Our history in the East Midlands

Business historian Professor Leslie Hannah talks about Barclays' long history and its role in society during this time.


Barclays inherited several long-established branches in Northamptonshire from smaller banks that came into the Barclays group, mostly from the successful Stamford, Spalding & Boston Banking Company (‘SS&B’) which merged with Barclays in 1911.

The earliest of these seems to have been the one at Thrapston, which saw a new country bank established by Stephen Eaton and his partner George Eland. Barclays Thrapston, has provided banking services on the same site for at least two centuries, and although 1812 is usually given as the date of foundation, a lease of 1822 says that Eland had ‘for many years carried on the businesses of banker and linen draper’. Certainly Eland was carrying on his linen drapery in the premises from at least 1783; later deeds describe it as a linen drapery and bank, and then just a banking house. This was how many of the early English country banks started, with tradesmen providing rudimentary banking services for their customers, and then, as the banking business grew, allowing their original business to fall away. As for Stephen Eaton, it is said that his original capital came from a win in one of the public lotteries.

Barclaycard Centre Northampton

Barclaycard Centre, Northampton. Female staff in 1966.

When Eaton subsequently left to join a larger banking business in Stamford, George Eland took into partnership another local draper, William Yorke. Unlike many small banks which failed during the periodic economic crises of the early 1800s and ‘runs’ on their capital, the Thrapston Bank survived and another office was opened at Kettering (Market Place), by 1837. At this period, again like many local banks, the Elands were issuing their own bank notes, issue being fixed at over £11,500 in 1844.

After the death of William Yorke the business was carried on by the Eland family, being known as Messrs. Eland & Eland, or, as the Thrapston & Kettering Bank.

In 1888 financial difficulties caused the partners to suspend payment and the business crashed. Fortunately there came an offer from the Stamford, Spalding and Boston Banking Company to pay the Elands’ creditors at the rate of 15 shillings in the pound (=75 pence today), and take over the branches at Thrapston and Kettering [see photo].

The SS&B was a joint stock banking business that had grown steadily since its establishment in 1831-32, taking over a number of small local banks in the process.

Another early established banking business in the county, and also still occupying the original site in New Street, is at Oundle, started originally in 1815 by Messrs. Smith & Ridsdale, also known as the Oundle Commercial Bank. During 1831, however, this firm had hinted to the public their intention to discontinue business, but Mr. Ridsdale, one of the managing partners, had the desire to establish a joint stock bank between his and another retiring bank, Bugg & Co. The result was that the Stamford, Spalding & Boston joint stock bank was established from these two businesses. The first manager at the Oundle branch was Richard Todd, who served there for thirty-five years.

Fraud is nothing new!

In 1841 a gentleman arrived at Oundle branch from Boston and presented a cheque for £400, ‘purporting to be drawn by a well-known customer of the bank; and some momentary scruples of the cashier being removed, he paid the sum in notes of the firm’. It turned out the man had altered £4 to £400, gone to London and cashed the notes for gold sovereigns at Barclays, who were acting as London agents for the SS&B.

1861 saw another banking failure in the district, that of Yorke & Co. of Oundle and Peterborough, and in order to provide the requisite cash in anticipation of a run on the bank, the managing director of the SS&B rushed to London. Unfortunately he was not able to obtain enough cash from his own agents there so he disturbed the Chief Cashier at the Bank of England (apparently in his bath), and asked him to open the treasury early to supply their needs. This was successful and resulted in the acquisition of the failed bank’s business.

A Barclays commentator touring the district in 1954 remarked on the importance to Northampton of the boot and shoe industry, leather-finishing - whose ‘range of shades and finishes…greatly exceeds the variety offered elsewhere, even in the USA’ - and a ‘flourishing local clothing trade which has grown considerably since the war, when many evacuees went to the city’. Light industries including engineering were gradually supplementing these traditional occupations by the ‘50s. ‘Another strong tie, we discovered, was that of Weetabix Ltd., makers of the well-known breakfast cereal.’ Agriculture remained important for the Bank in the western part of the county, ‘predominantly livestock or mixed farms - beef, sheep and milk, with wheat as the primary crop’, the holdings being between 200 and 2,000 acres. One local Barclays manager also commented on the continuance of the various traditional hunts across the countryside.


Kettering was described as a ‘flourishing market town’, and ‘a miniature Northampton’, with a similar range of customer trades and occupations. The town was said to specialise in tanning, and in making men’s footwear, in particular for the Services and industry. Meanwhile it was remarked of Corby that a population of 18,000 was forecast to reach at least 40,000 (by 1966 it was 44,000), the branch manager remarking that, as iron and steel works were closing in Scotland and Ireland, ‘the workers flock to Corby.’ Other newer industries in the district at this period that are mentioned in the archives include Rosebud, ‘one of the leading manufacturers of plastic dolls’, at Thrapston.

