Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Barclays & Backhouses (NZ288146)

Barclays Bank, Darlington

© Karenjc and licensed under the
 Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported 
license (see here).

Quakers have played a very important role in the history of Darlington and its environs – and at a time when they were barred from political life, universities, the judiciary and a whole host of other roles in society. Being forced into their own businesses, they often found themselves acting as our bankers, financiers and industrialists – with startling results.

One such tale is the rise of the mighty Barclays Bank, which can trace a substantial portion of its roots to the town of Darlington. James Backhouse, a wealthy Quaker flax dresser and linen manufacturer, set up Backhouse’s Bank in the town in 1774 – originally as a sideline to his main business (from the 1750s), then subsequently as an entity in its own right. As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the years following this bold move, the institution grew, too – essentially bankrolling the growth of the railways and related industries of the area (most notably financing the Stockton & Darlington Railway).

James’s sons, Jonathan and James Jnr, helped and then succeeded their father; and in turn Jonathan’s son (another Jonathan) took over. The next generation (Edmund) took things even further; to be followed by his son, Sir Jonathan Backhouse – under whose guidance the bank merged with Gurney’s Bank of Norwich and the existing Barclays of London in 1896 to form the nationwide monster that we now know as Barclays Bank. At the time of the merger of these institutions – all of them Quaker-run – there were 20 Backhouse branches across the region, and this northern powerhouse was one of the lead banks in the amalgamation.

Interestingly, the Backhouse and Barclay families even intermarried. Alfred Backhouse, who for a time ran the HQ of the Backhouse empire from what is now the Barclays Bank building in High Row, Darlington, married Rachel Barclay in 1851. The couple, who were extremely wealthy, were pioneers of public health, helping to establish two hospitals in the town. Similarly, Alfred’s nephew, James Edward, also married into the Barclay family.

Many of the above named individuals are buried in the Quaker (Friends) Burial Ground in the town.

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