Helston Savings Bank


Adapted from a booklet published in 1972



Author of `The History of Helston`

The Helston Trustee Savings Bank as discussed in this webpage in no longer in existance. However, H. Spencer Toy gives us a fantastic insight into early 19th century Helston with this excellent work.

The original building can still be found adjacent to the Helston Folk Museum in Church Street.



THE Helston of the early nineteenth century differed in many respects from the town of today. By modern standards it was just a small village. Yet it was not unimportant. For hundreds of years it had returned two Members to Parliament, and it continued to do so until the Reform Act of 1832 enlarged the constituency and substituted one Member for the previous two.

A contemporary description of the local scene is given in The Circle, a book by William Penaluna (1780-1864), a writer and printer at Helston. This local resident proudly boasted that “Helston is a large and populous town”. But, according to Davies Gilbert, formerly Giddy, who was M.P. for the borough from 1804 to 1806, and who became President of the Royal Society, the population of the town was 2248 in 1801, 2297 in 1811, 2671 in 1821 and 3293 in 1831, an increase of 46.5 per cent in thirty years. In the figure for the last-mentioned year there were included 517 families who “were chiefly maintained by trade or some kind of handicraft, and eight by agriculture”.

In 1801 there were 329 houses in the town; in 1821 there were 446 and in 1831 there were 616, of which 581 were inhabited; some houses were therefore shared by families. It is not surprising that the Commissioners who were investigating the boundaries of various boroughs before the Reform Act reported in 1831 that there was a “considerable increase of building” at Helston.
This was, indeed, a time of much building. In the public sector the National Schools were erected in 1828. In 1833 the bridge was built over the Cober and the embankment leading to it, carrying the new road across tie Lower Green, was opened. In 1834 the monument at the bottom of Coinagehall Street was erected and in the same year the new Grammar School, now incorporated in the Godolphin Hall block, was opened. In 1836 the prison at the top of Shute Hill was built, and in the following year the Baptist Chapel, now the cinema, in Wendron Street. In I837-8 the Market House, now the Museum and other rooms was put up, and at the same time Penrose Road was constructed. In 1839 the present Guildhall block was erected and in 1840 the United Methodist Free Church, now demolished, was completed in Church Street.

It is evident, therefore, that when the Savings Bank was founded in 1818, it was established at the beginning of a period of unusual expansion.

The setting up of Savings Banks was one of the innovations of the early part of the nineteenth century. It was one of the ways in which professional people and the well-to-do thought that they could help the poorer classes. They regarded it as a philanthropic service and they gave their time and energy to its development.

The first of such banks in Britain was founded in 1810 by the Rev. Henry Duncan of Dumfrieshire, Scotland. It was known as the “Savings and Friendly Society” and was not operated for profit. The scheme proved so successful that it soon spread all over the United Kingdom and by 1827 no less than £15,000,000 had been deposited.

Judged by these dates and standards, Helston was well to the fore when it opened its Savings Bank on 5th January, 1818. One at Penzance was opened on 22nd of the same month and one at Launceston on 28th.

Each bank was controlled by trustees and managers. The former were local squires or men of substance, in whom the funds were vested. The latter was professional or business men, who managed the actual running of the bank. At least one of them was present whenever the bank was open for business. This task of attendance was not, in fact, as exacting as it sounds, for the bank was open only about two or three hours a week; at Launceston the time was from 12 noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Unfortunately the precise times and days at Helston in its very earliest period are not known, nor are the names of the founders of the local office. No minute books or other records are available for the first fifty eight years of its existence, until 6th July, 1876, in fact. A search through the county newspapers which were circulating at that time has given only a negative result; local news was very sparse for another twenty years or so.

However, on 3rd January, 1818, the following paragraph was published:

Savings Banks. The managers of the newly established Savings Banks, we find, are required to transmit to the Commissioners for the reduction of the National Debt, a copy of their rules, with the Christian and surnames of the Trustees, written at length and certified not only by two Trustees or Managers, but also by the Clerk of the Peace, with whom such rules shall have been filed, previous to their obtaining any Debenture for money that may be remitted.

