Launceston Trustee Savings Bank

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Launceston was well to to the fore when it opened its Savings Bank on January 28th, 1818. The credit for founding it must be shared jointly by Francis Hearle Rodd of Trebartha, and John King Lethbridge, a leading Launceston attorney, who eventually went to live at Tregeare House. Between them they persuaded the third Duke of Northumberland, who owned Werrington Park, to become both Patron and President, though he took no active role in the financial transactions. The vice-president was the Hon. William Eliot of Trebursye and who later became the second Earl of St. Germans; he served also as trustee and manager. There were twelve other trustees at first, including the Mayor of Launceston for the time being, some of the landed proprietors from the surrounding district in both Cornwall and Devon and three clergymen. The full list of trustees were Sir William Call, Bart., F. H. Rodd, John Tillie Coryton, Edmund Prideaux, William Arundell Harris, George Call, George Harward, William Baron, and the Revs. Samuel Hart, Charles Lethbridge and John Rowe. Twenty one others consented to act as managers. Four of them were Vicars of neighbouring parishes; the rest were chiefly men of influence in the town. Seven of them had been, or were soon to be, Mayor. They were J. K. Lethbridge, John Roe, Corydon Rowe, Parr Cunningham Hockin, Richard Penwarden, John Darke, Thomas Ching, William Hicks Horndon, Thomas Pearse, Dr. Bignell, William Harvey, James Prockter, William Derry, William Pearse, Richard Kingdon, Henry Pethick, the Revs. George Plummer, John Davies, Charles Orchard, James Coffin and the non-conformist Richard Cope.

Having decided to found a bank and having collected the controlling body, the promoters were faced with two immediate problems, where to obtain suitable premises and whom to secure as a trustworthy executive part-time officer. Fortunately they were able to find the solution to both these questions at the same time by appointing William Dymond as actuary. He was a bookseller in Southgate Street, where he occupied as tenant a house owned by Thomas Ching, one of the managers. He set aside one of his rooms for the bank’s business being allowed £8 per year for its use, this was increased to £10 at the annual meeting in January, 1855. William Dymond retained the position until 1867. John King Lethbridge himself became the first honorary treasurer holding the office until 1833 when he was succeeded by his nephew and legal partner, John Lethbridge Cowlard, who in turn retained it for more than fifty years, until his death on January 10th, 1885. His son, Christopher Lethbridge Cowlard, duly succeeded him.

The bank was a success from the very start and its business grew continuously. The actuary’s salary was raised to £60 a year in 1836 and to £70 a year in 1839 “in consequence of the great increase of depositors”, as the minutes put it. Prosperity led the trustees to consider the possibility of erecting new offices for the bank, though William Dymond would continue to act as actuary. They thought not only of the greater prestige such premises would bring, but also of the income they might obtain from suitable tenants by letting rooms not required for their own purposes, though they intended to include accommodation for a caretaker.
The first attempt to locate a separate building was made in 1840. Apparently the matter had already been discussed privately, for at the annual meeting in December of that year a small committee was appointed “for the purpose of reporting of the capabilities offered by Mr. Palmer’s property and the New Inn for erecting of a Savings Bank, and the prices at which such properties might be obtained, and have power to report on any other site”. Nothing suitable was found, but on April 19th, 1842, the Mayor of the borough, John Ching, offered “on the part of the Town Council to sell for the purposes of the bank so much of the site of the present Assize Hall, at the West end, having the whole of the West front, as may be sufficient to erect a dwelling house, consisting of four rooms, two to be for the use of the bank and the other two for a residence, at the sum of £350. Dimensions and plans to be furnished by Mr. Wightwick at Council expense, such dimensions (to be) so much as the bank may require.” The trustees rightly considered that this would have been an excellent site. It was in the middle of the square, just outside the White Hart Hotel. The old buildings, including the Town Hall, in which the assizes had been held, Richard Dingley’s house, William Roger’s house and the public pump had been demolished in 1840 and the Council was considering erecting a butter market there. As it turned out, the Council did erect the Butter market, after a series of difficulties in achieving tenure meant that the trustees could not consider building in the square. But they still identified the need for new premises for, at a meeting on July 11th, 1843, the trustees issued notices “stating the intention of the Trustees to erect a Savings Bank and requesting all persons disposed to offer sites for the building to communicate the situations with the prices and the period of possession to the Actuary.” This came to nothing and the matter was dropped for the time being and was not revived for another thirteen years.

At a meeting held on February 26th, 1856 a sub-committee of five was appointed “to examine the several sites and to report thereon”. They were authorised to employ Mr. Burt, a Launceston builder, to advise them “if they should think it desirable.” There is no record of how many sites were offered, but when the sub-committee reported back on August 28th, they stated that there were “two sites available, one of which can be immediately built on, but the other cannot be so used for a few year on account of deficiency of funds”. The trustees decided to ask John Tidd Pratt, of the National Debt Office, whether the trustees could purchase the latter, subject to the delay, and in the interim appropriate the rent in augmentation of the surplus fund. The first of these two sites, which could be used at once, was offered by Charles Gurney. The other property belonged to a Mr. Honey. On October 18th, 1856, thirteen members of the board met to decide what they should do. At this meeting a resolution was proposed that Charles Gurney’s site should be accepted. There was an amendment made that Mr. Honey’s site should be chosen which in turn, was followed by two more delaying amendments, one that nothing should be done until a plan of the proposed building had been laid before the meeting and the other that the matter should remain in abeyance as insufficient funds were available. These last two amendments were lost and a straight vote was taken on the two sites. Seven voted in favour of Honey’s and five in favour of Gurney’s. Then, with no further opposition, the meeting decided that “Mr. Burt be instructed to prepare a plan of the building at Mr Honey’s site with the assistance of the Committee of Managers and produce the same this day week”.
The meeting was duly held the following week where the chairman, the Rev. E. C. Phillpotts, “explained that he and others who were favourable to Honey’s site had examined it with Mr. Burt and found that there were insuperable difficulties against its adoption”. It was therefore decided that Gurney’s site “be accepted at a price to be agreed on after valuation by Messrs. Burt and Wise”. A small committee was then appointed to consider plans for a building. These plans were produced at a meeting on February 24th, 1857, when the estimated cost was stated to be £950. The valuation of the site had been fixed at £265, which the trustees accepted and the decision was made to seek the approval of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. With their approval the purchase was completed on May 30th. The site at this time contained a dwelling house, a blacksmith’s shop, and a garden. These were demolished. Plans for the new building were drawn up by Henry Crisp, a architect from Bristol, in June 1857, and tenders were invited for the construction. Out of three tenders submitted, the lowest for £1,040 was one made by William Burt, junior, and this was accepted, subject to “such alterations and deductions as will reduce his tender to £950 or below, if he can”. A week later William Burt reported that he had reduced his price to £945 15s. 1d. and this was accepted. Henry Burt was appointed Clerk of Works.

The construction was completed on April 30th. 1859 and the trustees took possession. It was insured for £500 with the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation, for which Cowlard was the Launceston representative. The total and final cost of the new building and its fittings was £1,381 5s. 2d. Business continued to be conducted at Dymond’s house in Southgate street until November, 1859, when it was transferred to the new building in Exeter street, then known as the ‘New Eastern Road’ and so described in the insurance policy. This road was cut in 1823 to avoid the steep Angel Hill, which had been previously used; its extension, now called Tavistock road, to join the way to Plymouth at Page’s cross, was not added until 1834.

Bank House, Exeter Street.

Bank House, Exeter Street.

With the move into the new building came the appointment of a permanent chairman. Up to this time each meeting had nominated its own, but this procedure had drawbacks. At the annual meeting on the February 2nd, 1860, John King Lethbridge was elected President and Francis Rodd vice-president. Evidently it was thought that these titles were somewhat more imposing than those of chairman and vice-chairman, though the holders were to preside over the meetings. When J. K. Lethbridge died in 1861, Francis Rodd succeeded him as President and the Rev. G. B. Gibbons, vicar of St. Mary’s Church. Was elected vice-president. Rev. Gibbons left the borough in August 1866 to become the vicar of Laneast, but he retained the vice-presidency until 1880. When he was followed by John Ching.

