Highbury and Islington
Highbury and Islington are neighbouring districts in London, linked by Highbury Corner. NatWest traces its heritage there back to 1866.
National Provincial Bank of England
NatWest’s first branch serving both districts originally opened near Highbury Corner as the Islington branch of National Provincial Bank of England in 1866. Islington had started life as a small Anglo Saxon village before becoming an agricultural outpost for London, and by the late seventeenth century had become a fashionable place for the rich to come and enjoy the countryside and the spring waters and entertainments at Sadler’s Wells. By the early 19th century numerous ale houses and visitor attractions had been opened, and Upper Street became a major thoroughfare to London for important services and trades. There was an increase in housing and the population grew rapidly. It was this development and expansion that attracted National Provincial Bank of England to the area.
National Provincial Bank of England was established in 1833, with the aim of developing a national rather than regional branch network. The bank’s initial policy was to open branches in England and Wales outside a 65-mile limit around London so that it would be legally permitted to issue its own banknotes, with a purely administrative head office situated in the City of London. In 1840 the bank opened its first branch in London, at its new head office in Bishopsgate, thereby foregoing its right to issue notes. By the end of 1866 over 120 branches and sub-branches had been opened, including the new Islington branch, which opened on 1 May 1866 at 173 Upper Street under the management of Richard Barrett.
Business at the branch grew rapidly and in December 1873 it moved to 218 Upper Street. The new building included a ‘bank house’ on the upper floors - it was usual for a member of branch staff, often the branch manager, and their family, to live above the ‘shop’ so as to be on hand at all times.
During the First World War banks took on extra responsibilities, such as the sale of war loan subscriptions, and were subject to a raft of new government controls. Many skilled bank staff left to join the forces and sadly three members of the Islington branch staff lost their lives on active service. During this period, banks also faced increasing competition and were forced to grow and merge in order to compete. In 1918 National Provincial Bank of England merged with Union of London & Smiths Bank to form National Provincial & Union Bank of England. The bank shortened its name to National Provincial Bank in 1924, by which time it was one of the emerging ‘Big Five’ high street banks.
London & County Banking Co
Another of the ‘Big Five’ banks was also present near Highbury Corner. London & County Banking Co had opened its own Islington branch in 1886, nearby at 269/270 Upper Street, known as Highbury branch from 1909. The branch moved to new purpose built premises on the corner of St Pauls Road and Compton Terrace in 1916. After various mergers London & County Bank became known as Westminster Bank from 1923.
The outbreak of the Second World War soon ushered in another period of shortages, with constraints on foreign exchange and lending. Islington was heavily bombed and on 22 September 1940 the National Provincial Bank branch premises were destroyed during an air raid. So that business could continue, temporary premises were quickly found at nearby 23 Compton Terrace. The branch was rebuilt at 218 Upper Street and was reopened to the public in May 1953; it was the first National Provincial Bank branch to be completely rebuilt after the war. The Westminster Bank branch was also destroyed during an air raid, in June 1944. It returned to its old home at 269/270 Upper Street, which received a full refurbishment in the early 1960s.
National Westminster Bank
In 1970 National Westminster Bank was formed through the amalgamation of National Provincial Bank and its subsidiary District Bank with Westminster Bank, and both branches near Highbury Corner became part of the new NatWest. In 1995 the bank brought the businesses of these two branches together as Highbury & Islington branch, trading from 218 Upper Street, where it remains today.