Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd

Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd (1810-1959), established in Edinburgh, was a past constituent of The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Brief history

Commercial Banking Co of Scotland was founded in 1810 as a co-partnership to provide banking facilities to commercial, industrial and agricultural businessmen of modest means. It had 16 directors, including Henry Cockburn, Forrest Alexander and James Wyld. As a joint-stock bank with substantial capitalisation (authorised capital £3m, of which £450,000 was initially called up) and large shareholding (673 shareholders by 1815) it presented a considerable challenge to the existing public banks.

From the outset it issued its own banknotes. By the end of its first year of trading it had £262,000 notes in circulation. It also immediately began to establish branches over a wide geographical area, and by 1815 had 14 branches. The bank grew rapidly, acquiring Caithness Banking Co in 1825 and securing a royal charter in 1831. It relied heavily on its London agents, initially Bruce Simson & Co and from 1864 London & Westminster Bank.

By 1840 the bank had 45 branches, and in 1844 it took over Arbroath Banking Co. In 1843 the bank acquired property in George Street, Edinburgh, where it erected a purpose-built head office to designs by architect David Rhind. The new building opened in 1847.

By 1860 the bank had 56 branches; the second largest network of any Scottish bank. In 1882 it adopted limited liability. In 1883, following the example of other Scottish banks, Commercial Bank opened an office in London. The bank continued to thrive during the early 20th century, increasing its number of branches from 138 in 1900 to 240 in 1920.

During the inter-war period it became the second largest bank in Scotland in terms of liabilities, deposits and advances. In 1928 it pioneered a scheme to attract small savers by offering favourable interest rates on tiny deposits.

Despite its success and large number of branches, Commercial Bank's capital resources were modest, and its interests undiversified. Its management was becoming increasingly aware of the acute need to find a suitable trading partner. In 1954 Commercial Bank bought Scottish Midland Guarantee Trust, the hire purchase subsidiary of Scottish Motor Traction, thereby becoming the first British bank to take a direct financial interest in hire purchase.

In 1959 Commercial Bank merged with National Bank of Scotland, whose owners, Lloyds Bank, surrendered control in return for a stake in the new bank, which was named National Commercial Bank of Scotland.

Branches: In 149 years of operation the bank opened 363 branches and sub-branches throughout Scotland, as well as four in England (in London and Berwick). At the time of the 1959 merger, 292 branches were operating.

Published histories

  • Our Bank: The Story of the Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd, 1810-1946 (2nd edition. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946)
  • JL Anderson, The Story of the Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd during its Hundred Years from 1810 to 1910 (Edinburgh: Frank & Edward Murray, 1910).
  • More information about Forrest Alexander and the foundation of Commercial Bank of Scotland is available in the RBS History 100

Summary of our archive holdings

Our archival records of Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd have the reference code CS.

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

Corporate records

  • draft articles of co-partnership 1810
  • letters re establishment and early operation, particularly re related economic and political affairs in London 1810-1839
  • list of directors 1810-1840
  • committee of management and general meeting minutes 1810-1916
  • stock ledgers 1810-1922
  • jot minute books 1810-1959
  • papers re Paisley Union Bank agency 1811
  • letters re mail coach robbery 1824-1830
  • correspondence re new Stamp Acts 1830-1836
  • warrant for royal charter 1831 with associated correspondence 1830-1831
  • papers re the bank’s widows’ & orphans’ scheme 1866
  • papers re agreements between Scottish banks 1876-1893
  • papers re collapse of City of Glasgow Bank 1878-1879
  • rules of Scottish provincial clearing houses 1880
  • report on directors’ remuneration 1883
  • general meeting reports: annual 1893-1951, extraordinary 1958-1959
  • constitution of Commercial Bank of Scotland 1942
  • annual general meeting programmes 1945-1955

Financial records

  • profit records 1811-1856
  • branch statement books 1815-1958
  • bills for directors’ dinners 1822-1855
  • cash book 1823-1834
  • monthly agency balance books 1832-1959
  • annual report and balance sheets 1855, 1878-1958
  • bills discounted 1928-1959
  • monthly balances: files 1933-1948, books 1948-1959
  • annual balance book 1934-1948
  • accountant’s private cash book 1937-1959
  • foreign bills discounted 1948-1959

Legal records

  • papers of bank’s legal advisor 1826-1846
  • correspondence re legality of bank’s reserve fund 1840
  • petition: reduction of capital 1958, dissolution 1959
  • solicitors’ accounts for actions for the bank 1937-1954

