Photo of Catford branch, 1908

NatWest Group History 100 object 5: photograph of London & County Bank's Catford branch, 1908.

Banking has a long relationship with Britain’s suburban communities, in many cases stretching back almost to the moment when open fields gave way to district railways, semi-detached homes and the commuter lifestyle. The new suburbs needed local services, including banks, and bankers were keen to meet that need. This photograph of Rushey Green, Catford, depicts one such suburb in 1908, with a newly-opened branch of London & County Bank on the right and a tram – the very service to which Catford owed its expansion – on the left. Between the two, we see a snapshot of everyday life in an Edwardian suburb.

Britain’s suburbs were a product of the 19th and early 20th century transformation in the way many people lived and worked. Jobs became more concentrated in urban areas, while cities themselves became less attractive places to live. Fortunately, new developments offered an alternative, because as railways and trams were introduced, it became possible to work in a city but live outside, in more pleasant and affordable surroundings.

Victorian and Edwardian suburbs were not all the same. They ranged from broad leafy avenues of detached villas to narrow cobbled streets of terraced houses, but whether rich or poor, they had certain characteristics in common. They all needed shops, schools, churches, doctors, pubs, post offices, undertakers, builders and all manner of other businesses. The professional and trades people who served these new communities, as well as the residents themselves, needed to manage their financial dealings. Banks became adept at identifying this kind of demand and expanding their networks accordingly. If a bank did not immediately move into a new suburb, local citizens themselves often approached one to ask it to open up in their neighbourhood.

Banks became adept at identifying this kind of demand

London & County Bank was established in 1836. Four decades later it had more branches than any other British bank, concentrated in London and the south east. As the capital’s metropolitan area spread out along the new underground and overground railway lines and tram routes, London & County’s branch network spread with it. Branches were established in emerging communities such as Elephant & Castle, Hackney, Harrow, Bromley, Blackheath, Crystal Palace, Brixton, Ealing, Surbiton, Penge and Chiswick.

Catford was a typical Victorian suburb. Its development was prompted by the arrival of the Mid Kent Railway line to Catford Bridge in 1857, which encouraged the construction of homes for middle class city commuters. Its growth gathered pace at the end of the century, when trams were introduced, providing a cheaper direct link from Catford to the West End. It was this new service that really put Catford on the map, and London & County Bank’s new Catford branch, located at 159 Rushey Green, opened not long afterwards, on 9 June 1908.