This is evidently a reference to the Act of Parliament passed in 1817 for regularising the running of savings banks. All money deposited had to be paid into an account to the credit of the National Debt Commissioners at the Bank of England; this still applies to the ordinary department of the savings banks.

The lack of local data referred to above leaves a serious blank in our knowledge about those early years. Occasionally we can pick up a scrap of information mentioned incidentally elsewhere, as, for example, that Arundell Rogers was the actuary in 1855. He was a solicitor, and from 1836 to the date of his death in 1869, at the age of 73, he was Clerk to the Borough Justices and Clerk of the Peace, a figure to inspire confidence in the depositors.

Similarly we know that the bank began its work in Church Street, though we cannot be certain in what building. It may have been in the block in which it later had a room for so many years, a picture of which is shown on the cover of this brochure.



There is, however, no certain evidence of the date on which this block was erected. In an indenture in the Town Clerk’s office, dated 1st December, 1838, by which the building was leased by the Rev. John Rogers, Rector of Mawnan, to Thomas Hyne Edwards, conveyancer, of Helston, it was said to have been “Dwelling houses, late in the occupation of Thomas Richards, hairdresser, Thomas Jacka, William Symons and John Couch”. Probably Richards used just one room as a barber’s shop, for in a later deed, dated 26th July, 1933, when the premises were sold to the Union Savings Bank, we find that there were “formerly three dwelling houses”, which would have been those of Jacka Symons and Couch. By that time the block was known as the Helston Public Subscription Rooms; a group known as the Helston Subscription Rooms Society was formed as early as 1839.

Thomas Hyne Edwards was an influential man in Helston. He is described elsewhere as a “banker”. He was the managing director of the Helston Banking company, mentioned below, from 24th May, 1876, to its failure on 28th December in the same year; he had previously been a partner in the same concern. He was four times Mayor of Helston and was also a justice of the Peace for the borough.

A good deal of information can be obtained from an old pass book now in the possession of the Chairman of the local bank, Alderman A. E. Lee, to whom it was given many years ago. The date of the first entry is 5th September, 1877, and the number of the account is 9571, proving that the bank had many clients in the first sixty years. The names of the officers and offcials are printed on the first page. The President was John Jope Rogers, the squire of Penrose, who was a Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall, Chairman of the County Quarter Sessions, and had been M.P. for Helston from 1859 to 1865. He died in 1880.

The trustees were Lieutenant-Colonel Shadwell Marley Grylls, Ralph Michell, Captain Daniell and Frederick Vivian Hill, who was then Mayor of Helston, an office he occupied eleven times in all. The managers were W. Michell, C. Wakeham, G. Lanyon, T. N. Curry, J. Caddy, R. Kerby, junior, W. Chappell, M. H. Troake, all of whom were business men in the town.

The actuary was Edward Pownoll Kendall, subsequently manager of Bolitho’s Bank, and the secretary was Edwin J. Anthony.

At successive annual meetings, resolutions were passed that the managers, mentioned by name, should “be the Committee for the ensuing year”. Printed on the front cover of the pass book is “The Bank is open every Wednesday from 11 o’clock till 1.”

The minutes of the annual meeting held in January, 1878, show how the bank was flourishing after sixty years of business. The amount invested in the Bank ofEngland was then £82,200 1s. 6d., exclusive of £102 18s. 10d. in the surplus fund. There was also a balance of £1,039 1s. 11.5d. in the hands of the treasurer. The increase in the capital of the bank during the year was £1,456 15s. 7d. The accounts were audited by two well-known townsmen, Robert Cade and John Michael Martyn; the latter was a justice of the Peace for the borough.

In 1879 J. E. Vivian ceased to be the treasurer, and at a special meeting held in March, Richard Foster Bolitho the younger was appointed in his place. He was required to give sureties for £1,500.

