Dr Derek J Ripley on the history of banking in Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 December 2013 | UPDATED: 17:48 19 January 2016

The fine facade of thge Wigan Casino Bank remains, but all the money has gone

The fine facade of thge Wigan Casino Bank remains, but all the money has gone


Poor numeracy skills and a passion for drink hampered Lancashire’s first bank, reveals our resident historian Dr Derek J. Ripley

In an era when bankers are regarded as pillars of the community it may seem hard to believe that they were once reviled for their sharp practices. Whilst our friends across the Pennines make much of the fact that they have their own bank, it is a source of sadness that Lancashire’s contribution to banking has been largely forgotten.

It can be argued that the fabulously rich families such as the Mordens of Todmorden, the Stalls of Rawtenstall and the Hams of Lytham instituted banking in the middle ages. When their Cheshire neighbours fell on hard times they would lend them money in return for a lease on a quantity of their land. Known as quantitative leasing, if the borrower could not repay the loan the lender acquired the land. For several centuries inter-marriage between the banking families was commonplace, resulting in constant bank mergers, de-mergers and changes of name - a confusing practice which thankfully could not happen today.

In 1836 a new type of bank appeared, founded by a group of Lancashire visionaries who had previously established the Competitive movement. The ‘Birkdale Pioneers’ had launched a number of business ventures including a money laundrette in Salford and a ‘we never pay out’ insurance company, so when they opened the worlds first ‘casino bank’ in Wigan there were few raised eyebrows.

Wigan Casino Bank functioned as a normal bank, charging huge interest on its loans and paying hardly any interest on savings, but customers seeking a better rate of interest could gamble their savings in the bank’s lavish casino. Worldly-wise hostesses recruited from as far afield as Billinge, Parbold and Ashton-in-Makerfield persuaded customers to part with their savings on the bank’s gaming tables, slot machines and shove ha’penny boards. Since the bank owned everything, even when it paid out it retained a percentage and in this way its fortunes rapidly grew. At its peak there were seven branches in Mint Ball Square, Wigan alone.

The bank even pioneered ‘hole in the wall’ cash dispensers, by removing several bricks from an outside wall and issuing customers with a uniquely numbered long stick or ‘pin’ which they could poke through the hole. The cashier inside the bank would recognise the pin number and attach a 10 shilling note.

The bank’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1902 when Frederick Goodwin-Sands was appointed as its manager. Presenting an impression of impeccable taste and habits to the public eye, he was a secret, inveterate gambler and therefore the very last person you would want in charge of a casino bank. One night, in a rash move he staked 31 of the company’s 32 branches on a wager that he could go five rounds with Maurice Ballotelli, ‘the exploding man’, a member of the Morroconi brothers’ travelling freak show.

After just one round Ballotelli exploded and Goodwin-Sands was blown to smithereens. Mr Ballotelli’s family inherited all but one of the banks, but the remaining branch soldiered on and in the 1960s even won the European advertising Palm D’or for their slogan, ‘You can count on us just under 50% of the time’.

In 1967, 20th Century Spatchcock produced Wigan Casino Royale. Monty Pearson, the man who master-minded the accounts for 20th Century Spatchcock, is credited with persuading the bank to underwrite the cost of the film. It proved disastrous for the bank, which collapsed within days of filming.

For more of this madness buy Forgotten Lancashire and Parts of Cheshire and the Wirral by Dr Derek J Ripley. To purchase a copy go to www.forgottenlancashire.co.uk.

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