Image: photograph of John Prideaux, 1971 © RBS 2018
Sir John Prideaux (1911-93) was chairman of National Westminster Bank Ltd, 1971-7.
Background and early life
John Francis Prideaux was born on 30 December 1911, the second son of Walter Treverbian Prideaux and Marion Fenn Prideaux (née Arbuthnot). He was educated at St Aubyns, Rottingdean and Eton. Both of his parents belonged to banking families and it was soon clear that he would follow the same path.
Early career and war service
Prideaux joined the merchant bank Arbuthnot, Latham & Co in 1930, where he specialised in the bank’s foreign business. He served as a director, 1939-69, and chairman from 1964.
As a member of the Territorial Army with the Middlesex Yeomanry, Prideaux was called to active service during the Second World War. He served in the Middle East and Italy, and as a consequence of being away did not meet his daughter until she was nearly four years old.
Westminster Bank and NatWest
In 1955 Prideaux joined the boards of Westminster Bank and its subsidiary Westminster Foreign Bank, later International Westminster Bank. In 1969 he resigned his chairmanship of Arbuthnot, Latham & Co and became chairman of International Westminster Bank. He held that post until 1977.
In 1968 Westminster Bank announced plans to merge with National Provincial Bank and its subsidiary District Bank to form National Westminster Bank. The bank began trading on 1 January 1970, and Prideaux was a member of its original board. The following year he became chairman, and remained so until 1977.
One of the most challenging moments of Prideaux’s chairmanship came in the secondary banking crisis of 1974. NatWest was affected by rumours that it had expanded its loan book too far and was in trouble. Despite the risk of further fuelling the speculation with added publicity, Prideaux took the unusual step of issuing a public denial. His gamble paid off; his statement had the desired effect of quelling the rumours, probably because Prideaux personally was held in such high esteem by the financial community. The Evening Standard commented that while ‘Most organisations are understandably reluctant to answer every rumour that is circulated, either maliciously or otherwise’ Prideaux had ‘acted with expedience and wisdom’. Positive press reports of this kind played a significant role in equipping NatWest to ride out the financial crisis successfully.
Public roles, titles and other offices
Prideaux was deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, 1960-70, and chairman of the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship, 1977-1981.
He was treasurer and chairman of the governors of St Thomas’s Hospital, 1964-74, and Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey.
His family had a generations-long connection with the Goldsmiths' Company. He became its Prime Warden in 1972.
He was president of the Institute of Bankers and chairman of the Committee of London Clearing Bankers, 1974-6. He was also vice-president of the British Bankers' Association, 1972-7.
He served on a government committee set up in 1977 to review the functioning of City institutions.
He was knighted in 1974.
Family life and interests
On 22 August 1934 John Prideaux married Joan Pigott-Brown, the daughter of Captain Gordon Brown and Editha Pigott. They had two sons and a daughter together.
Prideaux lived most of his life in the village of Ockley at Elderslie, the traditional home of the Arbuthnot family. He was closely connected with the affairs of Ockley Church and served as a churchwarden.
He enjoyed farming, forestry and gardening, and was president of National Westminster Bank’s staff horticultural society.
Sir John Prideaux died in January 1993.
- Richard Lambert, ‘A tale of two banking crises’ in Financial Times, 2 December 2008