Oban

Oban is a town in Scotland. The Royal Bank of Scotland traces its heritage there back to 1827.

National Bank of Scotland

The Royal Bank of Scotland’s Oban branch first opened on 17 May 1827 as a branch of National Bank of Scotland. It was the first bank to open in Oban.

National Bank of Scotland had been founded in Edinburgh two years earlier, in 1825. It had more shareholders than any other bank in Britain, and from the outset aimed to develop an extensive branch network. Within a few months of the bank’s establishment the directors had already begun to discuss the possibility of opening a branch in Oban.

Oban at that time was a small settlement, with a population of around 1,000. Visitors to the Highlands often stopped there – Dr Johnson and James Boswell stayed in Oban in 1773 – but the area remained remote. It was not until 1833 that a daily post began between Oban and the south, and travelling in and out of the area remained difficult, particularly in winter. Nevertheless, the bank’s directors recognised that Oban was an important location, and likely to become more so, and resolved to open a branch there.

When the branch first opened, it operated from the Manor House on Gallanach Road, at that time the home of Robert Campbell, the branch’s agent. From the outset, however, it was clear that the branch would need a building of its own. In 1831 it moved to a house in Cawdor Place, nearer to the centre of the village.

These were perilous times in which to conduct banking business. In September 1831 the directors of the bank enquired of the agent whether it was safe for the bank’s messengers to carry parcels of money between Inveraray and Oban. The agent replied that all would be well, ‘provided the party were well armed’. In the same year, the captain of the steamer for Portree refused to take on board a parcel of money for the branch there, because he had a large number of passengers and did not consider it safe to carry so much cash.

Transport was not the only difficulty faced by Oban branch in its early years. The Cawdor Place premises were not ideal as a banking office, so in 1859 the bank seized the opportunity to build its own branch premises on George Street. It is from this building that the branch still trades today.

During the 19th century Oban became an increasingly important tourist centre. Swift steamers had been running from Oban since 1841, and from 1855, David Hutchinson & Co began to run excursions from Oban to Iona, Staffa and Ballachulish. The Callander & Oban Railway received parliamentary sanction in 1867, and finally reached its Oban terminus in 1880.

Public services were also developing. In 1863 Oban’s streets were lit by gas for the first time. Oban High School was opened in 1890 and, in the same decade, the town’s first hospital was built. By the beginning of the 20th century Oban had become an important and well-established town, with a population of almost 5,500.

Into the 20th century

The years of the First World War were testing ones for the bank with a falling off in trade, low money market rates and staff shortages as many clerks of military age enlisted. Four men from Oban branch served in the forces during the war.

Between the wars Oban branch was fully refurbished and renovated. It was at this time that the branch took on many aspects of its modern appearance. The frontage of Aberdeen granite was added, and two doors – one at each end of the shopfront – replaced the original single entrance. Inside, the branch was panelled and furnished throughout in mahogany. While these renovations were underway the branch temporarily operated from the Columba buildings on North Pier, but by the beginning of June 1933 the branch had returned to its own premises in George Street.

The outbreak of the Second World War led to a period of shortages and control, with constraints on foreign exchange and lending priorities, and responsibility for the marketing and distribution of savings certificates and defence bonds. Six men from Oban branch served in the army, navy and air force.

By the end of the 1940s there were eight main Scottish banks, each one of which had a branch in Oban. The nature of the banking industry was changing, however, and the next twenty years were to see a succession of amalgamations and closures.

National Commercial Bank of Scotland

In 1959 National Bank of Scotland merged with Commercial Bank of Scotland to form National Commercial Bank of Scotland. Commercial Bank had been represented in Oban since 1873, and since 1885 had been located in the old town jail in Argyll Square. The new combined bank continued to operate both of its Oban branches.

In the mid-1960s National Commercial Bank in Oban became the base of a mobile bank, serving an area reaching as far as Portnacroish to the north, Dalmally to the east, and Ford to the south. It was soon covering a distance of more than 400 miles a week. Doubtless the best-known character associated with the mobile bank in its early years was Rinty, the Alsatian dog belonging to the van’s driver, who was known affectionately as ‘the custodian of the mobile bank.’

The Royal Bank of Scotland

In 1969 National Commercial Bank of Scotland merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Royal Bank’s branch in Oban had first opened in 1893. In 1901 it moved to a purpose-built red sandstone office near the top of George Street, but in 1928 the branch relocated to the south end of the same street. Here, it occupied the newly-rebuilt premises of the old Queen’s Hotel, which had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier.

When National Commercial and the Royal Bank of Scotland merged in 1969, therefore, the new bank had two branches almost next door to each other in George Street, and one around the corner in Argyll Square. It was decided to close the old Royal Bank branch and refurbish the other two, bringing them up-to-date with modern banking requirements.

In December 1980 Oban’s first Cashline ATM was installed at the George Street branch, and in 1987 the branch was again refurbished. In 1994 the business of Argyll Square branch was merged into George Street branch.