The Banking Giant with Humble Midland Roots; It Is 175 Years since Midland Bank Opened Its Doors in Birmingham. Anna Blackaby Looks at How It Became One of the Biggest Names in Finance before Succumbing to Takeover

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Blackaby

On August 15, 1836 Charles Geach, a former Bank of England employee, set up a bank which would serve the industrialists and merchants of the thriving city known as the Workshop of the World.

Sadly, Midland Bank no longer exists in its own right - it was swallowed up by HSBC in the 1990s and the name disappeared in 1999.

But the legacy of industrial development that it helped usher in is still visible in the region today.

When Midland Bank opened in Union Street 175 years ago, Mr Geach's early customers were railway builders, iron founders, engineers, utilities and municipal corporations - the firms that built the foundations of the Industrial Revolution that powered Britain into the Victorian era.

John Purser, the Coventry-based honorary secretary of the British Banking History Society, said the establishment of strong local banks went hand in hand with the region's growing prosperity during that time.

"Banking in general has quite a history in Birmingham," he said.

"As well as the Midland Bank being founded in Birmingham, there was also Lloyds Bank, which was originally Taylor and Lloyds, and the only municipal bank in the country, The Birmingham Municipal.

"So, from a historical point of view, Birmingham can be said to be the birthplace of important banks that have survived in one form or another up to today.

"Obviously, Midland Bank is now part of a much larger global organisation, but in its time it was very important to the development of industry and commerce, not only in Birmingham but the surrounding areas."

Mr Geach's bank was successful right from the start - in its first year, trading profit totalled more than pounds 3,000.

Just 18 months after it opened its doors, the bank moved to new and larger premises higher up Union Street on the corner of Little Cherry Street.

The new site cost pounds 6,300 and even incorporated a house that was intended for Mr Geach's private use.

In the 1830s and 1840s Midland Bank occupied an important niche in Birmingham business, particularly in the discounting of bills of exchange for its customers.

From the start, the bank set about growing its branch network to serve the needs of the local economy, originally acquiring Stourbridge Old Bank in 1851 and Nichols, Baker and Crane of Bewdley in 1862, both of which traced their roots back to the 1700s and the very early days of the Industrial Revolution.

By the 1860s the bank's directors realised that business was expanding at such a rapid rate that the Union Street premises would soon become too small to cope. …