Coleraine

Coleraine is a town in Northern Ireland. NatWest traces its heritage in the town back to 1903.

The background

The major industries of Coleraine in the nineteenth century were oat grinding, linen clothmaking, tanning, distilling, brewing and bacon-curing. The town was a centre for craftsmen such as blacksmiths, whitesmiths, coppersmiths, shoemakers, tailors and basket-makers. Shirt making became important from around 1850 and the development of the town’s commerce, trade and tourism was further boosted by the arrival of the railway in 1855.

Ulster Bank's branch in Coleraine

Attracted by the town’s thriving commercial environment, Ulster Bank began considering opening a branch in Coleraine as early as 1869. There were, however, already three banks in the town, and it was to be another 34 years before Ulster Bank finally decided to go ahead.

Many of the town’s older industries were dying out by the 1900s, although the linen and weaving trades continued to operate, as did salmon and eel farming. A steamer service was running between Coleraine and Glasgow twice a week, and trade also carried on between Portrush, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Ulster Bank, meanwhile, was in a confident mood, with a growing customer base and healthy profits. It set about expanding its branch network with renewed vigour, not only broadening its geographical spread across the island of Ireland, but also converting existing agencies into full branches. It was as part of the latter drive that Coleraine branch was opened in 1903.

The branch officially opened for business in temporary premises on Bridge Street on 4 December 1903, under the management of Clarke Cooke Huston. It was not until 1909 that the branch moved to its permanent home, on the north side of The Diamond. Huston remained in the Bank as manager until 1930, when he was succeeded by James Hood.

Wartime and unrest

The First World War brought significant challenges for all banks, including Coleraine branch, but Ulster Bank weathered the storm. In 1917 Ulster Bank was bought by London County & Westminster Bank (later a founding constituent of NatWest), but continued to operate independently, under the management of a Belfast-based advisory committee.

The years that followed the 1918 armistice were, however, to perpetuate the climate of instability all over Ireland. The establishment of the Irish Free State brought tremendous political and civil unrest in its wake. The boycott in southern Ireland of Belfast-based banks and other businesses caused problems for Ulster Bank, and bank branches were also victims of armed raids. Over time, however, the country returned to more peaceful conditions.

In 1939 the world was transformed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Emergency arrangements to safeguard Ulster Bank's customers, staff, records and securities were put in place. The bank experienced many problems including the loss of staff to the armed forces, controls on lending and damage to a number of its Belfast buildings.

More recent times

Coleraine has continued to develop in recent decades with the construction of new residential housing and factories and the establishment of the New University of Ulster to the north of the town. Ulster Bank has also changed. New products and services have been introduced, alongside a continuing commitment to Ulster Bank’s tradition of service, as recognised in its 1970s slogan ‘the friendly bank’. By the middle of the 1980s, Coleraine branch underwent computerisation.

On Friday 13 November 1992, the town's promising future was threatened by a bomb which reduced much of the town centre to rubble. Thankfully there were no fatalities on Black Friday, but the commercial heart of Coleraine was seriously damaged. The Ulster Bank branch was one of many buildings that had to undergo structural repair.

More recently, Coleraine has continued to develop and flourish as a lively centre for retail, administration, industry and education. In addition, it serves as a gateway to tourist resorts such as Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock.