Origins and Organisation
Barclays’ earliest origins in Wales go back to 1827 and a bank established in Haverfordwest by John and William Walters. They went on to open branches in Narbeth, Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock, before being taken over by the London and Provincial Bank in 1872. Not too far away, the bank of Lock, Hulm and Co was established in Pembroke in 1834, and had also opened a branch in Tenby before it was taken over by the Bank of Wales in 1864.
The Bank of Wales had only been founded in 1863 in Swansea, but quickly set about opening branches across South Wales – 11 within two years. In addition to Lock, Hulm and Co, it also acquired the bank of James MacLean and Co of Pembroke Dock. However, within three years, it had been taken over itself – it became part of the Provincial Banking Corporation in 1865.
The Provincial Banking Corporation became the London and Provincial Bank Ltd in 1870. It had branches scattered across the south east and east of England, in addition to those it had acquired in Wales. Although it closed a small number of Welsh branches in 1870, the Bank did remain committed to Wales, opening branches in Llanelli, Merthyr Tydfil and Tredegar in 1878. By 1916, the London and Provincial had 60 branches and 101 sub-branches in Wales. Although these were predominantly in South Wales, there had been some movement north, with a branch in Ruthin in 1876, Rhyl in 1877, and Wrexham in 1913.
The London and Provincial Bank merged with the London and South Western at the start of 1918 to form the London, Provincial and South Western Bank. This bank then merged with Barclays later that same year.
Although this merger brought Barclays a significant influx of Welsh branches, it was not their first foray into the Principality. In 1915, they had opened their first branch in Wales, in Cardiff. A year later, Barclays had acquired the United Counties Bank, which had its head office in Birmingham, but counted at least two Welsh banks among the amalgamations from which it had emerged. Hughes and Morgan had been established in 1855 in Brecon, and the Abergavenny Financial Company had been formed in 1885. Both became part of what would become the United Counties Bank in 1890, and by 1916, the Bank had 11 branches in Wales.
The acquisition of the United Counties Bank in 1916, and the London, Provincial and South Western Bank in 1918, meant that Barclays gained 172 branches across Wales. Admittedly, they were rather concentrated in the South, but it was big step forward in fulfilling Barclays’ aim to be a nationwide business.
Management of branches in the early 20th century was done via a system of Local Head Offices. Initially, the Welsh branches were managed by ‘Head Office Section 3’. However, in 1924, a Local Head Office was established in Cardiff, and branches in South East Wales came under its jurisdiction. The remaining branches continued under Head Office Section 3 until 1937. At that point, branches in South West Wales were placed under a new Local Head Office in Swansea, branches in mid and parts of North Wales were placed under Shrewsbury, and branches in the rest of the North, above a line from Barmouth to Chester, fell within the jurisdiction of Liverpool.
This changed again in 1969, following the merger between Barclays and Martins Bank. By 1968, Barclays had 450 branches and sub-branches in Wales, although there was still quite a marked difference between North and South Wales. While the northern counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Denbigh and Flint had just 75 branches and sub-branches in total, in the South, Glamorgan alone had 189. It should be noted, however, that many of the sub-branches were specialist market day branches, only open for a few hours, one day a week.
The merger with Martins had little impact in Wales as they had only 18 branches. However, they did have a huge number of branches in the North West of England, a large proportion of which would need to be managed by Liverpool Local Head Office. As a result, those Welsh branches which had previously been managed by Liverpool were transferred to Shrewsbury, meaning that Wales was now split between three Local Head Offices: Cardiff, Swansea and Shrewsbury.
Throughout the 1970s, there was an increasing awareness of the need to treat Wales as one nation. The idea of devolution was being discussed seriously, and senior executives in Barclays felt they needed to respond to this. In 1977, Barclays held its first annual Welsh Conference, at which representatives from the Swansea, Cardiff and Shrewsbury Districts were invited to discuss issues of relevance to Wales. In 1981, the Cardiff and Swansea Local Head Office Districts were merged, and in 1983 they became a new South Wales Regional Office. Mid and North Wales, however, continued to be managed from Shrewsbury until 1 January 1995, when all the branches in Wales were brought together for the first time under a new brand, ‘Barclays Cymru/Wales’.
