I am interested in Liverpool’s many exceptional bank buildings from the classical Bank of England in Castle Street to the bizarre Adelphi Bank nearby – my favourite city centre edifice. The port has always had notable bankers, many of whom amassed huge fortunes out of trade and commerce.
Two I admire are Sir William Brown, who paid for the World Museum building, and William Roscoe - arguably Liverpool’s greatest citizen. Roscoe was a successful poet, social reformer, politician, art collector, author and historian but failed as a banker. His contemporary was Liverpool merchant Thomas Leyland who was one of the wealthiest people in the town. His fortune at the time of his death in 1827 was more than £736,000.
Born in Knowsley in 1752, he went on to become Mayor of Liverpool in 1798, 1814 and 1820 – a very significant period in the history of the port. Young Thomas was a partner in the provisions trade in Water Street and originally came into money in a way still only dreamt of by many people. He won a large sum of cash in a lottery which financed his new general merchant’s business, importing Spanish and Portuguese goods. Thomas grew bored with the often humdrum grind of day-to-day business and branched out into privateering and slaving – the latter generated much of his huge wealth.
He had a brig called Lottery which made regular scheduled voyages – Liverpool to Lagos to collect enslaved Africans, Lagos to Jamaica where they were sold and Jamaica to Liverpool. In three years this brig alone made Thomas Leyland a profit of £100,000. In all, he had financial interests in at least 70 slaving voyages. Between 1782 and 1807 he was responsible for transporting more than 25,000 Africans into slavery.
With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Thomas helped found Leyland and Bullin’s Bank in Liverpool. His business partner Richard Bullin had also invested in slaving. The bank was absorbed by the North and South Wales Bank in 1901, becoming part of the Midland Bank (now HSBC). On display in the International Slavery Museum, in the Merseyside Maritime Museum building, is the probate copy of Thomas’ will (pictured above) – a bulky document written in copperplate.
Other wealthy Liverpool bankers were brothers Arthur and Benjamin Heywood who had been involved in more than 80 slave voyages. They established one of the town’s earliest banks, Heywood’s, in 1773. Heywood’s Bank was taken over by the Bank of Liverpool in 1883 which later became part of Martin’s Bank (now Barclays).
A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.