Image: photograph of Sir Charles Lidbury, c.1947 © RBS 2018
Sir Charles Lidbury (1880-1978) was an employee of Parr’s Banking Co & the Alliance Bank and later chief general manager and a director of Westminster Bank.
Background and early life
Charles Lidbury was born in Middlewich, Cheshire on 30 June 1880, the eldest son of Frank Albert Lidbury and his wife Emily Harding, both teachers.
In 1893, at the age of 13, Lidbury started work as an apprentice at Winsford branch of Parr’s Banking Co & the Alliance Bank. He worked alternately at the bank’s Winsford and Sandbach offices, studying at night school for banking and other qualifications, until in 1902 he was transferred to the bank’s much larger Leicester office. From there he moved to Manchester and Bristol, and in 1908 led his bank’s pre-acquisition investigation into Whitehaven Joint Stock Banking Company. In 1914 he was appointed joint manager of Derby Iron Gate branch.
In 1918 Parr’s Bank merged with London County & Westminster Bank, and the following year Lidbury became inspector of the bank’s ten foreign branches, some of which were operated by its subsidiary London County & Westminster Bank (Paris) Ltd. His perceptive reports on the bank’s Paris branch and more generally on the bank’s undue haste and inexperience in establishing its international business led to a change of policy and also to his appointment in 1923 as superintendent of the foreign branches.
In 1927 – while retaining his role in the international business – Lidbury became joint general manager of the parent business Westminster Bank, which was by then one of the ‘Big Five’ English clearing banks.
In 1929 Lidbury became general manager of the bank’s whole overseas operation, by this time renamed Westminster Foreign Bank. He took a cautious approach to the business, and in so doing was probably responsible for saving his bank from the difficulties experienced in the inter-war years by some English clearing banks with larger overseas exposures.
In 1930 he additionally became chief general manager of Westminster Bank. From then until 1947 he remained at the head of both Westminster Bank and Westminster Foreign Bank and, contrary to usual Westminster Bank tradition, he also served as a director from 1935.
As chief general manager Lidbury took full executive responsibility for running every aspect of the business. He firmly believed in the separation of policy-making (by directors) from execution (by managers), and although a director himself, resisted what he perceived as undue interference from the board.
Although Lidbury was involved in the rescue of Anglo-South-American Bank in 1930 (for which he was made a knight commander of Chile’s order of Al Merito), he generally believed that banks should not finance the rescue of ailing firms and industries. He also thought that banks should offer only short-term finance to industry, but during the Great Depression in 1929-32 he recognised the necessity of moderating his position amid extreme circumstances, and was involved with the Bankers’ Industrial Development Corporation.
Lidbury served as chairman of the Chief Executive Officers’ Committee of London Clearing Bankers, 1936-47, and as president of the Institute of Bankers, 1939-45. He played a key role in minimising the level of additional financial regulation implemented during the Second World War, and appeared before the Cohen Committee (1943-4) on company law amendment, successfully arguing for the non-disclosure of banks’ inner reserves. In 1941 he was knighted for his services to finance. Less officially, he bore the title ‘boss-cat of the clearing bank managers.’
In 1941 Lidbury’s London flat was destroyed in an air raid and he - by this time a widower - took up residence for the remainder of the war in a basement strongroom in the bank’s head office in Lothbury.
During and after the war Lidbury called for the creation of a new industrial bank to help provide finance for small firms, though he was opposed to the government’s proposal for the preferential treatment of more risky enterprises. He took a leading role in a committee of senior managers from the clearing banks set up by the Bank of England to consider and shape what became the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation, the venture capital organisation which was later known as 3i.
Lidbury retired from the bank in 1947, but continued as a director until 1962, 68 years after he had begun his banking career.
Lidbury was known as a brusque, incisive, forthright manager, able to work long hours with sustained and single-minded concentration. When he retired, the Westminster Bank staff journal remarked that ‘his capacity for work…has been phenomenal; he has grasped in a moment the essentials of any problem which has confronted him, undeceived by irrelevancies and obscurities…his strong personality endowed him with equally strong views [which] he has always expressed…with a typical north country forthrightness’. According to the Daily Telegraph in 1943, his views were ‘always downright, eagerly sought and readily given.’
The Times observed that he ‘never concealed a marked intolerance of all things vague or stupid’, and called him ‘a great organiser, great worker, and great leader in his main executive post. In this he has spared neither himself nor others…he has shown an ability and drive which have not been surpassed in his generation’.
His obituary in National Westminster Bank’s staff magazine said ‘He could be unreasonable, exacting, intolerant and seemingly unaware of the tension he created upon those around him. However, he possessed a robust and earthy sense of humour and, in spite of the highly-charged atmosphere in which those around him worked, there was usually a good deal of laughter during the day…Those who worked with him admired him greatly. He trusted them and kept no secrets from them’.
According to the same magazine, Lidbury’s own epitaph for himself would be ‘I am a bank clerk and a damn good one too’.
Family life and other interests
In 1909 Charles Lidbury married Mary Moreton. They had two daughters together. Mary died in 1939.
Lidbury was an active supporter of the Liberal Party. He was for many years honorary treasurer of the British Empire Cancer Campaign.
He enjoyed chess, backgammon and sometimes golf (he was president of the bank’s Golfing Society), and was a good shot, but according to one obituary ‘he could not abide football’.
Retirement and death
After his retirement he moved to his estate at Melbury Abbas in Dorset, where he had engaged in farming on a small scale. In his old age his two daughters, who never married, looked after him.
Charles Lidbury died in a nursing home in Salisbury, Wiltshire on 25 July 1978. He was 98 years old.
Related publications and online sources
- The Westminster, Summer 1947, vol. 40, p.234
- The National Westminster, October 1978, vol. 10, no. 4, p.48
- Bankers’ Magazine, January 1944
- The Times, 27 July 1978
- G Jones and M Akrill, ‘Lidbury, Sir Charles (1880-1978), Clearing Banker’, in D J Jeremy (ed.), Dictionary of Business Biography (London, Butterworths, 1984-6), vol. 3, pp. 783-5
- ‘Charles Lidbury’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography