Ulster Bank

Ulster Bank (1836-present) is part of NatWest Group.

Brief history

This joint stock bank was established in Belfast after a meeting of local merchants resolved to establish their own bank, rather than a local partnership of the London-based National Bank of Ireland which would have diverted profits and deposits to England. The new bank opened for business in Waring Street, Belfast, in 1836 as Ulster Banking Co. It was managed by two directors, local merchants Robert Grimshaw and John Heron, and two assistant directors, and was administered following the pattern of the Scottish banks.

From the outset Ulster Banking Co issued its own banknotes and resolved to open branches ‘in the principal trading towns throughout Ulster.’ Within a year it had 9 branches in Ulster and had appointed correspondent banks in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Dublin and the United States of America.

During the next two decades the bank survived various monetary crises and, due to the nature of its customer base, was less affected by the Potato Famine than the recovery of the Ulster linen trade. It opened a further 11 branches in Ulster, as well as a prestigious new head office at Waring Street, Belfast, in 1860. Thereafter, it established its first branches outside Ulster and in 1867 registered as an unlimited company. By 1877 the company's paid-up capital was £300,000 and it had opened many further branches in order to increase deposits. The growth of the bank prompted the adoption of limited liability, becoming Ulster Bank Ltd, in 1883. Paid-up capital amounted to £400,000 by 1886. The branch network continued to grow, spreading into Leinster, the expanding Belfast suburbs and Munster. During the First World War the bank provided gold to the government and participated in supporting war loan issues. Staff shortages, caused by workers serving in uniform, led the bank to employ women for the first time in 1915.

Consolidation in the UK banking sector, combined with the political upheaval which followed the Easter Rising in 1916, prompted the takeover of Ulster Bank by London County & Westminster Bank in 1917. Ulster Bank retained the same name and continued to be run independently by a Belfast Advisory Committee. The troubles attendant upon the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921, and related bank boycotts and raids, alongside the challenge of establishing fiduciary issues and demands for a national loan, caused problems for the bank, but the political settlement of 1925 brought some stability. From the late 1920s the bank began to establish new services and departments, such as a Foreign Department in 1926 and thrift deposit accounts in 1928. However, the bank’s growth was limited after 1929 due to world depression and the collapse of the Belfast linen and shipbuilding industries. During the Second World War the bank suffered shortages and controls. Many staff enlisted, a number of Belfast branches were extensively damaged during air raids. The bank was called upon to handle clothing coupons, national savings certificates and transactions for US troops in Belfast.

In 1961 the management and capital of Ulster Bank was reorganised and a new board with defined functions and powers was appointed. During the 1960s many branches were renovated and new ones opened. Ulster Bank became the first Irish bank to introduce cash dispensers and the bank also set up merchant banking, factoring and unit trust management subsidiaries. In 1968 the new National Westminster Bank logo was adopted and in 1970 the Ulster Bank head office moved to Donegall Place.

During the 1970s the bank was affected by the Troubles. A number of branches were damaged by bombings and staff faced many challenges in their day-to-day work. In the same period the bank diversified into mobile banking, computer services, investment banking, offshore banking and dealing in the capital markets. During the 1980s problems caused by recession and competition had to be faced and in 1983 Ulster Bank became a private limited company under new company legislation. In the early 1990s expansion of branch network continued, particularly in the Republic of Ireland. A new head office was officially opened in Donegall Square East, Belfast, in 2000.

During 2001 Ulster Bank Group simplified its corporate structure by transferring its banking business in the Republic of Ireland to Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd. Meanwhile its growth continued in 2004 with the acquisition of the Dublin-based mortgage and savings bank First Active plc. In 2016 Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd became a Designated Activity Company following a requirement by the Companies Act 2014 and in consequence altered its name to Ulster Bank Ireland DAC.

In May 2021, Ulster Bank Limited which operated in Northern Ireland transferred its retail and premier banking division, commercial, corporate and business banking business to National Westminster Bank Plc. The transfer was court approved through a Business Banking Transfer Scheme under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Customers did not see any changes to the Ulster Bank brand and their everyday products and services, branch and telephony channels, online banking and mobile apps remained unchanged. 

Published histories

  • WJ Knox, Decades of the Ulster Bank, 1836-1964 (Belfast: privately published by Ulster Bank, 1965)
  • L Gallagher, The Ulster Bank Story (Belfast: privately published by Ulster Bank, 1998)
  • 175 years of Ulster Bank: Our Story (Dublin: privately published by Ulster Bank, 2011)

Summary of our archive holdings

Our archival records of Ulster Bank Ltd have the reference code ULS.

For help understanding words used here, check our glossary of banking record types (PDF 68 KB).

