Martins Bank, which merged with Barclays in 1969, was created in 1918 when the Bank of Liverpool merged with the London-based Martins Bank.
Martins had been a private family partnership bank until 1891, whilst the Bank of Liverpool was a joint stock bank which had acquired a number of other smaller banks through the years.
The London bank was established by Elizabethan merchant, banker and diplomat Sir Thomas Gresham, who traded in a house on Lombard Street in the City of London at the sign of the Grasshopper. This site, later to be named 68 Lombard Street, became Martins’ address until the merger with the Bank of Liverpool in 1918, thereafter remaining as the London office. By 1700, Thomas Martin, the first Martin partner to join the Bank, had begun an unbroken family association with the Bank which lasted until the 1930s.
The Bank of Liverpool was a joint-stock company formed in December 1830 under the Chairmanship of Sir William Brown, although it did not begin trading until 16 May 1831. The Bank’s fortunes were linked with those of Liverpool’s merchants trading in sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton from the Americas, trades that were significantly affected by the American Civil War in the 1860s. By the 1880s, however, the Bank had recovered enough to expand, and by 1900, had 75 branches, 330 staff and 33,000 customers. Further expansion saw acquisitions such as the Craven Bank in 1906, the Carlisle and Cumberland Banking Company in 1911 and the North-Eastern Banking Company in 1914.
Between the world wars, the newly-established Bank of Liverpool and Martins expanded beyond the Bank of Liverpool’s Lancastrian and Yorkshire heartlands. The Bank opened branches in Berwick-on-Tweed in 1922, Birmingham in 1935, Brighton in 1936, Northampton in 1937, Newport, Monmouthshire in 1938 and Plymouth in 1939. As well as opening new branches, it also acquired more small banks, serving to strengthen its position. Purchases included the Palatine Bank in 1919, the Halifax Commercial Bank in 1920, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank in 1928 and Lewis’s Bank in 1958. In 1928, the Bank also shortened its name to Martins Bank Limited, remaining so until its merger with Barclays in 1969.
During May 1940, when Britain faced invasion, ‘Operation Fish’ saw 280 tons of the nation’s gold reserves transported from the Bank of England to Martins’ Head Office in Water Street, Liverpool for safekeeping before being shipped to safety in Canada. Martins was also at the forefront of change, hiring a large number of women in both world wars and retaining a great many after the second. In 1960, Margaret Perks became the first woman to be appointed to a senior position when she became a manager in the Unit Trust Department. Martins also embraced technological change, and in 1961, purchased the Pegasus computer, thus becoming the first bank in Britain to use computers for accounting.
By 1969, Martins was the sixth largest clearing bank in the UK employing 3,430 men, 3,004 women, 266 messengers and around 600 auxiliaries. In some ways, Martins can be seen as a smaller version of Barclays, which too had developed the Local Head Office and District concept when acquiring provincial banks of great local standing.
In December 1965, Lord Cromer, Governor of the Bank of England negotiated a deal to merge Barclays, Lloyds and Martins to form a super-bank, but this was barred by Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins on the grounds of competition. However, the Barclays-Martins merger was allowed to go through. After some discussion, the merger was agreed in 1968 and plans were put in place for a full amalgamation by the end of 1969. Despite the disappearance of the grasshopper from the high street, the Martins influence survived in Barclays into the early 1990s as many former Martins staff were retained by Barclays, with some attaining senior management posts.