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The Counting House

A pub with former bank vaults now used as seating is bound to be full of history!

2 St Vincent Place, Glasgow, G1 2DH

The premises were previously owned by the Bank of Scotland. The building was designed for the bank by J T Ruchead, during 1867–1870. His design, in the Italian Renaissance style, set the tone for the west end of George Square.

Framed paintings and text about The Counting House. 

The text reads: The premises that you are now in were previously owned by the Bank of Scotland. The building was designed for the Bank by J.T.Rochead, between 1867 and 1870. His design, in the Italian Renaissance style, set the tone for the west range of George Square.

The Bank of Scotland is the only bank ever to have been established by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland (dated 17 July 1695). Since then, it has traded under the same name for more than 300 years.

Its story is not just that of one bank, but also 21 other banks that have been absorbed over those years. During that time the Bank has gone through tremendous change and upheaval – periods of growth and recession – “playing a part in creating a banking system north of the Border whose distinctive features persist to the present day”.

Top: Left, The bank’s coat of arms – the motto means ‘Ever more prosperous’.
Top: Right, John, Marquis of Tweeddale, the Bank’s first subscriber.
Left: Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, Governor 1790-1811.

Framed drawings and text about the history of banking and money.

The text reads:
The Bank of Scotland
The Bank of Scotland was established in 1695, one year after the Bank of England, although both banks were very different institutions – whereas the Bank of England was closely aligned with government and made massive loans to the King, the Bank of Scotland was concerned with the needs of commerce and was forbidden to lend to the government without parliamentary approval.

Threats to the Scottish Bank Note in the 19th Century
In 1826, following the failure of sixty English banks, with considerable losses to the public an Act was passed forbidding the circulation of notes under £5 in England. The threat to the £1 note – the only paper currency familiar to the great masses of the Scottish people – aroused widespread criticism and a parliamentary enquiry was set up to enquire into the issue of bank notes in Scotland and Ireland.

The Government had planned to abolish the right of Scottish banks to issue notes under £5 – a right which they always enjoyed, but the parliamentary committee found that Scottish banking was – “a system admirably calculated to economise the use of Capital to excite and cherish a spirit of useful Enterprise, and even to promote the moral habits of the people, by the direct inducements which it holds out to the maintenance of a character for industry, integrity and prudence.” The result was that the Scottish banks were allowed to keep their right to issue £1 notes. A right they still hold today.

The Bank Note (Scotland) Act 1845

In 1844, after another period of severe financial crisis, Sir Robert Peel took advantage of a review of the Bank of England’s charter to regulate the issue of notes.

The Bank note (Scotland) Act was passed in 1845 and it is this Act (with some later amendments) which regulates today’s notes issue by the Scottish banks. The banks were permitted to issue notes to the extent of the average circulation for the year, without banking or cover of coin or security.

We would like that thank and acknowledge Dr Charles W. Munn, Chief Executive, The Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland for his help in researching the history of Scotland’s banking.

Framed drawings and text about the history of money.

The text reads:
Early Money in Scotland
The first coins used in Scotland were probably brought in by the Romans. The first Scottish coins were issued in the reign of David I in the 12th Century and were silver pennies called “sterlings”.

Silver “groats” (four pence) and half groats appeared in the 14th Century, this was also when the first gold coin was struck, it was called a “noble” and had a lion rampant on it.

The first Scottish coin to bear a date on it was a gold ducat issued by James V in 1539 and shows the King in a flat cap and as a result was referred to as a “Bonnet”.

The First Bank Notes
Evidence exists that the great Italian banking houses were active in Scotland in the middle ages and that they may have introduced the concept of bill exchange. Italians were involved in the transfer of papal taxes from Scotland and the origin of the work “bank” is from the word “banco” or bench used by the Italian merchants and money lenders.

By the 17th Century two groups in Edinburgh, the merchants and the goldsmiths were providing a simple form of banking, but there was a growing need for a joint-stock bank.

Framed drawings and text about the history of money.

The text reads:
Bank Notes in the 18th Century
In the 18th Century after the union of parliaments and “Monetary Union” exchange rates were fixed at £12 Scottish to £1 Sterling and notes were sometimes issues which expressed both currencies.

Early notes had been printed in black and on one side only. It was not until September 177 that the Royal Bank of Scotland pioneered the use of colour in its bank notes with a blue rectangle displaying the words “one Guinea” and the Kings head shown in red.

The use of colour did not become widespread for nearly a Century later.