Barclays operated a devolved system of administration through a network of local head offices, and by the mid-1950s most of Northamptonshire was placed in Peterborough District. A report on the District compiled in 1985 described Northampton as a growing town, but with agriculture still providing a major source of custom: ‘Business and industrial communities in the south and west of the District, [i.e. the Northants branches] a lot of which had the benefit of development and enterprise money, thrive around Northampton, Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough’. The same report listed Weetabix as a major customer of Barclays, at Burton Latimer: ‘we are the sole clearing bankers to this household name company and have been since its conception in 1932.’ Other newer business customers of the bank around Northampton were in the building and wholesale meat trades.


Later branches opened by Barclays included Daventry (1966), which by that time had been selected as an overspill for Birmingham and Coventry. This period was one of great expansion of banking services in Britain, as more and more working people had cash to spare and needed a bank account to manage their money. Between 1945 and the end of the ‘60s the number of Barclays current accounts in the District doubled (Northampton alone had 6,000), deposit (savings) accounts trebled and the amount of personal credit granted grew from £2.5m in 1946 to £14m by 1965. This expansion of banking across a wider section of society also meant that the banks needed to streamline and speed up their processes.

Barclays led the way in this new technology, being the first UK bank to order a mainframe computer for customer accounting, in 1959. This computer, the Emidec [see photo], was commissioned in 1961, and it took 13 years to connect every branch to a computer centre – Barclays had the largest branch network by the 1970s. Other initiatives included the development of cash machines, something we take for granted now but which were a huge innovation when the six pilot ‘Barclaycash’ machines were installed in 1967, one of these being at Peterborough [see advert]. Northampton was one of the towns in the first national roll-out of the machines in 1969. Despite these early developments in automation, banking was still labour-intensive at this time: Northampton main branch employed over 50 staff in 1966, two-thirds of them women, which itself reflected a major change in the industry over the previous half-century.


Northampton was to become a major centre for Barclays’ operations in the 1960s, starting with the branch section of Clearing Department, which moved out from London in 1960 to purpose-built premises at Gladstone Road [see photo]. This was part of a general devolution of head office departments and functions between the 60s and 80s, owing to staff recruitment difficulties and the high cost of office space in the City. In 1991 Clearing moved again, across Northampton to a more modern site at Blaise Pascal House on Pavilion Drive, because the quantity of cheques in the system had grown so much over the previous decades, this move itself being a major achievement over a single weekend, as operations had to be kept going all the time. By this time the staff at Northampton had grown from 100 in 1960 to over 900.

An article published in 1992 described Blaise Pascal as ‘the most technically advanced bank clearing centre outside America’. It also commented on Barclays’ contribution to the town’s employment: ‘A lot of the staff have worked for Clearing Department since it arrived in Northampton 32 years ago. There are whole families on site – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts. Many women workers have had their families, brought them up and then returned to work there. Barclays Clearing has the reputation in Northampton as a good employer….there are waiting lists for all shifts and that is definitely not just because of the recession!’ In 1996 the rest of Barclays’ clearing operations moved from London to Northampton, as the volume of work continued to increase along with the technology to handle it. In 2000 the whole operation was transferred to iPSL, a company set up by Barclays, Lloyds and Unisys to run the business, where it remains today at Blaise Pascal House.

1966 saw the second Barclays department to be set up in Northampton. This was one of the biggest developments in the history of banking, the launch of Barclaycard, the UK’s first all-purpose credit card, with operations being started at a derelict boot and shoe factory in St. Giles Terrace [see photo article attached], renamed as Aquila House - ‘aquila’ being Latin for eagle, after the Barclays spread eagle logo. Barclays set themselves the daunting task of recruiting 1,000,000 cardholders and 30,000 outlets by the launch date. By 1967 a dedicated computer centre at Northampton was serving both Barclaycard and Clearing with two IBM mainframes. The story of Barclaycard is one of expansion and innovation in both credit and payments products, together with the technology behind them, culminating in recent years in the deployment of both mobile phone and contactless processing.


Barclaycard marked its golden jubilee in 2016. The main operations centre has remained at Northampton ever since 1966, moving twice in that time, to Marefair in 1973, and to the present site at Pavilion Drive in 1997 [see photo]. This state-of-the art energy efficient building was designed to hold 2,500 staff. On its official opening, Barclays’ Chairman Andrew Buxton said ‘Our investment here is a strong vote of confidence in the business, in our staff and in Northampton.’