The East Lothian Bank

The East Lothian Bank was begun on 1 June 1810 in Dunbar. It raised capital by issuing 400 shares of £200 each, which were snapped up by the then cash rich merchants and farmers of East Lothian (who were greatly profiting from good prices and exceptional sales on the back of the wars with Napoleon’s France!). The Board of Directors recruited William Borthwick from a similar regional bank in Falkirk as Cashier – essentially the chief operating officer of the business. Agents and tellers were appointed in Haddington, Selkirk and elsewhere as the bank got into its stride.

For a while all went well. The Bank circulated £1 and £5 notes – the collections have examples of both – as well as their own cheques and other documents. The quantities of documents that have survived both in the archive and museum collections (as well as in the hands of collectors) suggest that a considerable amount of business passed through the Bank. But signs that the Bank was overreaching did begin to appear, although these may have been hidden from the Board.

Borthwick and his brother began to develop other interests in Belhaven and one suggestion was that they may have diverted funds without authorisation from the Bank to support these concerns. However it happened, Borthwick disappeared on 10 April 1822 and a gaping hole in the Bank’s finances was quickly apparent. The Bank closed immediately. The Board and partners (shareholders) rallied round and obtained a credit line of £100, 000 secured over their own property and an Edinburgh accountant was appointed to wind up the Bank. This took over twenty years to unravel all the strands but by the 1840s all the creditors were paid – in full!

There’s more about the bank in this interesting off-site link but there remains much to be uncovered within the archives held within the John Gray Centre and in the Museums Service collections. Other pages with information about the bank and William Borthwick are here:

The Great Escape paper sculpture
A paper sculpture telling the story of William Borthwick’s escapade, made at the JGC with Lucy Roscoe

3 thoughts on “The East Lothian Bank”

  1. FrancesW says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for getting in touch and my condolences on your husbands passing.

    Unfortunately while we hold a few of these notes in our collection we are unable to offer advice on valuation. There are a few sites on the internet that specialise in the buying and selling of some items.

    If you have a search for ‘valuing old banknotes’ you’ll be able to get contact details of some companies that can help.

    best wishes,

  2. Linda Ainslie says:

    My husband has just passed away and I have found a twenty shilling note like the top one on this site. It is very worn but is legible. I don’t suppose it is worth anything.

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