Cunliffe, Brooks & Co.
Cunliffe, Brooks & Co.'s Blackburn branch, c.1935
The origins of this private bank date back to 1792, when Roger Cunliffe and William Brooks began a calico business in Blackburn. The Cunliffes were a prominent family from Great Harwood, who had been mercers since Elizabethan times. The Brooks family came from humbler beginnings; Roger Cunliffe commented that it was his partner’s honesty and shrewdness, rather than his wealth, that convinced him to go into business with his friend.
The partners began to offer banking services for the patrons of their calico business. This proved to be a sound move, and the banking arm of the business was soon ready to stand on its own.
The bank survived the death of Roger Cunliffe, in 1822, and continued to go from strength to strength. In 1819 Samuel, the son of William Brooks, opened the firm’s first branch in Manchester.
A Run on the Bank
Cunliffe, Brooks & Co. weathered a number of banking crises that hit the country during the first half of the 19th century. In 1825, one such crisis resulted in a run on the Manchester branch of the bank. Customers rushed in to change their paper money into gold, leading to a severe shortage of ready gold reserves. In an attempt to bolster customer confidence, Samuel Brooks proceeded to open several sacks of flour, the tops of which he filled with gold sovereigns. The sacks of ‘gold’ were then displayed in the branch, for all to see. The ploy worked: the customers' headlong rush to exchange their paper money subsided, and the bank survived.
The remaining founding partner, William Brooks, died in 1846. The same year saw the bank move its head office to Manchester. This was a response to the increased business that the Manchester branch was generating. Following his father’s death, Samuel Brooks became the leading partner in the business. Deposits grew throughout his tenure, so much so that a concerned Samuel remarked that ‘I don’t like to be owing people so much’.
By the time the bank was purchased by Lloyds, it had opened three further offices, in addition to those in Blackburn and Manchester.
Although successful, the business had always remained relatively small. It could not survive in an age where banks were becoming larger and fewer in number. There was a growing trend for small private banks to be taken over by their bigger competitors. Cunliffe, Brooks & Co. was to prove no exception. The business was acquired by Lloyds Bank in 1900. One of the managing partners, John Brooks, was retained by Lloyds as managing director of its Manchester region. He later became a director on the main board.
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