Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Our changing banking habits

Even the small villages had at least one branch

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 8:02 am
Updated Thursday, 6th January 2022, 8:04 am

Margaret Watson writes: Dewsbury used to be spoiled for choice when it came to deciding which bank to put your money in because you had so many to choose from - and you had no trouble pronouncing their names.

Not today I’m afraid because when it comes to banking, there is change in the air, and not only are they changing their names but they’re also on the move.

They are no longer on our doorstep as in days of yore and you are lucky if you even have one in the town centre.

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Dewsbury town centre: Northgate back in 1890, before the shops were demolished to make way for the new London and Yorkshire Bank which is now the NatWest

For, one by one they are closing down or moving from smaller towns and villages into bigger towns and cities, sometimes miles away.

Most of us can remember the days when even small villages like Earlsheaton and Ravensthorpe had their own bank, sometimes two. Oh happy days!

But there’s nothing we can do about it because time is marching on and we have to adjust to the changes taking place, even though they’re coming at a fast pace..

Dewsbury people, however, cannot grumble too much because they still have a few banks left, where, Covid permitting, they can still get face to face attention when needed.

Perhaps the reason Dewsbury always had a good many banks was because we were once a prosperous textile town with plenty of money to invest.

Banks were quick to move here and always made sure they erected impressive buildings which would attract new customers and help them compete with other banks.

And they didn’t seem to concern themselves as to how many buildings would have to be pulled down to accommodate theirs.

Today, we get upset when much loved buildings are demolished to be replaced by buildings we don’t often like.

But pulling down buildings was nothing new for the old Dewsbury Corporation long before Kirklees Council came into the picture and started preserving historic buildings.

Before then many quaint, historic buildings in the town centre, particularly in Northgate where the London and Yorkshire Bank built their new premises in 1890, were demolished.

But many more old buildings would also be demolished in Dewsbury, including the historic ivy-clad vicarage of Dewsbury Parish Church which was pulled down to make way for a road widening scheme.

Also demolished was the Moot Hall, one of the oldest Saxon buildings in the world, as well as the centuries old Manor House, razed to the ground to make way for the Empire Theatre, which itself was also to be pulled down later.

I doubt if there is anyone alive who will remember the London and Yorkshire Bank.

But if I say National and Provincial Bank, most people will recognise it because that is what it eventually became.

And, if I say NatWest bank, I’m sure even our very young readers will know where that was, and still is, because that was its last name change.

When this bank moved to Dewsbury, the town was rapidly growing in size and prosperity, and was doing everything in its power to attract industry and commerce.

It was stated when the London and Yorkshire Bank moved into its impressive new building in 1890 that “such a prosperous and important centre as Dewsbury could not be overlooked by them”.

Some years later in one of its balance sheets it showed that the investments of the bank had already exceeded £500,000 sterling, an amount which may sound like peanuts today but at that time would have been millions.

Looking at the picture above, one has to ask where all the shops went to after being pulled down to make way for this particular bank?

One name which stands out is Ruddlesden’s, which could well have belonged to the Ruddlesden family, who had a painting and decorating business in Halifax Road.

Their business was situated at the top of the street where I once lived in Springfield, so perhaps they moved there when their shop in Northgate was pulled down.

Many other shops were pulled down in Northgate at this time to make way for brand new ones like WH Smith’s and the Kingsway and Queensway Arcades, now protected by conservation orders.

Also in Corporation Street, other new shops were built, and the street was so named because it was the Dewsbury Corporation who built the shops.

In those days, the corporation had the power to do things like this because Dewsbury at that time was in charge of running its own affairs. If they wanted to give the town a face-lift they did, and when they thought they needed new shops they went ahead and built them.

Other buildings in Northgate which were pulled down were two public houses – The White Lion and the Fleece Inn. The former would be replaced by Marks and Spencer and the latter would eventually come down to be replaced by shops and later Wetherspoons, which is still with us today.

Many old shops over the years were converted into other uses but their historic value was kept intact because by now they were in conservation areas.

As a young reporter working in Dewsbury during the 1950s and 60s, I saw some beautiful buildings fall prey to the bulldozer, and I was too young to recognise their historic value.

But historically, I think our greatest losses were the Moot Hall, Manor House, the Empire Theatre, Caddy’s Ice Cream Parlour and a century’s old thatched cottage in Thornhill Edge.

This cottage was situated in an idyllic part of Thornhill and was the only thatched cottage left in the district. But if it had been preserved, as it would be today, it would have been a tourist attraction.

In the coming months I hope to write more about the buildings which disappeared to make way for new ones.

If you have information about any of them, or photographs, please email me [email protected].

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