Unsurprisingly, farming has always been a significant feature of Barclays’ business in Wales, in both the South and the North. Barclays demonstrated their commitment to farming in 1977, when they became the first bank in the UK to appoint an Agricultural Manager solely for Wales.
Historically, mines and quarries were also a common feature, although more dominant in the South, where a range of support industries, such as mining lamp manufacturers and pit prop importers also featured amongst the account holders.
In the ports, such as Cardiff Docks and Newport, shipping-related companies were important customers, and Milford Haven added fishing, and connections with the United States and British Navies to the list. Places like Ebbw Vale, Bridgend and Port Talbot were hubs for heavy engineering and industry, although in recent years, the decline of traditional industry has seen more diversification.
In 2014, Barclays Corporate Banking set up a finance package to support a family business in South Wales to develop a new wind farm on a former coal mine. Three years later, another refinancing package assured the future of the Tirgwynt wind farm near Carno in Powys. More traditional business has not been forgotten either, with deals announced for ventures such as caravan parks and the country’s largest herd of Welsh pigs.
Tourism has been of vital importance, with some branches in the North especially seeing huge increases in their business during the summer months. Wales was holding festivals, in the form of ‘eisteddfodau’, long before the likes of Glastonbury had been invented, attracting thousands of visitors to otherwise small towns. Barclays supported these through the provision of temporary banking facilities and sponsorship, and offered the same support to the highlight of the Welsh farming calendar, the Royal Welsh Show.
Financial assistance has also been provided to a range of cultural events and organisations, and to Welsh universities. For many years, Barclays Commercial Bank sponsored the Celtic Manor Wales Open Golf tournament, and sponsorship has also been provided for Stonewall’s Workplace Conference in Cardiff. Successful partnerships have been formed with Business in the Community in Wales, and with schools, through UK Retail Banking’s Money Skills project.
One area in which Barclays’ business in Wales really stands apart from England is in language. The London and Provincial Bank were aware of the need to provide services in Welsh as well as English. A register of new clerks from the early 20th century notes whether or not each clerk could speak Welsh, and this would have influenced where he was posted. In 1913, a note advertising the opening of a new branch at Tycoch, Llanarth, was produced in both English and Welsh, and it is interesting to note how language has evolved. At that time, the word used for ‘bank’ was ‘ariandy’, which translates as ‘money house’. By the mid 20th century, ‘banc’ was in common usage.
By that time, Barclays was producing more advertising and publicity material. While selected items were reproduced in Welsh (the booklet on banking for farmers was an obvious example), and distributed to those branches with more Welsh-speaking customers, this was seen as something to be done on an ad-hoc basis, rather than business as usual – a nice gesture rather than a necessity. In 1961, the Manager of Carmarthen branch reported that Welsh stationery ‘was not as well received as perhaps at other branches’. As late as 1966, some Welsh place names were still appearing on bank stationery in their anglicised form (for example, Llanelly, instead of Llanelli).
However, the growing Welsh Nationalist movement was putting increasing pressure on organisations to provide a fully bilingual service. By the late 1970s, Barclays was producing more of its literature in Welsh, and offered the option of a Welsh cheque book. Name plates on branches were gradually being updated to include Welsh, and interest rate notices in branches were being displayed in both languages. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have progressed very rapidly. Bilingual ATMs were only introduced in 1993, and by 1996, 60% of Barclays’ outlets in Wales still did not have bilingual signs. At that time, Barclays made a commitment to rectify this, and in an effort to be able to offer services in Welsh in every branch in Wales, offered staff the opportunity to learn Welsh. The scheme was over-subscribed.