Wednesday 5 April 2017

The Failure of the Renfrewshire Bank

On 1 April 1842 the Renfrewshire Bank in Greenock stopped all payment causing widespread panic in the area.  It was reported that -
     "The whole town was in commotion, and men, women and children were seen
running in all directions, hurrying from shop to shop,
and place to place, seeking change of Renfrewshire Bank notes."
As word of the Renfrewshire Bank's failure spread people started arriving in Greenock from all over hoping to change their Renfrewshire Bank notes and withdraw money from their accounts.  There was a general run on all the local banks until it was ascertained that it was only the Renfrewshire Bank that had failed.  Many local people, shipowners, business owners, shopkeepers and small savers lost just about everything.

Former Renfrewshire Bank premises in Bank Street, Greenock
The Renfrewshire Bank had been set up in 1802 in the lower flat of a house in Hamilton Street, Greenock, opposite Tan-work Close.  It moved to its own premises in Bank Street, across from Shaw Place in 1811.  At one time it had branches in Inverary, Campbeltown, Rothesay, Port Glasgow and Glasgow.  The Bank published its own banknotes - you can see examples at the McLean Museum's Online Collection site here.
McLean Museum Online Collections 
There had originally been nine partners in the Renfrewshire Bank -
Archibald Speirs of Elderslie,
Boyd Alexander of Southbar, Renfrewshire,
John Cunningham, a merchant in Port Glasgow,
Alexander Dunlop, magistrate of Greenock
John Hamilton, merchant in Greenock
William Napier of Blackstone (near Paisley)
Charles Stirling of Kenmuir, a West Indies merchant
Peter Speirs of Culcreuch, Glasgow tobacco merchant
James Patten, of Greenock, formerly with the Greenock Bank

The death of Alexander Dunlop of Keppoch in 1840 seems to have been the tipping point in the Bank's downfall.  The only original partner remaining was William Napier.  Roger Aytoun had been admitted as a partner in 1820.  He was a former army captain (92nd regiment) and brother in law of William Napier, having married Anne Napier in 1810.  

The Renfrewshire Bank ceased on 1 April 1842 with liabilities of over £230,000.  John Ker, a Greenock merchant was made trustee.  Holders of notes issued by the Bank prior to 1840 were paid by the estate of Alexander Dunlop (Keppoch), one of the original partners.

William Napier, one of the remaining partners, was described as "unmarried and of quiet and reserved manners, and took no particularly active interest in public matters." Both he and Roger Aytoun were declared bankrupt.  Napier sold his family estate of Blackstone, Renfrewshire in order to pay his debts.  Even the Bank's fixtures and fittings were auctioned to raise money.

The failure of the Renfrewshire Bank had long lasting effects for the people of Greenock and the surrounding area..  Many ships and houses were under mortgage to the bank and banknotes issued  by the bank became almost worthless - just two shillings and three pence per pound.  It was just one of the many small local banks which failed at this time.  However the lovely building still remains in use as a rehabilitation centre in Greenock today.


  1. ...stability is an important part of life.

  2. No doubt one of their pounds would be worth a lot more now. I thing there were a few banks like that which went under then

  3. Interesting post. It's no wonder people didn't trust banks after that for many a year.

  4. I can imagine how unexpected the failure of the bank was, it must have influenced many peoples´ lifes.


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