Whitehaven Bank

Hartleys & Co (1786-1837) was established in 1786 as Hartley, Littledale, Hartley & Potter. The partners were brothers John and Thomas Hartley, merchants; Samuel Potter, a draper; and Henry Littledale. It was also known as Whitehaven Bank. It was one of the very first banks in the country. From the outset, they issued their own notes.

The Hartley family originated in Bridekirk in Cumberland. They came to Whitehaven during the 17th century. The Hartleys were a well known local family who had had a rope and twine manufactory in the town. They were also ship owners, and keepers of enslaved people in Jamaica.

Pages of ‘Returns’ for 1820 lists all the male and female slaves in  possession, giving their name, colour, age (if known), heritage (African or Creole) and ‘remarks’ (usually recording the mother’s name). Between 1817 and 1820 there had been 24 deaths, 12 births and two runaways, but soon, all but a handful of Simpson’s 280 slaves had been passed into the ownership of his creditors.

Milham Hartley was principally a banker and industrialist in Whitehaven. He had inherited a share in Hartley’s Bank (in Coates Lane) which was founded by his father John in 1786 before establishing the Joint Stock Bank of Whitehaven in 1818.

Milham’s Christian name was taken from his mother Elizabeth’s maiden name.

Milham Hartley married Mary Lewthwaite of Millom, lived at Rosehill and served as High Sheriff of Cumberland in 1818. His brother Thomas lived at Gillfoot, Egremont.

The former Whitehaven YMCA at 44-45 Irish Street was built in the early part of the 18th Century by James Milham, a rich merchant and master of ships who wrote a book about navigating American waters. His fine house had two projecting wings, one his office and the other his warehouse.

In 1706 he married Elizabeth of the well-known Gale family and the property at Irish Street remained in the family until it was sold in 1872 to a local chemist, William Kitchen. Kitchen lived there with wife Elizabeth, a housemaid and cook, until he abandoned town living for the countryside, and moved to Ellerslie, at Gosforth.

Thomas, one of the founders, lived for a time in Howgill Street, then moved to Gillfoot, Egremont, where he became an ironmaster. John's son Milham lived at Rosehill, Moresby.

Henry Littledale was a merchant who lived at 14 Scotch Street, now a solicitors office, opposite the Record Office. A relation, Isaac, was a candidate at the first contest for the Whitehaven parliamentary seat in 1832, when he was defeated by the Lowther nominee Mathias Attwood from Birmingham.

In 1837, the bank was converted into a joint stock bank, Bank of Whitehaven. The bank assumed limited liability in 1866, becoming Bank of Whitehaven Ltd. The Joint Stock Bank was established under the Act 7th Geo. IV c. 236, and now occupied a large building in Queen street. Peter Cameron, Esq. was the manager.

The bank opened 9 branches and sub-branches between 1837 and 1916. At the time of its acquisition in 1916, 5 branches and 4 sub-branches were operating.  The bank was acquired by Manchester & Liverpool District Banking Co in 1916.

In 1935 the business amalgamated with County Bank, a Manchester-based bank with a network of 190 branches, creating a merged bank with a paid-up capital of £3 million. In 1936 it was admitted to the London Clearing House.

By the late 1930s a number of branches had been opened east of the Pennines, in the Midlands, southern England and Wales. This expansion of the network resumed after the Second World War.

In 1962 the bank was acquired by National Provincial Bank, but it continued to operate independently until 1968, by which time it had 570 branches. In 1968 National Provincial Bank announced plans to merge with Westminster Bank.

From 1 January 1970 the merged banks disappeared from the high street, being replaced by National Westminster Bank.

Whitehaven Bank One Pound Note, 1825
Whitehaven Bank One Pound Note, 1825


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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