Craig as a provincial banker

The nineteenth century in Scotland saw the rise of a class of men who were writers, notaries public and bank agents. As such, they were key figures in their local communities without whose knowledge, expertise and access to capital the wheels of local commerce could not have turned. Like his father before him, George Craig was one of these figures and, thanks to his surviving letters, we know a great deal about his business and the concerns of those with and for whom he worked.

It is not known when Craig became agent for the Leith Banking Company, but it seems likely that he succeeded his father in the role when the latter died in 1803. At that time, he was only about 20 years old but there is other evidence to suggest that he was a precocious youth.

The postscript to the letter set out here refers to George Fairholme of Greenknowe (1789-1846). Fairholme was the nephew and one of the heirs of George Fairholme (d. 1800) who had been a wealthy banker and art collector. Fairholme’s brother, Adam Fairholme of Chapel, also features in Craig’s correspondence. George Fairholme was well known as a geologist and he spent time living in different parts of Europe before settling in Ramsgate in Kent. During his peregrinations, from Rome to Brussels and then to Switzerland, Craig was responsible for ensuring that Fairholme had access to funds as he moved across the continent. Letters of credit were arranged, through the Leith Bank, with their London bankers Barnetts, Hoare & Company. Craig’s relationship with these bankers was multi-faceted and he used them in his dealing with a range of clients.An interesting aspect of Craig’s business with the Leith Bank was the persistent complaint, from him and his clerk, Elliot Anderson, about the delivery of cash to their office which was often either late or insufficient in quantity. The Galashiels carrier, John Young, normally brought cash down from Leith as and when necessary, sometimes as much as £2000 (which, adjusted for inflation, was the equivalent of around £188,000 two centuries later). Both Craig and his clerk were very forthright in raising concerns with the managers in the Leith head office (pictured). As he later became a partner in the bank, his forthrightness did Craig no harm but it reflects his general character.
Craig’s correspondence has the potential to tell us a great deal about the way in which bank agents operated in the early nineteenth century. This was a period when Scotland had a multiplicity of local banks and local competition was increasingly fraught as the major banks began to increase their branch networks. During his lifetime, Craig saw competing agencies arise in neighbouring burghs, such as Melrose and Kelso. The combination of law agent and banker was also one that expanded hugely in the course of the nineteenth century, with many of those on the roll of notaries public going on to enjoy careers as local bank agents and lawyers. In the midst of this competition, banks failed. Craig himself sometimes mentions banks that had failed, sometimes in the context of coming across their banknotes still in circulation. He also encountered forged banknotes and coins (mentioned in the second letter below).As their agent, George Craig wrote to the Leith Bank every week enclosing a state of his accounts, setting out what cash and bills he held so that these sums might be balanced against sums which he owed head office. He regularly received cash, sometimes in high amounts, which was necessary to meet payments locally.

Another of Craig’s banking clients was Sir Walter Scott and it is notable that Craig’s house in Galashiels, situated near Old Gala House, now bears an inscription (pictured) reflecting that relationship. What it does not do, disappointingly, is mention the name of Craig himself. Craig’s correspondence with Scott, though limited, is sufficient to reflect their personal relationship and Craig’s sympathy when Sir Walter’s financial affairs descended into chaos in 1826.As an absentee landlord, who visited the area only rarely, George Fairholme was one of Craig’s main correspondents and Craig persuaded him to move his insurance arrangements from the Sun Fire Office to the Caledonian Office for which Craig acted as local agent. The letters reveal information about Fairholme’s property and his family life. On one occasion Craig took delivery of a pointer dog, sent to Galashiels by Fairholme’s son William who was then serving with the army in Dublin. He arranged for the dog to be cared for until William returned – one of the more unusual tasks for a law agent to perform, but one which Craig was more than equal to, even instructing the dog’s temporary custodian (a local forester) on how to look after it.

Craig to the managers of the Leith Bank, 5 February 1827

Gentlemen, I had your favour of the 31st ultimo with £810 & bills per List £532.19.8 to your credit. As you have not sent notes of Interest on the Deposit Accounts for balancing off with, they will continue hanging in confusion, & none of the Entries posted off from the weekly states since 1 June consequently we are going on in the dark & will do so till every one of them is shut in a business like manner. With this new trouble upon us we have lost sight of the Cloth Company’s cash account which I hope you can say something satisfactory upon.

I send State to this date with the cash & bills balanced by £ due you which I hope you will find right.[1]

When you have only sent £700 at an average for the last 5 weeks it is no wonder to see us out of notes & as you send only about the half asked for I shall discontinue naming any sum until I see you more disposed to send more reasonable sums for carrying on with because were it to happen that 2 of our customers were in the same week to draw somewhat more than usual we should unquestionably have nothing to pay the rest with, & my surprise is that it does not oftener happen.

I am &c.

P.S. Mr G. Fairholme writes from Geneva that his next draft on me will be for £150 which please mention to Messrs Barnetts & Co. This will exhaust the Letter of Credit for £200 which you will please get renewed to the extent of £300.

Craig to the managers of the Leith Bank, 9 September 1822

Gentlemen, I have your favour of the 4th inst. with £1500 Bills per list £509.14.4 John Mitchell on A. Duncan with charges £21.2.6 & a forged Aberdeen note of £1 to your credit – I never heard of a forgery on this Bank & there might easily have been several more of them. When you know of them I will thank you to let me know immediately – trusting to newspapers is useless unless it is in them all. In cases like this you ought at all events to bear the half of the loss as they are by no means considered by our agreement.

I send state to this date with the cash & bill balanced by £ due you which I hope you will find right.

You will please send £1500 & £100 of silver.

I remain &c.


[1] The sum is left blank. Presumably Craig would cross refer this with his accounts ledger with the bank.