Jonathan Backhouse & Company, Darlington 1774-1896

Scope and Content

The main banking records survive from 1801 onwards. Prior to this there are records of the partners' textile business, which continued into the early decades of the 19th century.

Accounts for the branch businesses may be found in the main ledgers. For branch records proper see also 'Related Materials' below, including a series of early-19th century lists of customers.

Other significant records document Quaker affairs from the 1750s to early-1800s.

Individual items of note include a contemporary letter about the Boston Tea Party, and a licence agreement for an early steam engine for the flax mill at Darlington.

Banking and business records

  • Partnership agreements and papers 1812-67, 1892
  • Bankers' licences 1817-95
  • Partners' private ledgers 1801 onwards (including profit and loss, branch banks, other banks, estates, textiles business, mill, tolls, shipping, colliery, mutual insurance, railway company, donations to charities)
  • Balance books 1802-1902 (including balance with Barclay & Co., and non-banking businesses)
  • Daily Journal or Gentleman's and Tradesman's Complete Annual Pocket Book , kept as a running account book for the Backhouse business 1756
  • Accounts, stock books and papers for J Backhouse and Co's textiles business (linen manufacturers) 1746-c1830
  • Schedule of William Backhouse's trading losses in Iberia and West Indies, late-18th century
  • Customer balance book and lists 1816-27, 1837-45
  • General statements 1810, 1815, 1854-75
  • Audited balance sheets 1891-96
  • Amalgamation papers 1895-98
  • Outstanding accounts with London agents (Barclay & Co.) 1839-60
  • Papers re investment in railway stocks 1830s-60s
  • Memoranda of advances on accounts 1838-44
  • Charges books including interest charged and allowed at each branch 1840-96
  • Declaration of confidence in the bank 1816
  • Published notice re malicious rumour of bank's failure 1826
  • Records of bad debts 1797-1905
  • Papers re bankrupt clients 1780s-1880s

Bank and promissory notes, cheques, bills of exchange, coin

  • Registers of bank notes 1833-98
  • Examples of bank notes (including forgeries, with correspondence, circulars and descriptions of utterers 1817, and re stolen notes), and promissory notes 1770s-1895
  • Bonds of indemnity for lost bank notes 1778-85
  • Examples of cheques and bills of exchange (including papers re forged and stolen bills) 1763-1890s
  • Examples of counterfeit coin, early-1800s

Business correspondence

  • Letter from William Backhouse at New York, referring to Boston Tea Party 1774
  • Partners' correspondence early 19th century including with London agents (Barclay & Co. of Lombard Street)
  • Correspondence from customers 1817-30, 1840-57
  • Letters to Jonathan Backhouse junior from Samuel Gurney 1815-26
  • Letters to Jonathan Backhouse from Thomas Richardson and Hudson Gurney concerning panic in the City and banking failures 1826
  • Letter re continued circulation of notes under £5 1822
  • Letter re use of Bank of England notes in Backhouse branches 1835
  • Correspondence re grain, corn and Danzig wheat prices 1830-37
  • Correspondence re advent of joint stock banks and establishment and liquidation of Northumberland & Durham District Bank 1830s-50s
  • Partners' letter book 1886-98

Other papers

  • Grant of freedom of borough of Lancaster to James Backhouse 1740
  • Licence agreement from Watt & Boulton for the use of a steam engine in yarn spinning 1790
  • Notarised copy of assignments of United States loan stock to Jonathan Backhouse 1802-03
  • List of subscribers, agreement, extract from share register, letters re shares and loans for Stockton-Darlington railway 1819-34
  • Powers of attorney for Backhouses absent on business abroad 1824-68
  • Agreement for sale of a chariot (carriage) to Edward Backhouse 1828
  • Papers re dispute over a threshing machine 1846-50
  • Diaries, notebooks and accounts of Thomas H Neville of Darlington (inc a tour of Isle of Man via Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool) 1837-43
  • Dividend accounts for Darlington Tolls 1840s
  • Income and property tax returns 1843-96
  • Papers re payment of church rate 1855, 1860
  • Illuminated address from the officers of the bank to the partners, on the centenary of the company 1874
  • Plates from architectural magazines showing designs for new branches at Bishop Auckland and Sunderland, 1871-1873
  • Artist's impression of 'How J. Backhouse and Co. balanced the cash sixty years ago' 1875
  • Account book of Jonathan E Backhouse at Trinity College, Cambridge 1869-74
  • Travel and personal diary of Jonathan E Backhouse 1883

