British Overseas Bank Ltd

British Overseas Bank Ltd (1919-1962), established in London, was a past constituent of The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Brief history

This overseas bank was incorporated as a limited liability company in June 1919, at the instigation of the Prudential Assurance Co and 8 British banks: Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co and Williams Deacon's Bank, both of which served as its bankers; Union Bank of Scotland; Anglo-South American Bank; Dominion Bank; C Hoare & Co; Imperial Ottoman Bank; and Northern Banking Co. The company was established with a capital of £5m, of which £2m was paid up. Its main aim was to 'facilitate the foreign trade of the British Isles and the Empire by specialising in all matters of exchange, payments and receipts abroad, and the handling of foreign collections, documents and securities'. It occupied premises at 31 Lombard Street, City of London, later moving to 34 Gracechurch Street.

In 1920 British Overseas Bank was involved in the formation of the Anglo-Polish Bank in Warsaw and, in 1923, acquired the London & Liverpool Bank of Commerce, which it put into voluntary liquidation (completed 1939).

In 1924 Williams Deacon's Bank, Union Bank of Scotland and Prudential Assurance Co purchased the shares held by the other banks. In 1930 British Overseas Bank took over the foreign business of the London bank HS Lefevre & Co, and in 1936 absorbed the London merchant bank Frederick Huth & Co.

The late 1930s brought problems for British Overseas Bank. In early 1938 the Bank of England registered concern over British Overseas Bank's balance sheet, particularly in the lack of provision against German and Hungarian standstill debts, and frozen assets in other countries. The only real prospect of expansion of British Overseas Bank business lay in the produce businesses (Huth Coffee Sales Ltd and Huth Produce Sales Ltd), which had been acquired with Frederick Huth & Co. Williams Deacon's and Union Bank of Scotland severed their direct connection with the bank.

In 1940 British Overseas Bank took over the management of Anglo-International Bank of London, itself in the process of being run down. It was the fee for this management, together with income from the Huth produce businesses, which largely covered British Overseas Bank’s day-to-day expenses from 1941 onwards. In June 1944, the produce businesses were sold to Matheson & Co, while the banking business was sold to Glyn, Mills & Co for £7,000. The remainder of British Overseas Bank’s assets (all frozen) were placed under the management of Continental Assets Realisation Trust Ltd.

Between 1954 and 1962 the company was wound up, and in 1963 a new company, British Overseas Bank Ltd, was incorporated, solely to safeguard the name.

Summary of our archive holdings

Our archival records of British Overseas Bank Ltd have the reference code BO.

For help understanding words used here, check our glossary of banking record types (PDF 24KB).

  • share issue prospectus 1919
  • list of shareholders 1919
  • correspondence with Williams Deacon's Bank 1919-1926
  • files re British companies' foreign trade, letters of credit and the structure of the bank 1919-1926
  • memorandum and articles of association and related papers 1919-1930
  • annual reports 1920, 1929-1936
  • booklet re bank's business c.1924
  • resolutions of extraordinary general meetings 1929, 1939
  • register of nominees 1944-1948
  • liquidation agreement re purchase by Continental Assets Realisation Trust Ltd 1954

Summary of archive holdings elsewhere

  • The National Archives: Records re constitution, capital issue and formation 1919 (Ref: T1/12342/26605/19)
  • The Bank of England Archive: Chief cashier’s office file incl British Overseas Bank annual general meeting reports 1937-1938, annual accounts 1938, and ledger for repayment of credit given to bank in 1944 by special depositors 1944-1951 (Ref: C40/143); chief cashier’s office file re special arrangements re British Overseas Bank 1937-1944 (Ref: C45/67); discount office files re support operations re British Overseas Bank 1924-1963 (Ref: C48/128-134, 341); committee of treasury file re British Overseas Bank, Frederick Huth & Co, Cordillera Investments Ltd and Continental Assets Realisation Trust 1922-1963 (Ref: G14/85); administration department file re Bank of England deposit with British Overseas Bank 1938-1975 (Ref: ADM6/20); a substantial number of files re Frederick Huth & Co, incl discount office files re support of F Huth & Co, and containing deeds and agreements re dissolution of F Huth & Co in 1936 and its absorption by British Overseas Bank 1922-1955 (Ref: C48/101-114); governor’s file re bank amalgamations, incl possible merger of F Huth & Co with British Overseas Bank 1930-1931 (Ref: G1/10)