After the death of John Jope Rogers in 1880, the half-yearly meeting appointed the Rev. Sir Vyell Vyvyan, Baronet, President in his place. He was the wealthy proprietor of Trelowarren and Chairman of the Kerrier Bench of Magistrates for many years. After his death, his son, Colonel Sir Courtenay Vyvyan, succeeded him as President. He, in turn, was followed by Lord St. Levan. The President could not always attend the meetings, so an official Chairman became necessary. For many years this office was held by J. Lionel Rogers, the squire of Penrose, who resigned at the annual meeting in January, 1961. In his place the present Chairman, Alderman A. E. Lee, now in his thirteenth year as such, was elected. He had previously presided over the meetings a number of times during the long illness of Rogers.

The trustees and managers were well known in the district. As the years went by, the earlier differential qualification for the two grades gradually became obliterated, and, in general, vacancies among the trustees were filled by those who had already served as managers. Those who have acted in one or other or both of these capacities in the last hundred years include: John G. Reed, Thomas Taylor, T. Heynes, W. Trevenen, P. L. Morgan, C. C. Hoadley, George Scorse, J. Lenten Sleeman, A. E. RatclifFe. J. Oates Eva, H. T. Anthony, Alexander Pengelly, R. G. Rapson, J. Walker Tyacke, H. Montagu Rogers, Rev. J. S. Tyacke, C. C. Hocking, F. H. Cunnack, W. T. Trengrouse, A. R. Thomas, C. N. W. Tyacke, William Hall, G. E. Cunnack, John Toy, H. N. Wakeham, J. A. Thomas, A. S. Head, G. W. Nicholls, W. J. Trezise, Hedley Thomas, A. A. Thorne, Dr. Willis, L. W. Oliver, H. H. Thomas, C. N. Wakeham, W. Recd Johns, C. S. Head, A. Pearce Gilbert, P. Cowls, G. C. F. Mead, A. E. Ashworth, J. Pryor, H. E. S. Dransfield, A. E. Lee, J. N. R. Thomas, Russell Knights, B. T. Newton, Graham Vivian and T. L. Oliver.

After the opening of the office at Penzance, referred to below, some of the leading men of that town joined the board to ensure representation of local interests at that end. Among the first were Colonel Paynter, C. E. Venning, W. Bazeley, and the Rev. C. H. S. Buckley. Others appointed later included J. Birch, W. H. Lane, Herbert Thomas, Thomas Reynolds, T. T. Lane, Rev. Canon (subsequently Archdeacon) A. C. Williams, F. S. Holman, C. W. L. Jervis, William H. Rowe, John R. Bazeley.

At the time of writing (1972) the Chairman of the joint local board is Alderman A. E. Lee, who has twice been Mayor of Helston. The Vice-Chairman is T. T. Lane, a former Mayor of Penzance. The other trustees are: A. A. Thorne, C. N. Wakeham and W. Reed Johns. The managers are P. Cowls, A. E. Ashworth, C. W. L. Jervis, W. H. Rowe, T. L. Oliver, J. N. R. Thomas, J. R. Bazeley; Russell Knights, F. S. Holman, B. T. Newton and H. R. Graham Vivian.

For many years the bank prospered. By 1880its total funds amounted to £87,502. But during the next thirty-four years there was a gradual deterioration; the assets sank to £78,455 in 1889, to £61,915 in 1893, to £51,059 in 1904 and to a new “low” of £44,193 in May, 1914. This was more than £40,000 down over the period. To some extent that apparent lack of confidence may have been due to the memory of the failure of the Helston Banking Company, which closed its doors on 28th December, 1876. This was one of the several small private banks which functioned in the county one hundred years ago.

But be this as it may, it was probably the gradual but continuous fall of capital which prompted The Cornishman, the Penzance based newspaper, to print a statement on 18th February, 1892, that the bank was to be closed. This was so damaging that a special meeting of the trustees and managers was called a week later, when it was decided to advertise a strong denial in the newspapers circulating in the district, viz.: The Cornishman, The West Briton, The Royal Cornwall Gazette, The Cornish Telegraph, The Western Morning News and The Western Daily Mercury. The notice was as follows:

Helston. Referring to a paragraph that appeared in The Cornishman on the 18th instant respecting the Helston Savings Bank, we have received a communication from the Secretary and Actuary stating that there is no foundation in fact for the statement therein contained. The Helston Savings Bank, we are assured, had not been for a long period in such a flourishing condition as at present.

