Bank were in 1898. In 1901 the City Bank merged with the Exeter Bank and in 1905 the City Bank's building at Broadgate became the home of the amalgamated, and now named Exeter Bank. The High Street was widened in the same year between South Street and Broadgate and the shop on the corner of Broadgate and High Street, Cornish the outfitters moved to the corner of North Street. The High Street frontage was rebuilt in the same style as the City Bank premises inside Broadgate and the bank occupied the whole building. The National Provincial Bank took over the Exeter Bank in 1918, and is now part of NatWest as they like to be known.

The General Bank - 1792

Lloyds Bank's presence in Exeter can be traced back to 1792 when Joshua Williams, and his son, also Joshua, Robert Cross and Thomas Sparkes, all Quakers, formed a partnership to open the General Bank in Fore Street. Within a year the fledgling bank had moved to the top of South Street near the wool market. The second move in 1807 to Cathedral Close on a site squeezed between the Globe Hotel the Devonshire Bank became its home for the next 30 years. The General Bank expanded into the Devonshire Bank premises when it closed, next to the City Bank, in 1810. Because the partners were all members of the Society of Friends, they determined to conduct business following strict ethical principles. Once, an unknown customer forgetfully left a hundred pounds in the bank and could not be traced. The bank announced that the money would be handed to the Devon and Exeter Hospital if it remained unclaimed. In the 1810 financial crisis the General Bank was one of the four banks in Exeter that survived, supported by a public vote of confidence.

Like many a wealthy merchant in Exeter, Joshua Williams was the son of a serge merchant, while his mother was Sarah Sparkes, sister of Thomas Sparkes. Joshua  spent 10 years with the East India Company before returning to England in 1788 having made a fortune at the age of 31, of £60,000. 

The sons of Thomas Sparkes, Joseph and Henry both later joined the bank as partners. It was Joseph Sparkes who built Pennsylvania Terrace (Park) named after the North American state. To indicate the connection of the bank and the Sparkes family to the Quaker William Penn of Pennsylvania, banknotes with a vignette of Penn's treaty with the Indian's on one side were produced.

The private General Bank was closed by Joseph Sparkes on 6 July 1836, when he announced to customers that the Devon and Cornwall Banking Company would take over the bank and occupy the banking hall. The new bank that was under the management of John Dymond and Francis Searle le, was not a private bank but a joint stock company with shareholders. This bank eventually through mergers became part of Lloyds.

The Western Bank - 1793

The fifth bank to open in Exeter was the Western Bank in January 1793. The partner's were all prominent Exeter men including Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, Richard and William Kennaway and Henry Waymouth. The life of the bank was short and it closed in 1798. Northcote was the son-in-law of Charles Baring, and it is possible the closure was to avoid family competition.

In 1803 the name of the Western Bank was revived when John Wilcocks a grocer opened a bank in Fore Street. This bank was a victim of the 1810 crash.

Penny Bank - 1861

The only record of this bank was in the Flying Post of October 1861. The paper wrote that the bank would be open in a room in Preston Street between 7 and 8.30 every Saturday evening. The paper applauded the fact that at last there would be a bank for the poor and that so far 236 persons had deposited £3 11 shillings.

Sources - Reminiscences of Exeter Fifty Years Since by James Crossing, Two Thousand Years in Exeter and Banks and Banknotes of Exeter 1769-1906 by John Ryton.

Exeter Bank The Exeter Bank building is now Michael Caines' Abode. The City Bank The City Bank building faces the West Front of the Cathedral. The City Bank entrance. The entrance to the City Bank.

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