Sir William Forbes, James Hunter and Company

Scope and Content

Collection includes:

Corporate Records, 1763-1838: partnership agreements and amalgamation records.

Accounting and Financial Records, 1778-1909: accounts and balances; papers concerning customer accounts; papers concerning account of J G & W Bertram; papers concerning advance to George Street Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh; papers concerning Stein, Smith & Co., distillers, Canonmills, Edinburgh; correspondence concerning interest rates on deposits in Scottish banks.

Banknote Records, 1814-1845: including banknotes, 1800-1826.

Bad and Doubtful Debt Records, 1786-1835: includes papers relating to debts of various companies and individuals, such as Kensington, Styan and Adams (bankers), Dr James Henderson of Clyth, Robert Graham Esq. of Fintry and Canonmills distillery.

Premises and Property Records, 1783-1819

Staff and Employment Records, 1812-1813

Personal Papers, 1806-1848: papers on the death of Sir William Forbes; other personal correspondence.

Legal Papers, 1809-1836: correspondence, counsel opinions and papers relating to legal proceedings.

Miscellaneous Records, 1790-1860: including printed copy of a report on a 'Mineral survey along proposed North line of canal between Falkirk and Edinburgh', by Robert Bald and William Wotherspoon and papers relating to the construction of the Sir Walter Scott memorial, and the national monument for Scotland to commemorate naval and military victories (subsequently built on Calton Hill, Edinburgh).

Administrative / Biographical History

The private bank of Sir William Forbes, James Hunter & Company, owes its origins to the merchant firm, John Coutts & Co. Established in Edinburgh in the 1720s, its chief activities were dealing in corn, and the buying and selling of goods on commission. Crucially, the firm also negotiated bills of exchange on London, Holland, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

William Forbes and James Hunter (later Sir James Hunter-Blair) were both apprenticed to the Coutts firm in 1754. By this date it was run by the founder's four sons, and was called Coutts Brothers & Co.

In March 1761, his apprenticeship having finished two years earlier, Forbes was made a junior partner in the business. Later that year, John, the most able of the Coutts brothers, died suddenly at the age of 30. From that point on, the running of the Edinburgh firm was increasingly left to Forbes and Hunter. They shifted the focus of the business, withdrawing completely from the grain trade and concentrating instead on banking.

Reflecting this change in stewardship and direction, the company name was altered in January 1773. Sir William Forbes, James Hunter & Company went on to become one of the most successful of the Edinburgh private banks. In 1782, the Company began issuing its own banknotes. By December of that same year, its note circulation reached nearly £83,000.

James Hunter (now Sir James Hunter-Blair) died in 1787. Sir William Forbes continued as managing partner of the bank. He was a prominent figure in Edinburgh circles, known as a major philanthropist, author and agricultural improver, as well as a banker. Forbes also acted as an informal financial adviser to the Government. With his death in 1806, the senior role in the firm was assumed by his son, also called William. This younger Sir William Forbes was a close friend of the novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott.

In 1838, the private bank reached an agreement with the joint-stock Glasgow Union Banking Company. Five years later, this resulted in a merger with the larger bank, by now renamed the Union Bank of Scotland. In order to maintain the valuable connections brought by the Edinburgh bank, its office in Parliament Close was designated the Union Bank's second head office.


The collection is arranged into the following sections:

  • FOR/1: Corporate Records
  • FOR/2: Accounting and Financial Records
  • FOR/3: Banknote Records
  • FOR/4: Bad and Doubtful Debt Records
  • FOR/5: Premises and Property Records
  • FOR/6: Staff and Employment Records
  • FOR/7: Personal Papers
  • FOR/8: Legal Papers
  • FOR/9: Miscellaneous Records

Access Information

Access is by appointment only, and at the discretion of the Archivist. Closure periods apply to some records less than 100 years old. Please e-mail for further information.

Other Finding Aids

An item level catalogue is available - please e-mail for further details.

Please note that this catalogue replaces the NRAS survey of the Sir William Forbes, James Hunter and Company records undertaken in the 1970s (NRAS945).

Conditions Governing Use

Copying of material is permitted at the discretion of Lloyds Banking Group Archives.


  • Sir William Forbes, Memoirs of a Banking House, (Sir William Forbes & Co., 1859)
  • Robert S. Rait, The History of the Union Bank of Scotland (Glasgow, 1930)
  • S. G. Checkland, Scottish Banking, A History 1695-1973 (Glasgow, 1975)
  • Alan Cameron, Bank of Scotland 1695-1995: A Very Singular Institution (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1995)


Geographical Names