Apprenticeships and employment records

  • Apprenticeship indentures for textile and other trades 1708, 1770-99
  • Apprenticeship indentures (Backhouse boys) for banking, flax weaving and heckling, linen manufacture 1761, 1790s
  • Apprenticeship indenture for a bank clerk 1829
  • Staff lists and salary records 1828-1900s
  • Guarantee agreements for named employees 1829-98
  • Officers' annuity and guarantee fund: records including investigation and report 1864-98
  • Letters from employees accepting posts in Bank 1818-38
  • Oil portrait of Anthony Douthwaite, 'porter with Backhouses for 30 years' c1873

Deeds, estate and executorship papers

  • Deeds, probates and papers for Backhouse and other families 18th-19th centuries
  • Executorship papers for J C Backhouse 1858-61
  • File copy will (inc valuations and estate plan) of Edward Backhouse 1879
  • Papers re property in Darlington 1763-1854
  • Records of Backhouse estate at Dalton upon Tees mid-1800s
  • Records of Backhouse estate and house at Shull 1801-74
  • Records of Backhouse properties at Dodmire, Dryderdale, St. John's, Sheepwalk, Wiserley 1820s-50s
  • Papers re purchase of Cleasby estate, North Riding, by J C Backhouse 1852-73
  • Letter from Alfred Waterhouse and accounts re alterations for Edmund Backhouse at Blackwell House, Darlington 1861
  • Papers re disputed leasing of ironstone mines at Ballycastle 1857-60
  • Deeds and papers re lands and coal royalties at Trimdon 1615-1916
  • Papers re properties in Newcastle 1836-53
  • Papers re Hetton Colliery 1830s
  • Survey plan of Black Boy and Coundon Collieries 1835
  • Papers re Walbottle Colliery 1830-56
  • Letter from William Rowntree re steam flour mill, Wrekenton 1842
  • Papers re Derwent Iron Company 1844-61
  • Papers and traced plan re Langdon Lead Mine, Teesdale 1846-58
  • Papers re sale of Broadwood estate, Ebchester 1850-53

Other organisations

  • Newcastle upon Tyne Chamber of Commerce: published rules, resolutions, and petitions against proposed opening of a Bank of England branch and re circulation of pound notes 1815, 1828
  • Published report and accounts of the Infirmary for the Sick & Lame Poor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Durham and Northumberland 1848
  • Abstract of accounts of local committee of Lancashire Relief Fund 1864
  • Records of Spennithorne war savings committee 1917-21

Papers re Quaker matters

  • Quaker birth certificates for James Backhouse 1721, and children of Jonathan and Ann Backhouse 1776-87
  • Quaker birth certificates for Thomas and Sarah Backhouse of Whitechapel, 1793-94
  • Papers documenting James Backhouse's tours in the North East and journeys to London and Ireland 1750-79 (includes Quaker matters)
  • Diaries of James Backhouse's journeys with Edward Pease and others to London for Yearly Quaker Meetings 1756, 1758
  • Papers re Friends' Meeting House and new Quaker burial ground (with list of burials to 1837) at Darlington 1789-1849
  • Papers re state of Quaker Meetings in Ireland inc notes of James Backhouse's mission tour 1776-79
  • Papers re state of Quaker schools and property in County Durham c1806-12
  • Papers re establishment and equipment of Flounders Educational Institute 1840s-50s
  • Notebook re Wadman family (inc notes on plantations, planters and slaves) c1800
  • Pocket Calendar and Useful Remembrancer 1791
  • Almanack for the Use of Friends 1796
  • An Account of Charitable Trusts and other Properties within the Compass of Durham Quarterly Meeting 1886

Administrative / Biographical History

The Backhouse bank was founded at Darlington in 1774 by James Backhouse (1721-98) and his eldest son Jonathan (1747-1826), under the style of James and Jonathan Backhouse & Co. There is evidence that the firm was known subsequently as Darlington Old Bank.

James Backhouse, son of a Lancashire Quaker minister, had moved to Darlington in the 1740s, and married locally into the Hedley family. He and his son traded as linen and worsted manufacturers in the town and this led to them providing basic banking services to other tradesmen and farmers in the area, though continuing their original business well into the early 1800s. This was the typical means by which many country banks began. The partners, their relations and descendants also had interests in shipping (named whaling vessels at Milford Haven are mentioned in the first ledger), coal mining and a woollen mill.

By the 1780s the partners had banking customers as far afield as Birmingham, Bradford, Hull, Knaresborough, Lancaster, London, Pontefract and Whitby. The wide circulation of Backhouse notes meant that the firm was faced with the problem of forgery, and used the local press to issue warnings and descriptions of known forgers. At least one such forger suffered the extreme penalty of the law when he was hanged at Newgate in 1779.

