An iconic building in Bideford, Nat West Bank (formerly National Provincial) closed on 29th May 2018. Peter Christie looks back on its history, and Gerald Waldron remembers his time as a bank employee.
End of an era.
The closure of Bideford’s Natwest bank seems a suitable time to look at its history. The story begins around 1790 when four men established a bank in town. They were James Ley a prominent merchant, Stephen Willcock a wine merchant, John Glubb a lawyer, and Charles Cutcliffe a Barnstaple banker. Their new venture seems to have been set up in Ley’s house on the N.E. corner of High Street.
A map from 1842 (above) shows the building split into two, whilst the main photograph (taken around 1870) clearly shows which section was being used as the bank. The fact that the business became known as ‘Bideford Old Bank’ suggests it was the first such establishment in the town.
In 1843 under its ‘official’ name of J.Ley & Co it was taken over by the National Provincial Bank which had been founded in London a decade earlier. At some time the building next door was incorporated into the bank as shown on this 1888 map (below).
Under its new name it continued to provide banking services to Bideford, and in 1930 plans were submitted to modernise the building. These saw a new doorway at the eastern end with the old entrance being closed up along with a reinforced strong room. The work was carried out by John Cock, a Bideford builder and one-time Mayor of the town.
Since then various changes have been put in place to meet modern requirements (e.g. an ATM and bullet proof glass screens). Sadly the gradual movement to on-line banking has seen the Natwest directors decide to close this branch – Bideford will be the poorer.
Reminiscences of an old-fashioned banker at National Provincial Bank in North Devon in the 1950s.
I applied to join the National Provincial Bank in 1950 and had to go to London for interview with the Chairman & General Manager. It so happened that his wife had presented prizes at Bideford Grammar School’ s Prize-Giving not long before, and I was one of the recipients, so I was offered a job without a formal interview. My first appointment was at Torrington for 6 months, I then did my National Service and returned to the Torrington branch for a further 6 months before being transferred to Bideford.
My first taste of banking was at Torrington where the Manager opened the post which arrived at 8 o’clock. He unlocked the door for staff at 9 o’clock before having breakfast upstairs in his flat and then going fishing during the season. He returned later in the afternoon to lock up then spent the evenings doing business with customers in the local pubs.
From what I remember there were 20/30 members of staff at Bideford but they had to cover the branch office at Northam, a daily agency at Appledore, and a monthly morning visit to Clovelly. One member of staff plus a guard went by taxi to Clovelly, but no business was carried out there apart from selling postcards of the premises at 6d a time. Two members of staff ran the Northam branch but were not allowed to leave the bank so coffee and doughnuts were delivered by Patts, who ran a café across the road.
Male members of staff had to wear suits, collars and ties at all times. All entries were entered manually in ledgers. The bank was open from 10 am to 3 pm but staff had to remain until they balanced the books – sometimes quite late in the evening. Once £500 couldn’t be accounted for and, after searching everywhere, staff had to give up. However, 6 months later a junior was cleaning dust from under the safe and found the missing bundle of notes. Any dirty notes at the bank had to be taken out of circulation, parcelled up with the bank seal and returned to the Bank of England. Two members of staff carried the packages up High Street to the Post Office!
At the beginning of 1955 I was transferred to London at a week’s notice. Shortly after I arrived at the Bank’s hostel two others were transferred from Bideford. I myself was contacted within the first week at my new branch about playing rugby for the Bank. I was told I was posted to London because I played rugby, and I thought it was because of my mental ability! How times have changed since those days, with Northam and Torrington closed, and now Bideford.