At the time this statement was made, the last balance sheet, up to 20th November, 1891, showed assets of £68,444. At the same meeting at which this advertisement was approved, it was decided to have posters printed and displayed in Helston and the neighbourhood. The wording on these was even more forceful:

Notice. Helston Savings Bank. The statement that appeared in The Cornishnian on the 18th February that this Bank was to be closed by the Trustees and Managers is Utterly False. The Bank is in a most flourishing condition and will be carried on as heretofore.

It is possible that the offending statement in The Cornishman was written by some unknown person who confused the Helston Bank with the original one at Penzance. These two banks were founded in the same month, January, 1818, as stated above. At Penzance John Thomas was the actuary in 1839, and Delboeuf Baker Bedford was secretary in 1855, an office he resigned in June, 1878. Pascoe Grenfell was appointed actuary in that month and was succeeded by his son, George Pascoe Grenfell in 1882, who was subsequently helped by William Harvey Julyan. By this time the Penzance bank was probably going through a period of depression similar to that described above for the Helston office. If so, it would account for its permanent closure in 1893.

But, however strongly the trustees and managers in 1892 might have claimed that the Bank had “not been for a long period in such a flourishing condition”, its assets continued to decline, and in 1906, after receiving a report at the half-yearly meeting that the total funds had sunk to £50,954, they called a special meeting to consider the situation. This was held on 23rd July and it was resolved “that the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt be at once communicated with as to the course which should be adopted and the steps which should be taken to wind up this bank at an early date”. There is a sense of urgency about this; but second thoughts seem to have prevailed, for in the following November another special meeting was held at which it was decided that no further steps be taken in the matter and that “the business of the bank be carried on and continued as heretofore”.

It was fortunate that this last decision was taken, for, although the funds continued to sink until May, 1914, when the total reached only £44,163, as stated above, thereafter they went forward rapidly, recovering to upwards of £50,000 in 1919, £60,000 in 1916, £70,000 in 1919, £128,000 in 1932, and just over one quarter of a million in 1937. Eleven years later the half million mark was passed and the three quarter million in 1952. The full million was reached in May, 1963. This called for a special comment from the head office in Devonport, amalgamation having taken place in the meantime, as described below. The message of encouragement was “Nine of our twenty-three offices now exceed £1,000,000 and Helston is to be congratulated on reaching this figure”.

During the years of decline of capital, the trustees and managers did what they could to meet the situation. The small salaries of the staff were reduced in 1892, again in 1902 and yet again in 1903. In 1888 depositors may have been pleased with a small concession when it was announced that in future there was to be no charge for deposit books. In 1882 the occasional use of one of the bank rooms, probably at a charge, was allowed to the Helston Railway Company. The construction of the line from Gwinear Road was commenced in that year, though the formal opening did not take place until 9th May 1887. In 1907 the County Education Authority was asked to give permission for a Savings Bank notice, with the object “of encouraging thrift among the children”, to be hung in the new secondary school in Penrose Road, opened in 1905.

It will be remembered that in the early days the bank opened for two hours a week. In 1912 these were extended to six and a quarter, spread over the week, viz.: on Mondays from 4 to 6.15 p.m., on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., as before, and on Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m. Six years later there is a note which will interest the social historian: it was decided to bring the hour of opening on Saturdays one hour earlier, and to make then 5 P.M. to 7 P.M., “in consequence of the alterations of the train and public conveyances out of Helston”.

The railway served a limited area north of the town; the Great Western Railway’s open motor coach served part of the Lizard district after 1903, but most of the “public conveyances” to which the note refers wer horse-drawn buses, which parked in a neat line on the south side of Coinage Hall Street on Saturdays with their doors at the back opening on to the pavement. In 1925 the hours were changed again to Mondays from 4 to 5 p.m., Wednesdays from 11a.m to 1p.m., as before, and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m. On 5th January, 1933, the local board recommended to the executive committee that the salaries of the staff should be increased because “the hours of opening of the Bank have been increased” In 1946 it was decided that the Helston office should be open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings and tha sub-offices should be started at Mullion and Porthleven and should be open for business on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Nothing more is known about the proposed venture at Mullion but in June, 1948, “it was agreed that, owing to the little use tha was made of the facilities offered by the Porthleven sub-office the opening at that office should be restricted to one half day per week, instead of two as at present, and that the opening shouli be on Friday afternoon from 2, p.m. to 4.30 p.m.”. The office there was simply a hired room in a private house. In 1960 the owner proposed to sell the property. A special meeting was called to consider the situation. In the discussion it was stated that two thirds of the bank’s clients who lived in Porthleven visited the Helston bank to transact their business. This was a powerful argument for leaving the village and it was decided to give the owner notice that the bank would leave her premises and close the sub-office on 30th September, 1960. It was also agreed to tell all the Porthleven clients that, as from this date, the Helston office would be open on Wednesdays to afford them facilities to do their business, if they so desired, on the Porthleven early-closing day. And so the hours of business at Helston were gradually increased until, in 1947, it became a full-time office open as at present on Mondays to Thursdays from 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Fridays from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Saturdays. By 1971 its total funds exceeded £1,700,000 and the upward trend continues under the branch manager, K. T. Bryant.

Porthleven was not the only sub-office to be opened by the Helston bank. At a special meeting held on 9th March, 1933, it was proposed to establish a branch at Penzance. The failure of the earlier independent savings bank in that town has already been discussed above, and now, after forty years, it was considered that the time was ripe to start again. The chief actuary explained the new scheme in detail, and it was unanimously resolved that the Helston bank “is prepared to undertake the control and supervision thereof”. To ensure local representation, in January, 1934, four of the leading men in the Penzance district were nominated as managers: they were Colonel C. H. Paynter, C. E. Venning, W. Bazeley and the Rev. C. H. S. Buckley. The new office quickly prospered. By November, 1936, its total funds exceeded £27,000. Five years later the assets exceeded £86,000, and five years later still it was decided that Penzance should become a full-time office. Its business increased more rapidly than did that at Helston. The funds passed the two million mark in 1966 and the three million mark five years later. The office, now in the Greenmarket, continues to make progress under its branch manager, R. H. Preston. Both it and Helston, each now a fulltime business and each independent of the other, are still controlled by the same board of trustees and managers.

The officials of the Inspection Committee, mentioned below, noted the anomalous position of the chief officers of the Helston Savings Bank, in that some of them were simultaneously on the staff of one of the ordinary commercial banks in the town. Edward Pownoll Kendall was actuary of the Savings Bank for many years. During this time he was acting as manager of the Helston Union Bank from 1877 to 1879. When the Union Bank was taken over by Bolitho and Company, and later by Barclays, he was the local manager for them also. He remained as actuary for some years after his retirement from Barclays until his death in 1919. Meanwhile, in July, 1906, H. T. Anthony, the Secretary of the Savings Bank, had been killed in a bicycle accident, and at a special meeting a fortnight later, William James Johns was appointed in his place. Johns was then a cashier at Barclays Bank, of which he became manager in 1928. After Kendall’s death in 1919, Johns became actuary of the Savings Bank, a post he continued to hold until 1946, when the bank was about to become a full-time office. This was seven years before his death. The local trustees and managers saw nothing abnormal in the dual appointments and in July, 1927, they were told, at their half-yearly meeting, that “for nearly sixty years each actuary of this bank has been connected with one of the local banks as cashier or manager (the present actuary for over twenty years). The two positions are not, under the existing conditions, competitive or incompatible, and the fact that this Bank has alone survived in the county as an independen Savings Bank should speak for itself”.

The question of amalgamation with another similar bank had been in the minds of the trustees and managers from time to time. The Savings Bank Act of 1891 had set up an Inspection Committee, who employed salaried officials to travel round the country to inspect the various banks. The Helston books show that there was often correspondence with them. They were frequently suggesting amalgamation. But for some years the local board held out against it. Approaches had doubtless come from Devonport, for, at the half-yearly meeting on 17th July, 1919, “it was stated and found full agreement that this Institution was entirely dependent for its success on the local interest taken in it. It was therefore re solved that the present time was inopportune for the consideration of amalgamation with any other Savings Bank”. This was carried unanimously. This point of view was reiterated at the annual meeting in January, 1925, when a letter was ordered to be sent to the Union Savings Bank, Devonport, stating that the Helston “trustees and managers are not prepared at present to entertain any amalgamation scheme”.