The Issuing of Bank Notes
The Bank of Scotland went on to issue its own bank notes with a twenty shilling (one pound) note being issues in 1704.

Bank notes made convenient and attractive means of payment, notes being easier to handle than coins.

The first notes were bound in books rather like a modern cheque book, but without perforations. The bank cashier would cut them out with a knife or scissors.

Framed drawings and text about Sing a Song of Sixpence.

The text reads:
1. Sing a Song of Sixpence
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

2. When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Was not that a dainty dish,
To set before the King?

3. The King was in his counting-house,
Counting out his money;
The Queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

4. The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
There came a little blackbird,
And pecked off her nose.

There are many theories about this rhyme. One of the most elaborate is that is refers to the passing of day and night. The twenty four blackbirds are the hours, the King is the sun, and the Queen is the moon. Cutting the pie crust is dawn that frees the house to run their course.

Another theory identifies Henry VIII as the king, and the blackbirds represent the monasteries Henry ‘liquidated’ when he confiscated their lands during the ‘Dissolution’. The queen is Catherine of Aragon, and the maid Anne Boleyn.

The blackbirds may be a nursery version of the ravens who were believed to gather near a king when he was about to die.

The most straightforward explanation however, is that the rhyme describes a not uncommon party trick at 16th Century courtly feasts. Live birds were secreted within pastry so that when the crust was cut they flew out. They would flutter directly towards the candle light. The flames would be snuffled out, and the gathering plunged into darkness. An old recipe describes this as causing ‘diverting Hurley-Burley amongst the guests in the dark’.

A framed photograph and text about Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman.

The text reads: Liberal politician and Prime Minister, Henry Campbell- Bannerman was born in Glasgow in 1836. He worked for the family drapery firm before entering Parliament in 1868 as the Liberal MP for Stirling – a seat he represented for 40 years until his death.

In 1905 he was invited by King Edward VII to form a government, and in the election that followed the Liberals secured a landslide victory. Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman died in office in 1908.

A framed photograph and text about Thomas Lipton.

The text reads: Tommy Lipton was born in Glasgow on 10th May 1850, his parents, brother and sister having left their home in Counting Monaghan, Northern Ireland, and the previous year. Their new home was a four-roomed top floor flat in Crown Street.

Lipton is now primarily remembered as a tea-merchant, though the Lipton’s Markets were well established and Lipton was a millionaire before tea was added to the range. The Lipton grocery empire began in Glasgow, in 1871, when Thomas opened his first shop in Stobcross Street.

In 1923 he was honoured with the Freedom of his native city. When he died in 1931 he left his entire estate (except for Osidge, his mansion in North London) to the city of Glasgow for the relief of the poor.

A framed photograph and text about Bonar Law.

The text reads: Andrew Bonar Law, Conservative politician, was born in Canada, in 1858, of an Ulster Presbyterian father and a Scottish mother. He was bought to Scotland after his mother’s death, and at 16 started work in her family’s ironwork business in Glasgow.

He entered Parliament in 1900, and in 1911 he succeeded Balfour as Unionist leader in the House of Commons. Bonar Law became Prime Minister in 1922. He retired the following year and died a few months later.

Bonar Law was buried in Westminster Abbey – the grave of the ‘unknown Prime Minister’ close to that of the Unknown Warrior.

A framed drawing and text about Adam Smith.

The text reads: A native of Kirkcaldy, in Fife, Adam Smith was educated at Glasgow University and at Oxford. He was elected Professor of Logic at Glasgow in 1751, and of Moral Philosophy the following year.

His best known work The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. Renowned especially for its reasoned advocacy of Free Trade, it was widely cited and translated into several languages. It has since been regarded as the founding text of the modern discipline of economics. In 1787 Smith was elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University.

His ideas are frequently misrepresented in the 20th Century, and have been often used to justify the free market ideology of recent decades.

A framed photograph and text about Lord Kelvin.

The text reads: Born in Belfast in 1824, William Thomson came from a distinguished scientific and mathematical family. He was brought to Glasgow in 1832, when his father was appointed Professor of Mathematics here.

William entered Glasgow University himself when he was only 11 years of age. In 1846 he was elected Professor of Natural Philosophy at his old university aged just 22, a position he held until 1899.

Thomson, who combined theory with practicality, transformed science and technology perhaps more than any other figure in the 19th Century.

In 1892 he was created 1st Baron Kelvin of Largs. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, beside Sir Isaac Newton.

A framed drawing and text about Robert Burns.

