Today is the start of a new era of banking in Penzance. As of yesterday, 14th November 1896, the oldest of our town's banks is no more. Batten, Carne and Carne, launched in 1795 as Batten, Carne and Oxnam, has been absorbed into the Consolidated Bank of Cornwall. The first inkling many of us had of this was just a few days ago when we received letters from the bank telling us that an amalgamation with Consolidated was to take place. When I say we and us I mean the shareholders. Although they've written to us politely they're informing us of a fait accomplis, the amalgamation agreement was dated yesterday the 14th November 1896. So, today is the first day of a new era.
Of course there's to be a shareholder's meeting. That's going to take place in St John's Hall on Saturday 19th December. I expect there'll be a big turnout, all we have at the moment is lots of speculation but no-one apart from the directors really knows what's behind all this. There are the usual theories of corruption and incompetence and I don't say that they're without foundation but at the moment it's impossible to tell. What I do say is that something of this sort has seemed inevitable to me for some time, that's why I moved my business to the Consolidated.
You just have to look at the trends in banking and also the trends in our local economy. I'm no economist but it's been obvious for years that the economy around Penzance has been shrinking as the mines have closed and people have left for the colonies. Businesses, and that includes banks, need to take a leaf out of the miners' book and look for business elsewhere but B.C.C., as I'll call them for the sake of convenience, haven't done that, apart from the Plymouth branch they are limited to West Cornwall – St Ives, St Just, Penzance, Helston, Falmouth and Scilly.
And while the board of B.C.C. has been basking in their authority and power as bankers, as captains of finance if you will, the ship that is their bank has slowly and inexorably run aground, her hull dangerously decayed and her sails redundant. All she's fit for now is scrap and while this deal is being called an amalgamation, which technically it may be, to me it looks more like a take-over with more than a hint of a rescue.
I'll be going to the meeting on the 19th and I'm interested to see just how the board, and especially the chairman, present their case. They'll doubtless say that haste and secrecy were paramount because if word got out that they were in trouble then funds would drain from the bank so fast that very soon there'd be no bank left. I wouldn't disagree with that assessment, but then I wouldn't would I, I've already removed my business because of my concerns.
And what about banking trends? The last 50 years have been a story of consolidation, small local banks being swallowed up by larger enterprises. Just look at Cornwall, Consolidated started life as a variety of small local banks, one of them being the Mount's Bay Bank started by the Bolithos in 1807. But look at it now, part of Consolidated, or Bolitho, Williams, Foster, Coode, Grylls & Co. as they're otherwise known. Forty branches across Cornwall and Devon and the power in the land. It was inevitable that B.C.C. would be swallowed up, the question is: what made it so easy?
I don't expect to get the answer on Saturday but maybe there'll be a few hints so I'll be back with an update shortly after the meeting on December 19th. Don't expect that to be the last you hear of this story though, there's a lot of water to go under the Ross Bridge yet, and reputations with it I shouldn't wonder.
Cornish Telegraph 19th November 1896.
Cornishman 24th November 1896.