Customer records

  • letters of guarantee 1810-1825
  • inventories of bonds for cash accounts c.1811-(1915)
  • outstanding deposit receipts book 1811-(1915)
  • correspondence re some customers’ financial affairs 1813-c.1880
  • customer references c.1830-1860
  • registers of securities 1830-(1915)
  • papers re cheque printing 1850-1851
  • records of cash accounts 1886-1905

Head office branch records

  • papers re establishment of Leith branch 1811-1812
  • letters from Falkirk agency 1822
  • agents’ book of instructions c.1822
  • private branch letterbooks 1824-1835
  • branch inspection reports 1830-1869, 1899-1929
  • branch committee: reports 1831-1882, meeting notebook 1859-1862
  • remarks on branch agents c.1833-1836
  • tellers’ accounts for fund against loss notebook 1842-1848
  • lists of branches and correspondents 1868-1869, 1886
  • list of branches 1871
  • papers re London agency 1883, 1917-1918
  • weekly branch statements 1948-1959
  • branch returns to the Committee on the working of the Monetary System 1957-1959

Staff records

  • letters re staff appointments and resignations 1810-1817
  • silhouette portraits of head office staff c.1810-1837
  • staff biographies notebooks 1810-1865
  • bonds of fidelity for some staff 1810-1867
  • staff books 1810-(1915)
  • annual lists of salaries 1811-1856
  • correspondence re salaries 1811-1882
  • salary books 1823-42, 1866-1886
  • staff lists 1826-1897
  • engravings of directors c.1850
  • salary committee report 1854
  • staff photographs: branch staff 1858-1860, branch agents 1889
  • correspondence from apprentices seeking appointment 1864-1872
  • retirement testament of James Reid, bank secretary 1881
  • papers re bank officers’ guarantee fund 1882-(1915)
  • letter of appointment, London office manager 1884
  • pension fund rules 1886
  • notice re secrecy rules c.1890
  • golf club: minutes 1890-1959, dinner menus 1914, 1925, fixture cards 1927-1959
  • world agency instruction manuals 1908, 1924
  • war rolls of honour 1921, 1952
  • christmas letter to staff on active service 1943
  • staff magazine 1944-1959
  • staff association papers 1948-1954
  • Ramsay Lodge: training booklet 1948, suggestion book 1948-1965
  • war memorial unveiling programme 1952

Property records

  • papers re Leith branch premises 1811
  • record of property transactions 1814-1959
  • report on Gordon Street, Glasgow premises c.1840
  • architectural drawings: head office 1844-1951, branches 1862-1959
  • correspondence from architect, re 113 Buchanan Street, Glasgow 1854-1855
  • heritable property ledger 1887-1959
  • agency houses registers 1898-1948
  • inventory, George Street, Edinburgh 1909
  • branch outlay register 1935-1955
  • branch expenditure ledger 1935-1959
  • valuation of bank offices 1958
  • branch photographs c.1890-1958
  • drawings of head office 1940s

Note issue records

  • forged banknotes made by French prisoners of war 1810
  • register of cancelled and burnt notes 1813-1869
  • papers re note circulation and forgeries c.1823-1909
  • banknotes: 1825-1956, Arbroath agency 1855-1863
  • correspondence regarding note issues 1826-1959
  • note circulation and coin reserves statistics book 1889-1927
  • papers concerning the banknote issue 1889

Marketing records

  • christmas cards 1926-1958
  • booklets re bank services 1930, 1947
  • advertising poster 1954

Other records

  • correspondence re Scottish banks in London 1919
  • correspondent address book 1924
  • telegraphic code word book 1924
  • correspondence re committee of all the Scottish banks 1942-1953
  • typed biographical account of Forrest Alexander 1962

Branch records

  • selected records

Summary of archive holdings elsewhere

  • Glasgow University Archive Services: Annual reports 1878-1926 (Ref: UGD 94/10/9); copies of extracts from minutes, accounts and balance sheets 1810-1959 (Ref: UGD 129/2/2)
  • Bank of England Archive: Governor’s files re bank amalgamations, incl merger of Commercial Bank of Scotland with National Bank of Scotland to form National Commercial Bank of Scotland and possible merger of Commercial Bank of Scotland with The National Bank 1956-1959 (Ref: G1/12-13); discount office file re Commercial Bank of Scotland and National Commercial Bank of Scotland 1936-1964 (Ref: C48/66)