Partnership/corporate records

  • directors' minute books 1835-77, 1883-(1985)
  • deed prospectus 1836
  • register of shareholders 1836
  • share transfer journals 1836-1915
  • committee and general meeting minutes 1836-1950
  • deeds of co-partnership and special resolutions 1836-1934
  • minutes and papers of general meetings 1837-1981
  • committee minute book 1839-51
  • shareholder circulars 1841-1951
  • secretary's letterbooks 1860-1914
  • yearly committee reports to annual meetings of proprietors 1868-1939
  • shareholder returns 1876-1917
  • records of agreements with local banks 1886-1917
  • share certificates 1888-1938, 1958-80
  • share allotment register 1889-1900
  • private letterbooks of directors and secretary 1914-50
  • circular re proposed merger with Westminster Bank 1917
  • letterbooks of correspondence to Westminster Bank 1917-59
  • memoranda and articles of association 1918-62
  • sealing books 1920-85
  • minutes of Irish Bankers Joint Committee 1921-45
  • minutes of Irish Standing Committee 1926-33
  • adapted deed of co-partnership re proposals for Ulster Bank Free State Ltd c.1935
  • committee meeting minutes and general meeting minutes 1950-70
  • minute book of public services committee 1958-9
  • dividend book 1958-80
  • minute book of domestic administration sub committee 1958-9
  • papers and reports of public services and domestic committee 1961
  • daily committee reports to the board 1961-3
  • board meeting attendance books 1963-(1985)
  • notes on board meetings 1964-9
  • minutes of daily committee 1965-7
  • minutes of advisory committee and board 1965-9, 1979-83
  • report on organisation 1967
  • indices to board minutes 1970-(1985)

Financial records

  • weekly balance books 1836-42
  • half-yearly balance book 1836-58
  • reserve fund and expense account ledger 1844-89
  • general ledger 1859-71
  • profit and loss account ledger 1861-1961
  • bills received 1865-6
  • papers re introduction of bank charges 1866-77
  • income tax returns 1867-27
  • annual reports 1868-(1985)
  • contingency fund books 1918-56
  • summary of share capital 1920-45
  • subscription book 1924-68
  • foreign bills ledger c.1950
  • comparative statistics with other banks 1962
  • correspondence re introduction of decimal currency in Northern Ireland 1962-7
  • investment ledger 1985-(1985)

Customer records

  • cheque book of Montgomery Hamilton, Orr & Sloan Bank, 1815-22
  • customer passbooks c.1840, 1863-72, 1900s
  • letters of credit 1843-54
  • securities registers 1858-62, 1885-1916
  • bills of exchange 1860-9
  • post bills c.1865
  • probate registers 1876-(1915)
  • securities letterbook 1881-4
  • letter of indication n.d.
  • fidelity bond register 1926-53
  • special loans books 1900-29
  • deposit receipt envelope c.1950
  • cash dispenser card c.1970
  • guide to Sterling and Irish pounds 1979
  • specimen credit and debit cards 1982-(1985)

Head office branch records

  • volume of annual analysis of business at branches 1840-1959
  • branch instruction circulars 1840-1975
  • branch instruction books 1850-73, 1890-1936, 1952-69
  • branch profit and loss figures 1859-1955
  • investments and expenditure at branches 1867-1953
  • instruction book for branch staff 1870-c.1960
  • branch inspector's letterbook 1882-94
  • list of branches 1903
  • statistics of branch account transactions 1907-72
  • specimen letters of indication and instructions for correspondents, agencies and banks c.1910
  • statistics of expenses at branches 1918-22
  • branch profits book 1931-53
  • memoranda sent to branches 1950-64
  • papers re branch extensions 1955-62
  • branch reports 1962
  • head office instructions 1963-8
  • authorised signatories book 1965-9
  • bad debts written off at branches book 1966-77

Staff records

  • list of branch managers 1836-(1985)
  • managers and officials salary book 1837-57
  • fidelity bonds 1861
  • staff testimonial 1861
  • clerkship applications 1861-(1915)
  • directors’ letters 1873-1901
  • staff registers 1865-(1915)
  • staff photographs 1883-(1985)
  • papers re staff club 1932-48
  • staff rule books 1887-1962
  • staff book of candidate examination questions c.1900
  • staff magazines 1917-19, 1965-(1985)
  • salary book of part-time directors 1961-70
  • salary sheets 1970-6
  • staff training materials 1970s-(1985)

Property records

  • property registers 1858-1948, 1960-(1985)
  • branch architectural drawings 1859-1960
  • branch expenditure ledgers 1888-1953
  • photographs: branches c.1860-(1985), mobile banks c.1962-75, training centre c.1965, banking equipment c.1920-50
  • rent books for Belfast properties 1901-72
  • property valuations 1933-49, 1980s
  • premises order book 1941-52
  • correspondence re cleaning of branches 1951
  • accounts of expenses at premises c.1961-79
  • accounts of closed bank premises 1964-85

Note issue records

  • specimen banknotes book 1836-56, 1971-82
  • banknote registers 1836-67, 1929-38, 1970s
  • banknotes 1836-(1985)
  • declarations concerning defective banknotes 1841-1927
  • bankers drafts 1853-70
  • banknote printing plates 1857-c.1930s
  • receipt forms for payment of defective banknotes c.1900
  • correspondence re insurance on cash 1951-2
  • specimen banknotes 1966, 1970s-(1985)

Marketing records

  • publications re Waring Street, Belfast, head office 1857-1960
  • centenary promotional material: bank 1936, Dublin College Green branch 1962
  • advertising poster c.1930
  • information leaflet for US armed forces 1943
  • presscuttings 1961-9
  • press advertisements 1961-9
  • photographs of bank-sponsored events and promotions 1960-(1985)
  • audio advertising tapes 1978-(1985)
  • video advertising tapes 1984-(1985)

Branch records

  • selected records