The text reads:
Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf!
Fell source o a’ my woe and grief,
For lack of thee I’ve lost my lass,
For lack o thee I scrimp my glass!
I see the children of affliction
Unaided, through my curs’d restriction.
I’ve seen the oppressor’s cruel smile
Amid his hapless victim’s spoil;
And for thy potence vainly wish’d,
To crush the villain in the dust.
For lack o thee, I leave this much-lov’d shore,
Never, perhaps, to greet old Scotland more.

Robert Burns wrote this poem on the back of a Bank of Scotland guinea note dated 1st March 1780.

The context of the poem is clear enough. In September 1785 Burns ‘attested’ his marriage to Jean Amour, but it was only revealed to Jean’s father, James, when he discovered his daughter’s pregnancy in February 1786.

Burns was repudiated as a son-in-law by the Armour family and Jean was sent off to the relatives in Paisley.

About this time Burns started to think of emigrating to Jamaica, but postponed a decision until after the first edition of his poems was published in April 1786. In the meantime, he met Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) and they made plans to emigrate together. Burns appeared before the Kirk Session at Mauchline and in July, still planning to emigrate, went into hiding after Jean Armour got a writ “to throw me into jail ‘til I find security for an enormous sum”.

The poem seems to reflect his financial situation at the time, which was relieved by the success of Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, published on 31st July.

Also written, and then included in the second edition, is the poem On a Scotch Bard gone to the West Indies. The voyage to Jamaica was postponed during September, the month that Jean Armour gave birth to their twin sons, Robert and Jean. In October, emigration was abandoned after the death of Mary Campbell at Greenock, possibly in premature childbirth.

A framed piece of text about Mary Queen of Scots.

The text reads: Mary Queen of Scots has generated a huge amount of historical and romantic attention. She was an infant queen, and spent 10 formative years at the court of the King of France, returning to Scotland a widow aged just 19. Mary was also thought to have been involved in conspiracy and murder.

In 1565 she married Henry Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox. According to tradition, the couple courted and spent part of their honeymoon in the Earl’s Crookston Castle, in Glasgow, (the ruins of which now stand in a housing estate.

However, they were soon living apart. Darnley spoke of leaving the country, but in January 1567 he was taken ill in Glasgow. Mary visited him, staying in Provland’s Lordship (now the oldest house in Glasgow, and a museum). It was here that the so-called ‘Casket Letters’, which later implicated Mary at her trial, were said to have been written.

Mary took Darnley to Edinburgh, where soon after the house in which he slept was blown up. There were suspicions that the Queen was involved. Three months later Mary pardoned and married the Earl of Bothwell, widely regarded as Darnley’s murderer. Not long after she was forced to abdicate.

Following her escape from an island prison a 6,000 strong army of her supporters was defeated at Langside, near Glasgow, in 1568. Three days later Mary fled to England.

All around this area there are reminders of this battle – Battle Place, Queens Park, and Battlefield Road, and a stone marks the site where Mary is said to have watched the fighting.

A framed painting of Mary Queen of Scots.

A framed print of Lord Darnley.

A framed painting entitled The Intellect and Valour of Great Britain.

The painting includes figures such as Admiral Lord Dundonald, Mr Cobden, Sir David Brewster and Sir William Armstrong. 

A framed photograph of a Glasgow Newsboy c.1910.

A framed drawing of The Old College.

A framed drawing of the Broomielaw Bridge.

A framed photograph of Union Street and Argyle Street, Glasgow, c.1910.

A framed photograph of Renfield Street, Glasgow, c.1930

A framed print of Kelvin Bridge, Glasgow, c.1909.

A framed photograph of Trongate, Glasgow, c.1918.

A framed photograph of George Square, Glasgow, c.1908.

Framed photographs of George Square, Glasgow, c.1911.

Framed photographs of Glasgow.

Above: Glasgow Bridge c.1924.
Below: The Clyde at Glasgow c.1908.

Framed photographs of Glasgow.

Above: Sauchiehall Street Glasgow c.1906.
Below: Botanic Gardens, Great Western Road Glasgow, c.1905.

A former vault in the bank - now used as a seating area.

An anti-explosive and anti-blowpipe vaulted entrance to one of the main vaults.

A safe found just outside one of the main vaults.

Internal photographs of the main hall inside the building. 

Internal photographs of rooms once used as offices, when the building was a bank.

External photo of the building – front.

If you have information on the history of this pub, then we’d like you to share it with us. Please e-mail all information to: