Whilst undertaking research into the Northern Bank in Bushmills, I came across a sad tale about the first branch manager of the Belfast Bank branch in that small village. In 1870, Thomas McComb (32) had been working in the Belfast Bank, Coleraine branch as Accountant and Cashier for 13 years when he was appointed Manager of their Bushmills Agency. He was widely respected in the town. This article presents the sad story of Thomas McComb through newspaper clippings and photographs.
The Belfast Banking Company opened their branch in Warrenpoint in 1914. In 1970 the branch was rebranded as Northern Bank (Belfast Bank Branch). Danske Bank trading as Northern Bank closed the branch in 2013. Following a few years of redevelopment, the building is soon to go on the market as retail space and 2 apartments upstairs. This article presents the history of the building through historical maps, newspaper clippings, ledgers and photographs.
50 Years On – Black Ties or Red Carnations – The Belfast Bank & Northern Bank Merger
50 years ago, on 1st July 1970, the Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited merged into Northern Bank now known today as Danske Bank.
Belfast Banking Company Limited
To see why this merger took place, we have to go first back to 1827 when the Belfast Bank started business. On 25th May 1846 following redevelopment, the bank moved into the former Assembly Buildings situated at the ‘four corners’ of North Street, Bridge Street, Waring Street and Donegall Street. Within decades the bank was trading in branches throughout the northern half of Ireland. Moving forward into the 20th century, the London City & Midland Bank was following events after the 1916 Easter Rising. This bank wanted to move into Ireland and considered the Belfast Bank would to be the best bank should partition occur.
Following a failed agreement in March 1917, the shareholders of the Belfast Bank approved the amalgamation of their bank with the London City & Midland Bank on 9th July 1917. This merger was the first entry into the Irish market by an English bank. Merger negotiations had already started between the Ulster Bank and the London County & Westminster Bank. At the same time, London City & Midland Bank had decided to open a branch of their own at 17 Castle Place, Belfast. The decision was later taken to rebrand this branch as Belfast Bank.
Following partition, the Belfast Bank directors decided that they would only operate in what became Northern Ireland. In 1923, following secret negotiations, they transferred their business in the Republic of Ireland to the Royal Bank of Ireland Limited along with 20 branches and their staff.
Northern Bank Company Limited
Although the bank had links to a private bank (Montgomery & Company) dating back to 1809, Northern Banking Company, as a joint stock company, commenced trading in 1824. Northern Bank was based in Belfast with its Head Office at 16 Victoria Street (beside the Albert Clock and operated branches throughout all of Ireland. The two branch networks continued after partition.
On 1st April 1965 the news broke that the Midland Bank (as London City & Midland Bank was now known) were proposing to purchase all the share capital of Northern Bank. Belfast Bank branch managers were advised in a circular from the Directors’ that “It is not the intention to merge the Northern Bank with the Belfast Banking Company, but as opportunities occur in the future it will be possible to effect some rationalisation to the advantage of all concerned.” The Belfast Telegraph reported the news the next day under the headline “Northern Bank shares jump for take-over”. However, the public were more concerned with the ending of Saturday branch opening starting on Saturday, 3rd April 1965.
Further bank groupings, although not yet mergers, would soon take place on the island of Ireland with groups coming into being by 1967:
- Bank of Ireland, National Bank of Ireland and Hibernian Bank Limited
- Allied Irish Banks Group of Munster and Leinster Bank Limited, Provincial Bank of Ireland Limited and Royal Bank of Ireland Limited
- Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited, both owned by Midland Bank
- Ulster Bank Limited owned by Westminster Bank Limited
Late 1967 saw the arrival into both banks of a team from Midland Bank with the aim of bringing their systems into line with each other. As Noel Simpson (Retired Head of Finance, Northern Bank) says in his book ‘The Belfast Bank 1827-1970’; ‘These men had a difficult and lengthy assignment, for the two Irish Banks had gone their separate ways for almost a century and a half’.
On 20th November 1968, the staff were informed of the creation of ‘United Northern Banks Limited’ to, at a later date, complete the integration of the 2 banks. The Belfast Telegraph reported the next day that ‘but so far it is not known if the names of both banks will disappear after the formation of the holding company, United Northern Banks Ltd.’ Press advertising started the following week.
On 29th November 1968 press advertisements were published to promote the name of ‘United Northern Banks Limited’ as ‘the big new name in Irish banking’. This holding company, registered in Northern Ireland was to promote a gradual harmonising of methods and services, thus fostering closer co-operation between the two banks. At that stage there were 287 offices of both the Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited.
It would take until late 1969 for the banks directors to decide on the name of the future organisation. A process of legal changes involving Acts of Parliament on both sides of the border would be required and then there was the (bank) note-issuing rights that dated back to Victorian times. A separate 3rd company would not be able to retain the note-issuing powers currently held by both banks. A Private Bill was to be enacted in the Parliament of Northern Ireland that would allow the merger of the two banks on 1st July 1970 without the use of the 3rd company. The Belfast Bank Executor & Trustee Company would also be merged into the Northern Bank Executor & Trustee Company at the same time. The Bill when enacted would see the Belfast Bank branches be known as ‘NORTHERN BANK LIMITED, BELFAST BANK BRANCH’.
