1780-1820 | RBS Heritage Hub

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The Royal Bank of Scotland's Glasgow branch in the early 19th century

The Royal Bank of Scotland's Glasgow branch in the early 19th century

The Royal Bank of Scotland's Glasgow branch in the early 19th century


Until 1783 The Royal Bank of Scotland traded only from Edinburgh, but in that year it opened its first branch-office, in the fast-growing city of Glasgow. Already a major port city, Glasgow was poised to become a key centre of manufacturing too. The Royal Bank’s new branch helped to provide the finance that businesses needed to maintain trade and fund capital investments. Within two decades, the Glasgow branch was already conducting more business than head office in Edinburgh.

In other cities, too, the industrial revolution was transforming trade, business and ordinary life for thousands of people. Industrial cities began to grow, fuelled by local banks such as Heywood Brothers of Manchester and Sheffield & Rotherham Bank. Among their customers were many important local entrepreneurs, including inventors and cotton spinners like Richard Arkwright and Robert Owen.

In towns and cities all over England and Wales new banks were founded, usually owned by local businessmen. Under the terms of the Bank of England's monopoly they had to remain small partnerships, and this made them vulnerable to collapse in times of hardship, not least because the partners were often in the same industry as each other. Britain's economy was volatile in this period, with many slumps as well as booms. Although some local partnerships weathered these storms and survived for generations, others existed for only a few years before collapsing.

Scotland, in contrast, continued to expand its stable multi-bank system, with a new generation of large, geographically widespread shareholder-owned banks. One of the most significant of these was RBS constituent Commercial Bank of Scotland, founded in Edinburgh in 1810 as a bank for people who had never before been well-served by the banking system: ordinary merchants, tradesmen and farmers.


Read on: 1820-1860

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