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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Sharon Middleton

The boom in banking in the UK started around 1750 when wealthy traders saw a gap in the market for lending money to others, for a price of course! These privately owned banks relied heavily on trust within the local community. Many bankers became actively involved in politics and philanthropy. At this time Boston was a wealthy town of commercial importance. The British Banking History Society records that in 1805 Boston had six banks for its 7,000 population in comparison to Exeter which had seven banks to serve its larger population of 18,000.

Boston’s first bank, and the first one in Lincolnshire, was established in 1754 by William Garfit, a corn merchant and shipper at 116 High Street. In 1774 he took Bartholomew Claypon into partnership. Bartholomew’s father died in 1758 leaving an estate worth £3,818, a colossal sum at that time which indicates just how wealthy some of these merchants were. In 1783 Henry Gee and Henry Clark, brewers and public house owners, founded their bank, Gee & Clark. While both Garfit & Claypon and Gee & Clark survived the economic upheavals of the 1800s the other four banks did not. Abraham Sheath’s bank, founded in 1789 was one Boston’s largest banks. It failed due to overspeculation, its size offering no protection against economic depression.

The failure of Samuel Barnard’s bank, founded around 1790, was probably due to his own excesses. Edward Wilford’s bank was another casualty that year, although his bankruptcy did not prevent Wilford becoming mayor in 1823. William Ingelow’s bank failed in the 1820s barely 20 years after it opened. William was father of poet Jean Ingelow.

A picture of a ten pound note

English Banks were once allowed to issue their own bank notes. (courtesy of Sharon Middleton)

A picture of Lloys Bank in Boston

Lloyds bank in Boston's Market Place, built in 1864. (Chris Sidebottom)

Throughout the 19th-century the town’s two remaining banks, though rivals, continued to hold a dominant positon in the town in face of competition from the newly formed joint stock banks: the Stamford, Spalding & Boston Joint Stock Banking Co. and a branch of the National Provincial Bank. One of the first branches of the TSB was established in Boston in 1817. In 1864 Gee & Clark moved into new premises that later became home to the Midland Bank and then HSBC, until 2012. Garfit’s bank also moved into new premises that same year, the building now occupied by Lloyds Bank in the Market Place.

The economic depressions of the 1870s and the greater financial power and security of the joint stock banks brought about the end of the private banks. Gee & Clarke was taken over by the Lincoln & Lindsey Bank which merged with the Midland Bank in 1913. Garfit’s bank merged with Capital & Counties in 1891, with William Garfit as a director and then as its chairman in 1915. When Capital & Counties merged with Lloyds in 1918, William became a director of Lloyds. The 20th-century brought further changes eventually leaving the UK with just national banks by 1934.

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William Garfit, MP

Born 9 November 1840, William Garfit was an English banker and conservative politician residing in Boston Lincolnshire.

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National Provincial Bank

National Provincial Bank Ltd (1833-1969), established in London, was a past constituent of NatWest.

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Jean Ingelow (1820-1897)

Jean Ingelow was born in Boston on 17 March 1820, the eldest of 10 children. Her father, William was one of Boston’s bankers and the family lived in South Square overlooking the river near to what is now Haven Bridge.

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