Leading on from my first WIBs article that mentioned Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, I decided to take a look at Dundas House on the eastern side of At Andrew Square. I took a couple of photographs of this imposing building that was built in 1774 as a house for Sir Lawrence Dundas.
This mansion of a building became the headquarters for the Royal Bank of Scotland in the 1820s. I have yet to go inside.
I do know the ceiling is magnificent. Lawrence was a businessman, landowner and politician.
But long before the RBS shifted from the ‘auld toon’ it had developed a name for itself. Indeed, Scotland and banking especially during Adam Smith’s time in the late 1700s brought capitalism to the fore with banks moving from gold and silver based currencies to paper money redeemable against the banks’ assets.
Edinburgh and Scotland itself, can notch up so many ‘firsts’ it boggles the mind. These ‘firsts’ are from all across the board as well, though banking and finance was a Scottish speciality for some time!
The RBS, in 1728 was the first bank in the world to offer an overdraft facility. Whether or not some of these ‘firsts’ are for good or ill is debatable!
The 1700s were rife with the Acts of Union and the Jacobites and Whigs, banks, the Scottish Enlightenment and, I discovered yesterday listening to a talk by Rachel Hewitt, the first Ordnance Survey map of Britain. 1791 was its start date with complaints about the lack of accurate topographical knowledge of Scotland after the 1784 rebellion. Ms Hewitt’s doctoral thesis has been published as a book – Mapping the Nation.
Anyway, the “Old Bank” the Bank of Scotland was suspected of Jacobite leanings and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the “New Bank” chartered in 1727 was established with decidedly Hanoverian and Whig ties. The RBS was out to either kill the Bank of Scotland or take it over.
The rivalry between these banks led to internecine policies that saw the RBS buying up Bank of Scotland notes and then presenting them in bulk for payment, thus forcing the Bank of Scotland to call in all loans. This toing and froing made both banks vulnerable to attack from each other and eventually a truce was called but it was 1751 before the banks agreed to accept each other’s notes.
In any case, the RBS grew, opened branches and bought out failing banks in England and has become the biggest clearing bank in Scotland today.
Of course the threat of the global collapse of the financial sector in 2008-2009 affected the RBS as much as any other bank except there was the added disadvantage that the RBS had Sir Fred Goodwin as its mismanager. He offered his resignation that was accepted, presumably with alacrity by RBS’s chairman. But it cost a pretty penny in pension moneys that he had written into his contract.
He had led the massive aggressive expansion taking RBS to the world’s largest company by assets and, of course, also oversaw RBS’s spectacular fall during the financial crisis. His name became Scottish mud after his £3 million lump sum payout and the disclosure that his pension would be about £700,000 annually for life. He agreed to slice £200,000 per year from his pension after a huge outcry from the community.
Now he has a lucrative job with the architectural firm that worked on the Scottish parliament. Here’s a great quote from the Linlithgow MP at the time, Michael Connarty:
“This is a very odd appointment and will confuse people. People wonder what he knew about banking and will now wonder what he knows about building. There is a deep irony that one the architects of RBS’ downfall is now working for the architects involved in the Holyrood building fiasco.”
The Scottish parliament building opened three years late and £431million was 10 times over budget.
The oddness of Goodwin’s appointment to RMJM Architects becomes somewhat clearer when you realise that his mate helped him out. All together now ….
Sometimes I look at the buildings that house the headquarters of banks and reflect on their being training grounds for people like Fred the Shred. Like politicians and used car salesmen, banks and bankers enjoy little or no respect from the ordinary bloke.
The obscenity that forms the bonus structures in firms like banks, investment and insurance monoliths, resource giants, retail and armament firms is what will bring capitalism to its knees. Eventually. It is an unsustainable system of wealth creation and brings out the worst possible aspects of human nature.
I must say that I find enjoyment in ferreting out information on people who form the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ in our societies. It is always enlightening, and never black and white!