The High Wycombe branch of the HSBC bank has recently celebrated 100 years of serving the residents of the district, this therefore is an appropriate time for us to look back at the history of the building they occupy, No.1, Corn Market, near the Guildhall.

Early history of No.1 Corn Market

Standing on the southern side of the western end of the High St, on the corner with Crown Lane and adjacent to the Falcon hotel, No.1 Corn Market is an eighteenth-century building which since 1954 has been Grade II listed.

Before being the offices of the Midland Bank and then HSBC, the building was occupied from c.1890 by the ironmongery business of Robert C R Potter. Prior to that it was the business premises and family home of ironmonger John Mason. In 1861 he was living there with his wife and young child, an assistant and three servants, and in 1897 the heading to a trade advertisement by Robert Potter had ‘late Mason’ below Potter’s name.

There were a number of different owners and occupiers before Mason, but the date it was built in the eighteenth century has not yet been established.

The Midland Bank

On February 2 1924 the Midland Bank opened a new branch in High Wycombe, at No.1, Corn Market. The origins of the Midland Bank go back to 1836, when the Birmingham and Midland Bank opened for business on August 22 of that year. Founded by Charles Geach, the bank was located at Union Street in Birmingham, the heartland of the UK’s industrial revolution. It quickly built a strong customer base and financed local merchants who were driving the region’s technological and economic boom.

By the mid-1870s it had grown to become the second-largest bank in Birmingham and started opening branches across the region. Following a succession of acquisitions in the coming decades, including the purchase of Central Bank of London (1891) and City Bank (1898). Midland’s standing as a major UK bank was confirmed with the move of the head office to Threadneedle Street in the City of London.

Some 30 rival banks had been bought up by 1918 and Midland was now ranked the biggest bank in the world – a position it was to hold until the 1940s. The bank’s title was simplified to Midland Bank in 1923. When the High Wycombe branch was opened in 1924 it was the 86th to be opened in the past year, the total being 1,750 throughout England and Wales. The manager was John Percy Jee, formerly of the Hinckley branch, and he was supported by just one other member of staff, Frederick Arthur Jutsum, who was also formerly of the Hinckley branch.

From its opening the branch advertised regularly in the Bucks Free Press, a typical advert proclaiming ‘Saving Made Simple - A deposit of 5s or more effects an introduction to the world’s largest bank and entitles you to avail yourself of the wide variety of services it offers, including the use of the Home Safe’. The ‘Home Safe’ was a new concept in banking at that time, allowing working people to make small deposits, with interest paid from the outset, and the money withdrawn on demand.

By the 1930s, the High Wycombe branch had considerably expanded, with John James becoming manager in the mid-1930s. By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 there were 11 employees working in the office. The manager of the branch was now Albert Edward Mellor, who took the helm in a turbulent time, ensuring customers could still access banking services. During the war the bank continued to regularly advertise its services in the Bucks Free Press, although the messages in these ads changed subtly to themes such as ‘Wills in Wartime’, ‘Banking in Wartime’ and ‘To Those of Modest Means’. The latter ad was designed to appeal to those ‘in a small way of business or in some other sphere of the national effort, but this does not deny you the advantages of a banking account’. The ad continued ‘This great bank conducts the accounts of men and women of modest means just as carefully as those of its largest customers’.

Six employees from the branch left to enlist with HM Forces and all the men returned safely home. They were Basil James Strange, Frederick Ralph Barwell, Peter Frederick Manders, Geoffrey Donald Perfect, Thomas Meirion Jones, and Albert Stanley Harriman. At that time the majority of the employees in all banks were male - in Wycombe District there were 78 people who gave their occupation as ‘Bank Clerk’ for the National Register taken in 1939, but only 18 of them were female.

But all was about to change at the Midland Bank branch in Wycombe, where 12 women were recruited during the war years. They were J M Hawkins, E M Judge, S C Farmer, Mrs Dorothy Icy Wortley, Gwendoline Alice Palmer, Mrs Agnes Johnston, Mrs Marjorie Hilda Pope, Mrs Violet Irene Edwards, Mrs Maggie Anderson’ Joy Edna Beale, Betty Maud Lewington, and Eileen Mary Judge. By the end of the war, women were almost exclusively manning the cashier’s desks and were undertaking work normally assigned to male members of staff, such as securities, foreign work and overseeing the safes and strongrooms.

After the war Midland Bank resumed its growth, both organically and through judicious acquisitions, and added new business lines; and pioneered new services. Midland also launched the UK’s first 24/7 telephone banking service, First Direct, in 1989. But in 1981 the Bank had made an acquisition which was to sow the seeds of its demise. This was the purchase of a majority interest in the American bank, Crocker National Corporation. Unfortunately, Crocker soon fell into crisis following a recession in California. Despite purchasing the remaining shares and attempting to shore up the situation, Midland had to announce the sale of the bank to Wells Fargo in 1985.

Losses resulting from this sale were substantial and a much-needed cash injection was secured by Midland in 1987 when The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) purchased a 14.9% stake. The firm continued to struggle and HSBC Holdings plc acquired full ownership in 1992 for £3.9 billion. This was one of the largest deals in banking history at the time.


HSBC was founded by Thomas Sutherland, a young Scotsman working in Hong Kong for a large shipping firm. He had never held a bank account himself, but while sailing along the South China coast in 1864, he read an article on Scottish banking that inspired him. Local and foreign trade in Hong Kong and at ports in China and Japan had increased rapidly in the preceding few years, and Sutherland recognised that businesses needed better local banking facilities. He decided to set up a bank that would be owned and managed locally and would support international trade.

Sutherland created a prospectus and using his connections in the Hong Kong business community gained the backing of 14 of the biggest firms operating in Hong Kong. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited was born and opened in Hong Kong on March 3 1865 and in Shanghai a month later. In July 1865 the bank opened an office in London to facilitate foreign exchange operations and to help it to recruit and train staff. The following year 6 of Hong Kong’s 11 foreign banks collapsed, but HSBC survived and built a reputation for resilience.

When taken over by HSBC in 1992 the Midland Bank continued to operate under its own name until 1999, when it was renamed HSBC Bank plc. Its head office operations were transferred from Poultry to 8 Canada Square when HSBC Holdings opened new global headquarters in London’s Docklands in 2003.

The HSBC branch at 1 Corn Market, High Wycombe, having served the town and district for 100 years, has now re-opened following a recent refurbishment to provide the very latest technology and design.