Points of interest on banks

PUBLISHED: 12:05 02 March 2007 | UPDATED: 22:37 28 May 2010

It s that time of year when the banks announce how many zillions of pounds they are making out of us every minute. It s odd to think that, if only things had worked out a little differently, all those profits might have ended up in Wisbech - and Fenland w

It's that time of year when the banks announce how many zillions of pounds they are making out of us every minute. It's odd to think that, if only things had worked out a little differently, all those profits might have ended up in Wisbech - and Fenland would be the banking capital of Britain.

If we were to go back in time some 250 years, we'd find every major town had its local bank. Wisbech had Peckover's. This family firm also had branches in neighbouring towns, one being as far afield as Fakenham.

The family had set their banking business up in the early eighteenth century and they obviously knew how to bump up profits.

By the end of that century they were rich enough to buy what we now know as Peckover House on North Brink. They built an annexe on it and made it their headquarters. Like many other banking families of that time, they were Quakers.

In Norwich, there was the Gurney family. Gurney's Bank thrived throughout East Anglia. It would still be going strong if so many of the Gurneys hadn't married into another Quaker banking family from the north-east called the Barclays. Gurneys Bank was eventually taken over.

The most famous Gurney daughter, Elizabeth, didn't marry a Barclay. Her first boyfriend was called John Lloyd. His father ran a bank in Birmingham - which also did quite well. I like to think that, if they had married, they would have employed a gardener called Nathaniel West - Nat to his friends.

In fact Elizabeth married a Quaker from Bristol who made chocolate: Joseph Fry. The Gurneys made him start up his own bank. It failed, presumably because he was better at chocolate creams than high finance.

When his bank failed, the family denounced him as a sinner. Its failure, they said, was a sign God was angry with him. Elizabeth Fry turned to prison reform.

The Peckover family, meanwhile, was busy collecting plants and setting up a decent wine cellar - which, considering Quakers preached against alcohol, was interesting to say the least.

Perhaps that's why they didn't play in the same league as the Barclays, Gurneys and Lloyds and why Peckover House now belongs to the National Trust and isn't the headquarters of a multi-national bank.

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