IN a fortnight’s time, Barclays is closing its purpose-built Northallerton branch as its ends its 190-year physical connection with the town.

In our area, Barclays was originally Backhouses bank, which was founded in Darlington by James Backhouse and his son, Jonathan, in 1774.

At the start of the 19th Century, Backhouses was the most dependable bank in the North East. It survived the great banking collapses of 1815 and 1825, which each brought down about 100 banks across the country and left many towns, including Northallerton where the North Riding Bank crashed, bankless.


Backhouses stepped into the breach. By 1830, it had opened branches in Stockton, Bishop Auckland, Staindrop, Barnard Castle, Reeth, Richmond, Thirsk, Great Ayton, Yarm and Northallerton.

The Northern Echo: Vine House in Northallerton. The first Backhouses bank must have been to the left of the fabulous window

The first Northallerton branch was immediately to the north of Vine House, which is now the Potting Shed with the fabulous first floor window. Here Robert Morton Middleton was the Backhouses manager for 37 years until he retired in 1894.

The Northern Echo: Thomas Russell, the first Barclays manager in Northallerton, for whom Bank House was built. Picture courtesy of Colin NarramoreThomas Russell, the first Barclays manager in Northallerton, for whom Bank House was built. Picture courtesy of Colin Narramore

This opened the door for Thomas Russell, whose father, Nathaniel, was a grocer in Northallerton. Thomas had joined the bank in 1871, had gone away to work in the branches in Darlington and West Hartlepool but came home to take over as manager.

His appointment coincided with a merger of 12 provincial banks, mostly Quaker, across the country. Barclay, Bevan & Co of Lombard Street in London were the biggest with deposits of £8.6m but Backhouses, which had long had an association with Barclays, was the third largest with deposits of £3.3m. These banks came together to form Barclays in 1896.

The Northern Echo: Bank House, the home of Barclays bank in Northallerton and its manager, from about 1895 until next month.  Picture courtesy of Colin NarramoreBank House, the home of Barclays bank in Northallerton and its manager, from about 1895 until a week's time.  The door is on the right. Picture courtesy of Colin Narramore

At the same time, the Northallerton branch was moved to the new Bank House in the High Street, which was built for Thomas’s growing family: his wife was Mary Ann Baines, whose grandfather had helped build the first stretch of mainline from York to Darlington through Northallerton in the late 1830s. Their two daughters, Harriet and Hilda, grew up in Bank House – which, perhaps not coincidentally, was next door to Nathaniel’s grocery shop – and became successful artists.

The Northern Echo: Harriet Russell, Thomas' daughter, in the gardens of Bank House.  Picture courtesy of Colin NarramoreHarriet, above, and Hilda Russell, daughters of bank manager Thomas, in the gardens of Bank House.  Pictures courtesy of Colin Narramore

The Northern Echo: Hilda Russell, Thomas' daughter, in the gardens of Bank House.  Picture courtesy of Colin Narramore

Thomas retired from the bank in 1919 after 48 years, so in 72 years, Backhouses/Barclays in Northallerton had had just two managers – you can see why, in times gone past, bank managers were such dependable pillars of a community.

Now, though, it is Thomas’s house that Barclays is retiring from as it shuts up bank on March 14.

It leaves one big mystery. Look carefully at the pictures. In the one taken in 1919 when Thomas was retiring, the door into the bank was on the north side, but today, it is on the south side. But when was the change made and why would a bank go to such great lengths to shift a door about 10ft?

The Northern Echo: Barclays Bank in Northallerton is due to close in MarchBarclays bank in Northallerton, with the door on the left

  • With many thanks to Colin Narramore


The Northern Echo: Queen Mary's Dolls' House. Picture: Royal Collections TrustQueen Mary's Dolls' House in Windsor Castle has a miniature tea service made in Northallerton by Frank Finley Clarkson

A COUPLE of weeks ago we told how the miniature silver tea service made by Northallerton silversmith Frank Finley Clarkson were among the treasures in the world’s most famous dolls’ house which is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary in Windsor Castle.


Now horology historian David Severs gets in touch to point out that Frank’s father, George Finley Clarkson, was known as “the last person to make a grandfather clock by hand at Northallerton”.

The Northern Echo: GF Clarkson of Northallerton

George (above) was born in 1838 into a family of shoemakers but served his apprenticeship to a clockmaker, Thompson Cade, in the town so that he was able to set himself up in business in 1860. He started off living above his shop at 185 High Street – now a Greggs pastie shop near the Tickle Toby Inn – before moving in 1868 to 211 High Street, which is now part of the old supermarket complex opposite the town hall.

The reason George was the last grandfather clockmaker was that tastes were changing. In the middle of the 19th Century, people were moving away from tall timepieces to pocket-sized watches.

The Northern Echo: A wallclock by GF Clarkson of Northallerton

No known example of one of his grandfathers is known to survive, although Dr Severs has discovered that 10 of his wallclocks (one above) do along with three of his watches. He seems to have assembled them with movements from the continent or the US before selling them rather than making them from scratch.

The Northern Echo: A watch by GF Clarkson of NorthallertonA George Clarkson watch and, below, one of his barometers which was in a sale at Thomas Watson's in Darlington 

The Northern Echo: A barometer by GF Clarkson of Northallerton when it was in a Thomas Watson's auction in DarlingtonGeorge and his wife Mary had three sons who grew up above the High Street shop. Samuel became a silversmith in Hull, George Henry became a silversmith in Sunderland, while Frank took on his father’s workshop opposite the town hall. There he made his tiny pieces – one-twelfth the usual size – for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House which is on display throughout its centenary year in Windsor Castle.

Meanwhile, Dr Severs still has a few copies of his books about the clockmakers of Northallerton, Bedale and Ripon, and he is really keen to find examples of clocks and watches made in those towns plus Stokesley. To contact him, email