The Merger and Aftermath
Branch managers were advised on 25th June that the 1st July 1970 ‘will be a happy and memorable day for all of us’. All Managers, Sub-Managers, Pro-Managers and Cashiers are to wear red carnations as ‘something eventful is happening in our bank’. An anonymous slip of paper arrived in branches and departments with the circulars the next day announcing ‘that black ties should be worn’.
Northern Bank continued to trade in the whole of Ireland. Parts of Belfast and many of the towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland ended up with Northern Bank branches perhaps beside each other. Rationalisation of branches took place over many years in areas such as Antrim (16 & 42 High Street; Aughnacloy (93 & 134 Moore Street); Ballyclare (1 & 18 The Square); Shankill Road (15 & 93) and Holywood (74 & 98 High Street) to name a few. Branches would be merged into one site or even a brand-new site to create modern branch offices.
The Midland Bank during a financial crisis of its own eventually sold the Northern Bank to the National Australia Bank who later transferred ownership to Danske Bank. The (bank) note-issuing rights would again come into play. Once again, a Private Bill was considered to transfer the rights to Danske Bank but that was considered to be too expensive a plan. The decision was taken by the Directors’ to create a trading name of Danske Bank. Thus, the current bank is now known legally and, on their banknotes, as ‘Northern Bank Limited trading as Danske Bank’. Shortly after this, all the branches and offices were rebranded as Danske Bank.
Many of the former Belfast Bank buildings have been sold on to other businesses. However, the name of ‘Belfast Bank’ continues to adorn a few of these old buildings e.g. Portrush, Rathfriland & Warrenpoint. Some of their branches have been demolished and only photographs remain e.g. Lisburn & Duncairn Gardens. A brass nameplate saying ‘The Belfast Bank Bed (Centenary) 1827-1927’ is still on show in the ‘Victorian Corridor’ at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Gavin Bamford is a retired Northern Bank Assistant Manager who worked for the bank from 1974 to 2013. He is Chair of History Hub Ulster and runs both Northern Bank War Memorials and Belfast Banking Company Architecture Facebook page.
Moira Hero Captain William James Lyness MC** was one of only 168 men in the British Army to receive three Military Crosses in the First World War.
Amongst those bank officials who volunteered and served was Tullyard man, Captain William James Lyness. He was the son of William John Lyness and Frances Mary Lyness from Tullyard, Moira, Co. Down.
Lyness worked in the College Green, Dublin branch of the Belfast Banking Company prior to his enlistment as a cadet in Colonel Shannon-Crawford’s battalion. He then went on to serve with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and attained the rank of Temporary Lieutenant (1916), Captain and Adjutant (1918).
He saw action at Messines, Langemark, Cambrai and the Somme (1918). During his military career Lyness was awarded 3 Military Crosses and the Croix de Guerre. Only 168 men received 3 Military Crosses during World War One, a testament to how brave Captain Lyness was.
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when clearing a wood with his platoon. In spite of the very strong resistance which he met, his dispositions and leadership were excellent, and after heavy fighting at various points he captured a large number of prisoners and guns of various calibre. His splendid gallantry and coolness proved invaluable as an example to his men.”
The London Gazette of 17th September 1917
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When visiting his outpost line he was fired on by the enemy at forty yards range, whereupon he obtained a Lewis gun, stood up in full view of the enemy and fired it from his shoulder until it jammed. He then rushed the enemy post with two bombers, and cleared them out. He had already led a successful attack on the two preceding nights, and it was entirely due to his initiative and personal courage, in spite of three days without sleep, that his posts were established and our position made secure.”
The London Gazette of 18th October 1917
“When the right flank of the brigade war held up he went forward to reconnoitre and unexpectedly met with a nest of machine guns and about fifty of the enemy, who opened very heavy fire. With great difficulty he made his way back, got a Lewis gun and a man with a supply of magazines and went forward again, engaged the strong point, firing eleven magazines, killing the majority of the enemy, and capturing a machine gun. He then led the flank forward about 500 yards and straightened out the line. The man with him was killed and he was wounded. He showed great gallantry and determination.”
The London Gazette of 10th January 1919
“Captain and Adjutant W. J. Lyness, M.C. Royal Irish Rifles, wounded, is a son of Mr. W. J. Lyness, Tullyard House, Moira, and nephew of Mr. R. Logan, Belfast Bank, Bangor. Before the war Captain Lyness was on the Belfast Bank’s Dublin staff. He was a cadet in Colonel Shannon-Crawford’s battalion prior to receiving his commission. Captain Lyness, who has been adjutant of his battalion since 22nd March, has a fine record of service, having won both the Military Cross and a bar thereto. His brother, Lieut. I. Lyness, of the Tank Corps, also holds the Military Cross. Captain Lyness has been wounded in the shoulder by a bullet, but his injury is not serious.”
Lisburn Standard of 13th September 1918
Military Cross Statistics – The Great War – 37,104 singles, 2,984 with 1st bar, 168 with 2nd bar, 4 with 3rd bar
In December 1914 the Military Cross was instituted to recognise “distinguished services in times of war of Officers of certain ranks in Our Army”. The majority of Military Crosses were awarded for gallantry, but the decoration could also be granted for “distinguished and meritorious service”.
The French Croix de Guerre was either awarded as an individual or unit award to those soldiers who distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.
For further information on Banking memorials visit
Research by Gavin Bamford, a member of History Hub Ulster http://historyhubulster.co.uk