Sunday 5 November 2023

Banking in Howden

Recently on facebook there was a discussion about the banking history of Howden. Some years ago I wrote an article about the banks which was published in the sadly missed publication Howdenshire Living. Rather than put a long post on facebook I am reproducing the article, with a few amendments, here.

Early history

Until the eighteenth century most people in England transacted all their business using coins and did not trust bank notes. In fact, until the 1750s there were only five private banks outside London. However, Howden had its own private bank by 1792 - the only others then in East Yorkshire were in Beverley and Hull, which shows how prosperous and important the town was at the time. 

The Howden bank was originally run by John Barker, father and son. Both died in the early 1800s and soon afterwards Thomas Coates came to Howden from York to run the bank. Thomas lived at the bank office on Highbridge; this original office is now a pet shop and stands next door to the more recent bank premises.

Thomas Coates went into partnership with John Scholfield (a  junior member of the Scholfield family of Sandhall), Barnard Clarkson snr of Holme on Spalding Moor, his son (Barnard jnr) and John Clough of Selby. The partnership also ran a bank in Selby.

But in January 1822 for reasons unknown Thomas Coates ceased to be a partner and in May that year it was reported that sadly 'Mr. Coates, lately of the Howden Bank, cut his throat in a dreadful  manner and that he survived only a few minutes'. The running of the Howden bank then passed into the hands of John Clough's son Thomas.

Barnard Clarkson snr died in 1826 but his son and grandson continued their involvement in the two banks. The Clarkson story featured in the Howden Town play Reap the Whirlwind when Barnard jnr was the nemesis of local rogue Snowden Dunhill. 

Collapse of the Howden bank

But in the 1830s disaster struck. Barnard jnr overstretched himself by buying the Kirkham Abbey estate. His son, who was responsible for the running of the Selby bank, died suddenly of a fever at the same time. In 1831 both the Howden and Selby banks crashed and John Scholfield, John Clough and Barnard Clarkson were declared literally bankrupt. This was disastrous for the many local farmers and tradespeople who had money in the Howden bank. They lost everything.

The Howden bank was immediately taken over by the York City and County bank who bought the existing bank premises. Thomas Clough was appointed manager, suggesting that he was not held responsible for the bank's problems.

A Howden bank note

And what of Barnard Clarkson? Two of his sons had already emigrated with a Methodist group of settlers to Swan River near Perth in Australia. After the collapse of the family's fortunes Barnard's wife Elizabeth died in 1832. Her epitaph at Chapel Haddlesey reads: ‘Thro the vicissitudes of fortune, Her faith faltered not’. After her death Barnard joined the rest of his family in Australia, where he died destitute in 1836.

Meanwhile, back in Howden Thomas Clough continued to run the bank. Next door, in the premises which later became the bank, lived a family called Wetherell.

The Wetherell family

James Wetherell and his brother John were at various times woollen drapers, chicory growers, millers and tanners. In the 1830s they built, in partnership with their neighbour Thomas Clough, a new tanyard in Howden near Mill Yard. Tanning was a large industry in the town with over 40 men employed as tanners, curriers and shoemakers. 

John and James married sisters Jane and Ann Wikeley, whose father Thomas was a surgeon and apothecary in Howden. The family were well connected - another sister was the wife of Thomas Guy, vicar of Howden. But life in Victorian days could be like snakes and ladders and the Wetherells were about to go down the snake. Thomas Clough withdrew from the tannery business and in mid December 1851 the Wetherell brothers had to call in the administrators. They must have had a miserable Christmas.

Within the month the contents of the Wetherells' house, where both families lived, was for sale. It was described as having two drawing rooms, two sitting rooms, ten lodging rooms, a hall and two kitchens. The furniture was opulent and included 'a Finger Organ', 'a Piano-forte', '400 Vols of Books' and a 'Four-Wheel Carriage and Harness'. James and John, then in their 50s, left Howden for Australia to try to recoup their fortunes. James died in 1852 at Bendigo, a gold rush town, and John died in 1854 in Melbourne.

The Wetherells were an interesting family. James' eldest son, also James, was a merchant in Brazil. He was acting as British vice consul at Paraiba in 1858 when he died in a fall. When his possessions were returned to his family it was found they included notes he had made about the natural history and people of Brazil. They were published posthumously as Stray Thoughts from Bahia and the book now is popular with those studying the history of Brazil.

New premises

Back in Market Place the York City and County bank moved their premises - and the Clough family their home - to the now empty building next door. This remained as a bank until HSBC closed their Howden branch in 2016. Thomas Clough died in 1871, having played a full part in the life of the town: in particular, it was largely due to his work that Howden vicarage was built. 

The new bank manager was Edwin Storry. He also took an active part in local life and, amongst other roles, was a prominent member of the East Yorkshire Volunteers, rising to command the Second Battalion in 1891. His military service is commemorated by a brass plaque on the wall of the Minster.

Banking in Howden seems to have been something of a family business as Edwin Storry was succeeded as manager of the bank by Charles Wilkinson, whose wife Agnes was the granddaughter of previous manager Thomas Clough. It was while Mr Wilkinson was manager that the whole bank building was remodelled in 1902 and the frontage that is there now was installed.

An early view showing what was HSBC bank building before new frontage