The problem of what to do with the rooms not required was soon solved by John Lethbridge Cowlard’s offer to take them for use as an extension to his office next door, as his eldest son, Lethbridge Cowlard, had been taken into partnership in 1859. An annual rent of £18 was agreed. This arrangement lasted for two years when the rooms were taken over by Edward Fleetwood Kempson, a solicitor who joined Gurney and Cowlard in partnership in 1862, after the death of Lethbridge Cowlard in July, 1861. Kempson retained the rooms as offices until Michaelmas, 1865, and in the following November “applied on behalf of himself and others to rent a portion of the Savings Bank house for the purpose of a Reading Room and Club”. This request was granted and was the beginning of the Tamar Club.

In 1861. The Post Office Savings Bank system was established in the country under the auspices of W. E. Gladstone and the trustee savings bank became relatively less important. Some people withdrew their money from the later and put it in the former, as they preferred the security of the Government to that of local trustees. The financial position of the bank during these years was one of declining assets. They fell from £49,850 5s. 2d. in 1888 to £29,762 7s. 0d. in 1911 and by the end of the war the figure had fallen to £20,969 4s. 2d. Much of this decline was due to withdrawals for reinvestment in Government securities, particularly the 5% War Stock issued during the First World War. The trustees tried to meet the new situation by reducing their overheads. They cut the actuary’s annual payment from £90 to £52 by 1912. With the death of its actuary William Slee in 1925 just a few months after the treasurer Christopher L. Cowlard had passed away, the trustees were experiencing further trouble. The accumulation of troubles made the trustees decide to explore the possibility of a merger with another bank as a solution to their problems. Accordingly a special meeting on December 19th, 1925. This was attended by A. M. Knight, the actuary of the Union Savings Bank at Devonport. The question of amalgamation was discussed and Knight offered to provide temporary staff pending the appointment of a permanent actuary. J. A. Pearce, the chairman of the Devonport Union Bank, attended another special meeting on January 12th, 1926, and put forward eight main points for consideration. These were 1/ that amalgamation would be of no advantage to Devonport; 2/ the Union Bank was, however, making am effort to help moribund banks; 3/ a special investment department was available; 4/ there would be no loss of identity; 5/ there was an executive committee of all banks in the union and on this Launceston would have its representatives; 6/ the actuary at Devonport would become the chief actuary; 7/ there was to be a new branch at Tavistock and this would be worked jointly with Launceston on alternate days; 8/ this arrangement would obviate the attendance of managers when the bank was open.
Eleven days later, at another special meeting, the trustees decided by six votes to nil, with three abstentions, “That subject to consent of the National Debt Commissioners being obtained thereto on the recommendation of the Inspection committee, the Launceston Savings Bank be and hereby is amalgamated with the Union Savings Bank, Devonport, pursuant to section 5 of the Savings Bank Act, 1904, on terms similar to the amalgamation of the Falmouth and Camborne Savings Banks with the Union Savings Bank as on and from May 21st, 1926, under the title of the Union Savings Bank, Devonport, certified under the Act of 1863”.

At an annual meeting held on February 13th, 1926, this was confirmed. Although the official title amalgamated bank was to be as stated above, locally it continued to be known as the Launceston Savings Bank. The new set up made it possible for the bank to open for longer with the hours now extending to; Tuesday, 10-3, Thursday, 10-1, and Saturday, 10-1 and also 2:30 to 4:30. These extra facilities helped the bank a great deal, and the reports on the first full year under the new arrangements said that “It is gratifying to observe the new life shown by this Bank, the pioneer of thrift in Launceston, as evidenced by the fact that over one hundred new accounts have been opened during the year and that the total transactions with depositors have materially increased”.
This progress was maintained and proved that the amalgamation was fully justified. The number of accounts increased steadily from 507 in 1926 to 1401 in 1939, and to 4592 in 1966. The assets also showed a steady increase in those years with the figure standing at £24,866 at the time of the merger, and rising to £152,812 in 1939, and again another rise to £1,,430,479 by 1966.

Between 1970 and 1985, the various trustee savings banks in the United Kingdom were amalgamated into a single institution named TSB Group plc, which was floated on the London Stock Exchange. The Launceston Branch moved from the premises that had served it so well for over a hundred years, moving to a more central position within the town square. In 1995, the TSB merged with Lloyds Bank to form Lloyds TSB and by the 21st century the TSB branch itself was closed with the accounts being transferred to the Lloyds Bank on the opposite side of the square.