Jonathan married into the Pease family of Darlington, who were also members of the Society of Friends, and this alliance formed part of a long-lasting Quaker banking network. On his father's death in 1798 Jonathan continued the business, which was renamed as Jonathan Backhouse & Co.

The Backhouses were evidently prudent lenders, and theirs was one of the few north-eastern banks to overcome the various monetary panics of the 1790s and early 1800s, in particular the crisis of 1815 which brought failure to other banks. Leading Darlington citizens and customers made public statements of their confidence in the bank. The firm's history in the early-1800s is coloured by stories of how the partners cleverly averted potentially ruinous runs on their bank, which soon acquired an almost legendary status:

In 1819 Lord Darlington, who had long been in dispute with the Backhouses (for example over the route of the projected Stockton-Darlington railway through his Raby estate), tried to break Backhouses by collecting as many of their notes as possible and presenting more than the value of gold held by the partners. Once it became clear that a bank was unable to meet the claims, public confidence could be lost and the firm ruined. Having been forewarned of the earl's plan, Jonathan Backhouse hastened to London to collect extra gold. The story goes that on his return journey the coach lost a front wheel as it crossed the bridge at Croft. Rather than wait for the wheel to be repaired, the banker piled the gold at the back of the vehicle, thus literally "balancing the cash", and completed the journey on three wheels. When Lord Darlington's agent presented the bank notes, Backhouse was able to cash them promptly. This story, which acquired legendary status in subsequent years, is confirmed in essence by entries in the bank's books: '-1819.6m.25th.-To Bank and Cash to London, £32,000,' and on '31 of 7th mo' the Profit and Loss Account is debited £2 3s. for 'Wheel demolished'.

In the national financial panic of 1825 (which has been compared to the crash of 2007-08), another run on the bank generated a similar story. Rumours of instability in Darlington brought a queue of people waiting to demand immediate payment on their Backhouse notes before the firm ran out of gold. It was said that the first customer through the door, however, was much assured by the sight that greeted him within the Bank, for bushel measures were standing heaped up with sovereigns. The customer decided there was no need to demand his gold, and left the Bank, shouting to the crowd, "Lads, there's no fear - there's bushels of gold". The windows were thrown up so that the anxious applicants could see for themselves that the statement was true. The crowd soon dispersed, and confidence was restored.

Between 1805 and 1830 the partners opened branches or agencies at Sunderland (1816-36, 1866 onwards), Durham (1815), Newcastle (1825-36), South Shields, Stockton, Bishop Auckland, Staindrop, Barnard Castle, Reeth, Richmond, Northallerton, Thirsk, Ayton and Yarm.

Jonathan Backhouse died in 1826, leaving the business to his sons. The eldest, another Jonathan (1779-1842), is remembered best for his involvement in the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. He argued in favour of a railway during a public meeting at Darlington town hall in 1818, stressing its commercial advantages over those of the conventional option, a canal. The first track was laid in May 1821, and the completed railway opened on 27th September 1825. Jonathan served as the company's first treasurer until 1833. In 1811 Jonathan junior had cemented another significant Quaker banking alliance by marrying Hannah, daughter and co-heir of Joseph Gurney of Norwich: of crucial importance....this dynastic alliance in itself transformed the prospects for transport improvement, especially when the Backhouses allied themselves with the Quaker Pease family of Darlington in the raising of capital. [M W Kirby, 'Jonathan Backhouse' in Dictionary of National Biography ] The family subsequently also became connected with the Barclays by marriage.

After 1833 Jonathan left the business in the hands of his son Edmund (1824-1906), in order to devote himself full-time to the Quaker ministry. In 1868 Edmund became the first M.P. for Darlington (the 1867 Reform Act having enfranchised the town as a new parliamentary borough), and served in this capacity until 1880. In 1874 the officers of the bank presented an illuminated address to the partners to mark the centenary of the company, which, it was declared, had contributed very materially to the prosperity of the district....[and that] the care, wisdom and integrity, combined with a judicious liberality of the management, have helped to encourage and foster legitimate business, and to discountenance unhealthy speculation....

