British Linen Bank

(1746-1999)

Foundation

The British Linen Company (later the British Linen Bank) was established in Edinburgh by royal charter in 1746. The Company was empowered to 'carry on the Linen Manufactory in all its branches' and was granted limited liability. The word 'British' in its title was an attempt to deflect the suspicion aroused by all things Scottish, after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

British Linen Company charter dated 5th July 1746
British Linen Company charter dated 5th July 1746.

The Company's key promoters were the 3rd Duke of Argyll; Lord Milton; the Earl of Panmure; and George Middleton, a London banker. Its nominal capital was £100,000. This sum was not increased until 1806, when it was doubled.

Expansion

Although its initial aim was to promote the linen industry, the Company moved into banking in the late 1760s, and began issuing its own notes. In 1765, it was formally accepted as a bank by the Royal Bank of Scotland. But recognition from Bank of Scotland was only achieved in 1771.

Moray House, Edinburgh, home of the British Linen Company, 1753-1790
Moray House, Edinburgh, home of the British Linen Company, 1753-1790.

The great strength of the British Linen was its spread of agents throughout the country. This was the result of its earlier involvement in the linen trade. By 1780, it had a total of nine agencies, or branches.

Developments in the 19th Century

The Company moved to a new head office at the turn of the 19th century. In 1808, it acquired the Dalhousie mansion at No. 38 St. Andrew Square. Seventeen years later, numbers 39 and 40 were also purchased, a reflection of the increase in business and staff numbers. Although the depression of 1837 brought a temporary halt to prosperity, the British Linen did not suffer as much as other banks.

British Linen Bank head office, 38 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, 1935
British Linen Bank head office, 38 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, 1935.

The bank continued to grow throughout the 19th century. In fact, other than a temporary trade paralysis in the late 1850s (following the collapse of the Western Bank), the British Linen Company survived relatively unscathed. On 11th June 1906, it formally changed its name to the British Linen Bank.

The 20th Century

By the early 20th century, Scotland had become over-banked: eight different companies, each with extensive branch networks, served only 4.8 million people. A series of amalgamations between Scottish and English banks took place between 1917 and 1926. In 1919, the British Linen became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Barclays Bank. As a result, its foreign connections expanded, and assets leapt from £29 million to £36 million in two years. As with all the Anglo-Scottish banking 'affiliations', the British Linen Bank retained its board of directors in Edinburgh, its own separate structure and its note issue.

The 1950s and '60s saw another wave of Scottish bank mergers. On 9th May 1969, Bank of Scotland struck a deal with Barclays to take over the British Linen Bank. The merger was concluded on 1st March 1971.

The amalgamation document, however, secured the legal continuance of the British Linen Bank as a separate Scottish company. In 1977, permission was granted for its resumption as the merchant banking arm of Bank of Scotland. It continued as such until September 1999.

British Linen Bank coat of arms, granted 1934
British Linen Bank coat of arms, granted 1934.

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Further Information

  • The History of the British Linen Bank by Charles A. Malcolm (T. & A. Constable Ltd., Edinburgh, 1950).
  • Bank of Scotland 1695-1995: A Very Singular Institution by Alan Cameron (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1995).
  • Bank of Scotland A History 1695-1995 by Richard Saville (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1996).
  • Extensive archives relating to the British Linen Bank are maintained by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.
  • A number of records and artefacts relating to the history of the British Linen Bank are also on display in the Museum on the Mound.