Group Archives

Group Archives


John Thomson (1908-1998), was, like the Bevans and the Tukes, a member of one of the old-established banking families, but as chairman he presided over a thorough programme of modernization in banking.

Educated at Winchester and Oxford, he joined Barclays in 1929, starting at 81 Fleet Street branch. He was very quickly given a local directorship, serving in Peterborough, Birmingham, Reading and, most significantly, Oxford District: Oxford was the home of what had been his family's bank (Parsons, Thomson and Co), which had joined the Barclays group in 1900.

During World War Two, Thomson commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry and after the war served as honorary colonel in the Territorial Army. In 1947 he was elected to the main board, in 1956 became a vice-chairman, and in 1958 was appointed deputy chairman, succeeding Anthony Tuke as Chairman in 1962.

During his chairmanship Barclays saw the beginnings of banking for the masses, continuing its domestic growth at a time of rapid change in the world financial scene. Notable innovations during his tenure included the coming of Barclaycard, the UK’s first credit card, the launch of Barclaycash, the world’s first through-the-wall cash machine, the introduction of modern management and marketing methods, graduate recruitment and training, and major expenditure on advertising campaigns. The bulk of the first phase to automate the bank’s accounting by computers was undertaken during his time. Other major initiatives included the creation of Barclays Bank International as a fully owned subsidiary to manage the group’s overseas operations. This marked a strategic change for Barclays in seeking new markets beyond its established presence in Commonwealth countries, notably a bold entry to retail and corporate banking in the USA and a foothold in the Far East.

The acquisition and absorption in 1968-69 of Martins, the sixth largest clearing bank, was a major undertaking, and this would also have included an even bigger merger with Lloyds, had not the ‘super-merger’ been blocked by the authorities. Significant external changes affecting the banks during Thomson’s period included the requirement for full public disclosure of profits, which Mr Thomson played a leading role in bringing about.

He continued William Goodenough’s involvement with public life in Oxford and Oxfordshire, serving on University bodies, as chair of the Nuffield Medical Benefaction, and as Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire. He enjoyed country life, and from early on was a well-known racehorse owner. He was knighted in 1972, and finally retired from Barclays in 1978.