Barclays traces its ancestry back to two goldsmith bankers, John Freame and Thomas Gould, who were doing business in Lombard Street, London in 1690. In 1736, Freame's son, Joseph took his brother-in-law, James Barclay on as a partner, and the name has remained a constant presence in the business ever since.
By the end of the nineteenth century, small private family banks, such as that in which the Barclays were involved, were increasingly unable to compete with the larger joint stock banks. In 1896, 20 small private family banks joined together to form a new bank - Barclay and Company Limited.
The histories of the nineteen other banks involved in the 1896 amalgamation were varied. Only one, Goslings and Sharpe of Fleet Street, was based in London, the rest being country bankers, who had originally offered banking services to their business acquaintances as a sideline to a more established trade. Many of the twenty banks had been established by families who were members of the Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). As a result, a strong network of business links already existed between many of the banks, further strengthened by numerous marriages between various members of the families. Their Quakerism also helped to contribute towards the success of their banks, as Quakers were renowned for their sobriety and trustworthiness, making them ideal bankers.
The businesses from which the country banks grew included brewing, iron trading, shipping and shop-keeping, but by far the most common route to a successful country bank was via the textile industry. The Gurneys, who had founded their first bank in Norwich in 1775, had originally been woollen merchants. By 1896, their banks were spread across East Anglia and accounted for eight of the twenty that took part in the amalgamation. Similarly, the Backhouses of Darlington established their bank in 1774 on wealth accumulated in linen manufacturing. It was the Gurneys and the Backhouses, together with the Barclays, who formed the driving force behind the amalgamation.
The bank created as a result of the 1896 amalgamation had 182 branches and 806 staff. However, the majority of the branches were located in the south-east of England, and 192 of the staff were based at 54 Lombard Street (the old Barclay partnership bank), so Barclay and Company could not yet make any claims to be a nation-wide bank. The next 20 years saw them remedy that through a series of further amalgamations and take-overs. By 1920, when the Treasury barred any further amalgamations between the larger banks, Barclays Bank Limited (it changed its name in 1917) was ranked third amongst Britain's 'Big Five' banks.
Barclays' ambitions, however, lay beyond the shores of Great Britain. Under the Chairmanship of Frederick Craufurd Goodenough, Barclays gained control of the Colonial Bank, with branches in the Caribbean and West Africa; the Anglo-Egyptian Bank, with branches in Palestine, Egypt, Malta and Cyprus; and the National Bank of South Africa. In 1925 Goodenough merged the three together to form a new bank - Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas), to become known as Barclays Bank DCO, and later Barclays Bank International.
At home, the domestic bank continued to grow and change. The two World Wars saw women working in banks in significant numbers for the first time. Their employment continued to increase throughout the 1950s, until, by 1962, Barclays employed more women than men. Increased mechanisation and technology also meant changes to the way in which the Bank operated, and to the appearance of the branches. Additionally, new and improved services, and increasing competition for new customers meant that banks started to advertise on a large scale for the first time.
Barclays also continued to grow through amalgamation, with the acquisition of Martins Bank in 1968. Martins was itself the result of a 1918 amalgamation between Martins Bank of London, which traced its history back to the sixteenth century banker Sir Thomas Gresham, and the Bank of Liverpool, which had been founded in 1831. This tradition of amalgamation has continued right up to the present day. In 2000, Barclays acquired The Woolwich, a former building society founded in 1847; in 2003, it acquired Banco Zaragozano, a Spanish bank; and in 2005, it acquired a majority stake in ABSA, a leading South African bank.
Organisationally, Barclays has seen many changes too. Following the 1896 amalgamation, the Bank was organised into a number of Local Head Offices based on the old headquarters of the original partnership banks. This helped to ensure a degree of continuity for customers and the retention of local knowledge and experience built up by local staff and partners. These were replaced in the 1980s by Regional Offices, which themselves have since been superseded by more centralised support services. The 1980s also saw changes at the highest level. Barclays Bank Limited became Barclays Bank PLC in 1982, and in 1985 the UK and international operations were brought together as Barclays Bank PLC, with a new holding company Barclays PLC, in a reorganisation known as ‘One Bank’.
In 1986 Barclays established an investment banking operation, which developed subsequently into Barclays Capital, a major division of the Bank that managed larger corporate and institutional business. Barclays Capital is now part of the broader business grouping known as Barclays International. Meanwhile the fund manager Wells Fargo Nikko Investment Advisers was purchased by Barclays in 1995 and was integrated with BZW Investment Management to form Barclays Global Investors. Following the acquisition of the investment banking and capital markets businesses of Lehman Brothers in North America in September 2008, BGI was sold to BlackRock in December 2009.
In 2016 Barclays announced a new strategy, designed to build on its strengths as a diversified transatlantic consumer and wholesale bank, anchored in the UK and US home markets, with global reach. This also involved the strategic sale of a number of continental businesses, and the withdrawal of Barclays from Africa, although a small shareholding was retained in the newly-independent African business, Absa.
In 2018 the Group underwent its biggest structural changes for over 30 years, in accordance with regulatory requirements introduced by the UK government as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. The main objective was to separate or ‘ring-fence’ the domestic retail and business bank from the international and investment bank. Barclays PLC continues as the holding company, supervising three operational subsidiaries: Barclays Bank UK PLC, comprising the UK Retail Bank, UK Barclaycard, UK Wealth and Investments, and Corporate Banking for smaller UK businesses; Barclays Bank PLC comprising Corporate and Investment Banking, non-UK Barclaycard, Wealth International, the Private Bank, and Overseas Services; and Barclays Services Ltd, which includes support services such as Group Functions, Operations and Technology.