Paisley Union Bank

(1788-1838)

Foundation

The Paisley Union Bank was established in 1788. There were ten founding partners: two lairds (George Houston of Johnstone and John Semple of Earnock); four Paisley merchants (John Cochran, Robert Hunter, Robert Orr and John Christie); two Glasgow merchants (James Elliot Henderson of Enoch Bank and John Duguid of Old King Street Sugar-House); Charles Addison of Woodhead (a member of the firm of Charles Addison and Son, from Bo'ness); and the cashier, David Robertson.

Spinning wheel detail from Paisley Union Bank one guinea note, 1822.
Spinning wheel detail from Paisley Union Bank one guinea note, 1822.

The Bank also secured the services of Sir William Forbes, James Hunter and Company to act as its Edinburgh agents. This bank provided the Paisley Union with a credit of £5,000.

Early Business

Paisley Union Bank one guinea note, 1822.
Paisley Union Bank one guinea note, 1822.

The town already had one bank, in the shape of the Paisley Banking Company which had been set up in 1783. Officials there knew nothing about the impending competition, until just six days before the new bank opened. Understandably enough, there was some tension between the two companies, with accusations of ‘note-picking’ on both sides.

The new Paisley Union Bank made a dynamic start by promptly opening agencies (branches) in a variety of locations. These included towns as far apart as Brechin, Oban, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright and Berwick.  It even ventured into England, with branches at Carlisle, Penrith and Wigton (Cumberland). However, these had all been closed by 1810.

The Bank's agents were instructed to promote its notes in the Highlands, at the Falkirk cattle trysts and in paying the Greenland whalers. After ten months' trading the Paisley Union had some £60,000 of notes in circulation. It had advanced £30,000 on bill discounts and £8,600 on cash accounts.

The Paisley Union continued to expand its branch network until 1796. At that point there was a sudden change of policy, and the majority of branches were rapidly closed. This strategy coincided with a change in the partners of the Bank.

A 19th Century Robbery

In 1811, the Paisley Union was hit by disaster. Its Glasgow branch on Ingram Street was broken into, and more than £19,000 was stolen. Although the Bank eventually recovered some £14,000, its losses were significant. The expenses of prosecuting the case (which was not brought until May 1820) added another £2,035.

The Bank went into a gradual decline from 1820 onwards. But it was the general economic difficulties affecting the west of Scotland, between 1836 and 1837, that dealt the final blow. The partners decided to withdraw from business, and in 1838 they sold up to the Glasgow Union Banking Company (later the Union Bank of Scotland).

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Further Information

  • The History of the Union Bank of Scotland by Robert Rait (John Smith & Son Ltd., Glasgow, 1930), chapter 9.
  • A small number archives relating to the Paisley Union Bank are held by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.