Paper money of England and Wales

Edited by Catherine Eagleton and Artemis Manolopoulou

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English country banknotes – an introduction

Page three

Regulation and change

Perhaps inevitably, a profession built on such variable foundations could not be sustained without change. The Bank of England was able to resume exchanging its notes for coin in May 1821 and immediately stopped issuing £1 and £2 notes. Yet with little legislation to control banking practices, country banks were still at the mercy of volatile commercial conditions, often relying on public demonstrations of confidence to restore their customers’ trust. Sometimes, however, that was not enough: the highest number of country bank failures occurred in the period 1824 to 1826, a period of financial speculation and general trading difficulty. As in 1797, The Bank of England brought some relief by issuing £1 notes, but it was now clear that temporary responses were not enough. The Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, scathingly attacked the free-for-all in which ‘any petty tradesman, any grocer or cheesemonger, however destitute of property, might set up a bank in any place’[7].  Certainly, not all local banks were so irresponsible; nonetheless, the Banking Co-Partnership Act of 1826 did start to set the profession on a surer footing. Overturning a long-standing Bank of England privilege, banks beyond a 65-mile radius of London were now permitted to have more than six partners, enabling them to increase their capital base and spread their risk.

Further legislation, notably the Bank Charter Act of 1844, brought both greater control and greater scope for the country banks. New banks could not issue their own notes; banks already issuing notes could continue, but the size of the note issue (the number of notes and the number of denominations) was now regulated. If banks amalgamated and the new partnership had more than six partners, it could not issue notes. Over time, the effect of legislation was to reduce the number of country banking partnerships, but to increase the potential scale of banks through expanding networks of branches, so that many might be described as provincial, rather than country, banks. Issuing banknotes increasingly became the preserve of the Bank of England, but those country banks still circulating their own notes did so from a strong base and often still generated strong local loyalty. The last of the English country banknotes were issued in 1921 by the Somerset bank of Fox, Fowler & Co., founded 134 years earlier in 1787, and which later became part of Lloyds.

  • ^ [7] - Quoted in Pressnell (1956), 12