In 1892 negotiations were opened with the North Eastern Banking Company, a successful joint stock bank established at Newcastle in 1872, with a view to a merger, and by 1895 reached the stage of a draft agreement, but the talks broke down, and instead within a few months Backhouses became one of the principals in the historic amalgamation of 1896 which formed Barclays as a limited company. On 30th March 1896 the partners in the private banks of Barclay, Bevan & Co. of Lombard Street (which firm, from an early date, had acted as the Backhouses' London agents), Gurney & Co. of Norwich, and Jonathan Backhouse & Co., signed a preliminary agreement, and then invited others to join them in a new joint stock bank. The result, Barclay and Company Ltd., commenced business on 27th July 1896. Edmund Backhouse and Edward Backhouse Mounsey were appointed directors of the new company, and the two sons of Edmund became local directors at Darlington. The new bank set up a network of local head offices, based mainly on the constituent banks of the amalgamation, each under the control of a board of local directors, with their knowledge of the conditions, markets and customers of their respective districts. The aim was to retain the goodwill of the historic regional and local banks to ensure the continued provision of a first class service to customers. The Backhouse family association was retained by Barclays until 1973, when Roger Backhouse retired as a local director.

At the time of the 1896 merger, which brought together a dozen private banks all told, Backhouses ranked third by total of deposits, with £3.3m, behind £6.9m for Gurneys and £8.6m for Barclays.

The original banking house occupied premises in Northgate. However, on the failure of Mowbray, Hollingsworth and Co. in 1815, the Backhouses took over that bank's premises in High Row, and in 1866 replaced these with a handsome new block, built to the design of Alfred Waterhouse, which the bank still occupies today.


Records are arranged to reflect the history of the partnership.

Access Information

Barclays Group Archives is open to research visitors throughout the year, by appointment. E-mail: Barclays Group Archives Full contact details: Barclays Group Archives, Dallimore Road, Wythenshawe, Manchester M23 9JA. Telephone 0330 1510159

Customer records are subject to extended closure/access conditions.

Acquisition Information

Former historical records section of company secretary's office.

Records transferred subsequently from branch and former local head office, Darlington.

Other Finding Aids

Searchable catalogue available locally on BGA's 'Archives' database; bespoke lists may be generated from specific search requests

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction or publication of records is subject to the written permission of an archivist.

Custodial History

Barclays had a historical records section in head office from at least the 1960s, managed by an official with the title of archivist. In 1989 the first professionally trained archivist was appointed, with the remit of centralising historical records and collecting additional material deemed worthy of permanent preservation.

Related Material

Records classified as originating from Backhouse branch banks will be described in separate collection level descriptions in due course. These include:


  • Balance sheets of customer accounts 1818
  • Letter re transfer of account to Backhouses 1826
  • Safe custody register c1829-46
  • Agreements re premises in High Row 1860-65
  • Photograph of old bank premises c1866
  • List of office staff and their duties 1900


  • Balance sheets of customer accounts 1818-19
  • Debits and credits lists 1817-25
  • Letter to Edward Backhouse from branch manager reporting heavy demands, other banks suspending payment 1825


  • Customer ledger 1853-56


  • Private ledger notebook (runs into Northumberland & Durham District Bank) 1835-40
  • General balance sheets 1825-38
  • Balance sheets for accounts to be transferred to Northumberland & Durham District bank 1836
  • Branch and customer correspondence and papers (inc Jonathan Richardson, manager) 1820s-36
  • Examples of cheques 1831
  • Specification for premises in Grainger Street 1835-36
  • Agreement to purchase ship Nautilus 1829


  • Private ledger notebook 1827-46
  • Balance lists of customer accounts 1816, 1818-40
  • List of overdrawn customer accounts 1820
  • Examples of cheques 1819-20
  • Branch correspondence 1829-30

Records held elsewhere: Durham University Library (Archives and Special Collections): Backhouse Papers [GB-0033-BAC]


  • M Phillips, A History of Banks, Bankers and Banking in Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire: illustrating the commercial development of the north of England from 1755 to 1894 (Effingham, Wilson & Co. 1894)
  • J Banham, Backhouses' Bank of Darlington 1774-1836 (University of Teesside, Paper in North Eastern History no.9, 1999)
  • J Banham, 'A very great public conveniency: the origins of banking in County Durham' (Durham County Local History Society nos. 52 & 53, 1994)
  • M W Kirby, The Origins of Railway Enterprise (Cambridge: University Press rev. edn. 2010)
  • G Cookson, ed. A History of the County of Durham vol. 4: Darlington (Victoria County History 2005)
  • E H Milligan, A Dictionary of British Quakers in Commerce and Industry 1775-1920 (York: Sessions Book Trust 2007)
  • P Emden, Quakers in Commerce: a record of business achievement (Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1940)
  • P W Matthews & A W Tuke, History of Barclays Bank Limited: including the many private and joint stock banks amalgamated and affiliated with it (Blades, East & Blades 1926)
  • M Ackrill & L Hannah, Barclays: the business of banking 1690-1996 (Cambridge: University Press 2001)

Geographical Names