Union Bank of Scotland

(1830-1955)

The Glasgow Union Banking Company

The Union Bank of Scotland was established as the Glasgow Union Banking Company, in 1830. It was the first of a number of joint-stock banks set up in the city at that time.

Its capital was set at £2 million, divided into 8,000 shares of £250. More than half the subscription was raised at the first General Meeting, in February 1830. Detailed analysis reveals that more than 80% of shareholders were based in Glasgow and the west. They were predominantly from the mercantile and manufacturing classes.

The bank's business grew rapidly between 1836 and 1843, primarily as a result of amalgamations. These included the Thistle Bank, Sir William Forbes, James Hunter and Company, the Paisley Union Bank, Hunters and Company of Ayr and the Glasgow and Ship Bank.

Glasgow from the south, c.1780
Glasgow from the south, c.1780

The Emergence of the Union Bank

In consequence of these mergers, the Company changed its name in May 1843, becoming the Union Bank of Scotland. This name change reflected the Bank's now national status, both in terms of its geographical reach and its impressive balance sheet. Further amalgamations followed in 1849 (the Aberdeen Banking Company) and 1857 (Perth Banking Company).

Expansion in the 19th Century

During the 1840s and 1850s, the Bank became more adventurous in its lending. It advanced money to industries as diverse as textiles, iron, coal, shipbuilding and railways. To fund this, it needed to increase deposits, so it began to expand its branch network. By 1857, the Union Bank had 97 branches; this was more than any other bank in Scotland. A London office was also opened, in 1878.

Developments in the 20th Century

In 1919, it became one of eight banks in the UK to subscribe to the British Overseas Bank. The Union Bank's general manager was appointed chairman of the new body. This left a vacancy that was quickly filled by Norman Hird. He was to become the dominant figure in the Bank for the next 25 years. Aged only 34, Hird was extremely capable. But for all his efforts, it was soon evident that the Bank was in difficulties. Its fortunes were inextricably linked with the rise and fall of heavy industry. It had lent extensively to this sector, which lurched from crisis to crisis for much of the inter-war period.

Despite these troubles, a grand new head office was opened in 1927, at 110 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow. The building was designed by architect James Miller, under the influence of Norman Hird. The latter had travelled extensively in the United States, and was impressed by the architecture of American banks, particularly those on Wall Street in New York.

In the 1930s, the Union Bank explored the possibility of a merger with Bank of Scotland. These early discussions came to nothing, but in 1950, serious negotiations began. Agreement was reached two years later, and the banks merged in 1955. The St. Vincent Street building became Bank of Scotland's chief office in Glasgow.

Union Bank of Scotland Head Office, 110 St. Vincent Street, by the architect James Miller
Union Bank of Scotland Head Office, 110 St. Vincent Street, by the architect James Miller.

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Further Information

  • The History of the Union Bank of Scotland by Robert Rait (John Smith & Son Ltd., Glasgow, 1930), chapters 11-17.
  • Extensive archives relating to the Union Bank of Scotland are held by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.
  • Records and artefacts relating to the Union Bank are also on display in the Museum on the Mound.