Bankers in Britain
Excluded from public office, universities in England, and the professions, many early Quakers worked in business. There were Quakers in the wool trade, in iron manufacture, in transport, in mining, and much else. Some became gold and silver smiths. Quakers soon became known for fair dealing, honesty and trustworthiness, and many businesses thrived.
In the early days of Quakerism in the 16th and early 17th centuries there were no banks from whom to borrow money, so Quakers (and others) sometimes gave loans to help people to keep their businesses going and sometimes to finance new ventures.
Quakers could also be trusted to take good care of any valuable possessions that people wished to store. Those who were goldsmiths were particularly sought after for this, because they had facilities for safekeeping for their own businesses, which could easily be made available to others. These goldsmiths were soon negotiating loans, bills and other financial transactions, functions that we associate with banks today.
One of the goldsmiths of this time who became in effect one of the early bankers was Quaker John Freame (1665-1745) of London. He had an interest in the Royal Mines Company of Wales (which later became the London Lead Company) and acted as a banker for them by arranging their financial dealings in London. He also received and stored the cakes of silver from their mines and negotiated sales of the silver to the Mint for the manufacture of silver coins.
His son Joseph inherited the business and in 1736 took on James Barclay, son of David Barclay, as a partner in the bank, which became known as Freame, Gould and Barclay. In 1759 Joseph’s son John was taken into partnership and the bank changed its name to Freame, Barclay and Freame. After the death of James Barclay and John Freame in 1766 the partnership became known as Freame, Smith and Bening. The bank changed its name several times to reflect the current partners. In 1770 it became Barclay, Bevan, Barclay and Tritton, in 1791 it was Barclay and Tritton, and in 1797 it changed again to Barclays, Tritton and Bevan. Eventually the bank was simply called Barclays.
The Gurneys of Norwich were another Quaker banking family, though only for a limited period. They were in the woollen industry, and their banking interests started by advancing credit to their workforce. In 1775 John and Henry Gurney founded the Norwich Bank. The brothers were strict Quakers and would not entertain what they perceived as unfair dealings. Quaker meetings at that time kept a close eye on the integrity and soundness of Quaker businesses, which was no problem for the Gurney brothers. In 1800, however, a Gurney of the next generation took the business away from Quaker oversight. He went into partnership with John Overend and Thomas Richardson to form Overend and Gurney, which speculated in buying and selling bills, and eventually became bankrupt.
The Tritton family were prominent Quakers from Kent in the goldsmith tradition. With Kenton Brown and James Collinson they formed a bank known as Brown, Collinson and Tritton. In Bristol Thomas Gouldney and Charles Harford entered into a partnership to form the Bristol Old Bank. They were closely connected with industry – the Harford family were associated with iron making in South Wales and Thomas became a partner in the Coalbrookdale Ironworks.
Sampson Lloyd II entered banking in Birmingham in 1765 with John Taylor and his two sons. Their banking business prospered producing a profit of more than £10,000 within the first six years of trading. In 1770 Sampson Lloyd formed a new partnership in London with Taylor, Lloyd, Hanbury and Bowman, which together with other smaller banks was to become a major bank, eventually simply known as Lloyds.
Joseph Pease started his bank through helping his customers by taking care of their money and valuables. As this work grew he decided to form Pease Partners Bank in 1754 which by 1782 had become Pease and Harrison in Hull and Beverley.
In 1798 Priscilla Wakefield established a savings bank in Tottenham, to enable people on small incomes to put small amounts of money aside for emergencies.
Samuel Alexander, a ship owner of Ipswich, also extended credit facilities to his customers along with some banking. He founded the Ipswich and Woodbridge Bank which later amalgamated with Barclays. His son Samuel married the daughter of John Gurney of the Norwich Bank. The Whitby bank also grew out of a grocer and draper shop owned by Wakefield Simpson. In 1892 this bank became part of the York Union Bank.
By the end of the 19th century Quaker banking was disappearing, for two main reasons. One was that there were many other opportunities for that generation of young Quakers – they could now attend university and enter the professions. The other was the passing of the Corporation Act, which removed family and Quaker control, replacing this with shareholders and Boards of Directors. Nevertheless the old Quaker names of Lloyds and Barclays are still in use today.