Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Barclays Bank and its Quaker roots

The international bank Barclays can trace its origins back to 1690 when John Freame and his brother in law Thomas Gould, both Quakers, started to trade as goldsmiths in Lombard Street in London. Both of them were well respected by their professions, and were freemen of the City of London. 

In those days cash deposits were often placed with goldsmiths, and the receipts they issued began to be used as money. Freame and Gould gradually became bankers because of this.Their partnership predates the foundation of the Bank of England.

 As John had served an apprenticeship in metalworking he understood the metal mining business, so one of their first banking activities was to finance the London Lead Company, along with fellow Quaker Edward Wright, in 1704.  

Lombard Street had become the centre of early banking, and in 1728 Gould and Freame moved to larger premises at number 54. At that time most people could not read or write, so in accordance with the order that had been made by the City Council of London “that shopkeepers shall hang out signs at theire shopps” they marked the bank with a sign.  When they acquired 54 Lombard Street the sign was a Bible, which they thought inappropriate, so they took as their symbol a black spread eagle, shown in the picture.  A form of this eagle is still in use today.  John’s son Joseph Freame now took a more active role in the bank.  John became a director and leading shareholder in the London Lead Company. 

The name Barclay became associated with the business in 1736 when James Barclay, who had married John Freame’s daughter Sarah, became a partner in the business.  The Barclay and Freame families were already closely connected. James was the son of David Barclay and his first wife Ann.  When Ann died in 1723 David married John Freame’s elder daughter Priscilla. So James Barclay’s stepmother was also his sister-in-law. The bank became known as Freame and Barclay.  The name of the bank changed several times in the next few years as new partners joined the bank.

When Joseph Freame, son of John Freame, died in 1766, two sons of his sister Priscilla and David Barclay, named David and John, inherited shares in the bank through their mother.  They had been working in their father’s linen business but wished to disassociate themselves because they were opposed to slavery.  They were content to become partners in the bank and to work there.  The bank was renamed in 1776 as Barclay, Bevan and Bening.  It was a prosperous bank and helped to finance the building of canals, bridges and other enterprises. 

The British economy was thriving partly because of stable financial institutions, but also due to the lucrative slave trade.  In Liverpool merchants involved in the slave trade formed Heywoods Bank which used Barclay, Bevan and Bening as their London agents and later became part of Barclays Bank. Thus the bank became indirectly involved in financing the slave trade, despite the reservations of the Quaker partners about financing slavery. Other partners were content with this.   At that time the Bank of England was also heavily involved in providing finance for the slave trade.   

Barclays Bank helped to finance the Stockton and Darlington Railway in the 1820’s. This was the first public railway to use steam locomotives and had a major impact on the transport of goods and later also passengers.  

Barclays Bank had several other business partners and went through a number of name changes.  In 1896 several other Quaker families involved in banking, such as Gurney and Backhouse, formed the nucleus of the twenty private banking firms that joined forces to form Barclay and Company Limited.  Very few of the people involved in the amalgamation, with the exception of the Backhouse family, were practising Quakers.  Most of the partners had slowly drifted away from the simple lifestyle of their Quaker predecessors, but they found it advantageous to preserve the Quaker image of trustworthiness, frugality and prudence. 

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Further Reading and Credits

Image of Barclay black eagle reproduced by kind permission of Barclay's Bank Archive