Four years later the matter was raised again and a small committee was appointed to obtain information about any proposed amalgamation. It met on 10th January, 1930, and asked the actuary of the Devonport Savings Bank to meet the Helston board to consider the question. Six months later, three members of the Devonport bank attended the half-yearly meeting and explained the advantages of amalgamation with their bank. As a result of this “it was resolved to call a special meeting later to consider the matter”. Six months went by without the special meeting being called, and at the annual meeting in January, 1931, the question was again considered and deferred. Yet another six months went by. In July, John Toy, J. A. Thomas and the actuary were appointed to go to Devonport “to confer with that bank on various details”. The report they brought back must have been satisfactory, for at a special meeting on 8th October, it was agreed to amalgamate as from 21st November, 1931. A fortnight later, on 22nd October, this decision was confirmed at a special general meeting. The title of the joint concern was to be “The Union Savings Bank, Devonport, certified under the Act of 1863”; for all local purposes at Helston the existing title of “The Helston Savings Bank”, with the addition of the words “amalgamated with the Union Savings Bank, Devonport” was to be used. Other Cornish Savings Banks had gradually joined Devonport, among them Falmouth and Camborne in 1924, and Launceston in 1926, until Devonport and Cornwall had grown into a big unit.

Meanwhile a rival union was flourishing in Plymouth and South Devon and a further amalgamation was proposed. This took place on 21st May, 1959, under the new name of “The Plymouth, Devonport and Cornwall Trustee Savings Bank”. A year and a half later, at the annual meeting of the local trustees and managers in January, 1961, J. L. Whittam, the General Manager said that the amalgamation of the two banks had been a complete success and that there had been absolute integration of staff. The whole group is run by an executive committee, to which each branch committee sends two representatives. Those from Helston-Penzance are the Chairman, A. E. Lee, and the Vice-Chairman, T. T. Lane. The Chairman of the Board of Management is P. E. L. Foot; the General Manager is R. J. Hawkins; and the Assistant General Manager is K. J. Pike, formerly the Branch Manager at Helston.

One of the more recent developments at the Helston Savings Bank was the move to new offices at 36 Meneage Street. There had been no thought of this between the two world wars. As long ago as January, 1933, a small committee was appointed to negotiate with the owners for the purchase of the old Church Street property. The committee met on 8th February and recommended that “the reversion in fee of the property be purchased at a price of £700”. To the half-yearly meeting in the following June, it was reported that “a contract had been signed for the purchase of the reversion in fee of the Bank premises, and it is intended to purchase the leaseholders’ interests in due course”. At the half-yearly meeting twelve months later, in June, 1934, the Chairman and Actuary were asked to “make enquiries as to tenants for the rooms above the Bank, it being , thought desirable to ask the Liberal club, who at present occupy these rooms, to get other accommodation”.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, the coming of the Royal Naval Air Station to Culdrose moved the centre of the
business part of Helston further south, along Meneage Street. As Culdrose grew and more and more of its personnel came to live in the town, the trustees and managers thought it was time they moved into a more frequented thoroughfare, as comparatively few people went into Church Street. At the annual meeting in January, 1967, it was suggested that “a quiet approach be made to the owners of certain properties in Helston with a view to possible re-siting of this branch”. Two years later consideration was given to a proposed new office in Meneage Street and the annual meeting voted in favour of taking a lease on it for twentyone years. This was duly approved by the Executive Committee at the Plymouth headquarters and the new premises were opened for business on Monday, 23rd February, 1970. Thirteen months later, on 31st March, 1971, the old building was sold for £3,500 to the Town Council, who were already the owners of the nearby restricted car park on the north side and the adjoining extensive market house on the south.