Background and career to 1875
Adam Tait was born in about 1848, to a family with a long history in the Scottish Borders. His widowed mother was the custodian of Melrose Abbey, and he had two sisters: Ellen and Margaret.
In 1863, at the age of 15, he began an apprenticeship in Melrose, in the lawyers’ office of Messrs Freer & Dunn. This firm was also the local agent for the Royal Bank of Scotland, so in addition to a legal training, his experience gave him a background in banking practice.
His apprenticeship lasted five years, after which – in 1868 – he moved to Edinburgh to take up a post in the office of William Miller SSC. At the same time he attended University classes, and in three years qualified as a procurator.
Some time later William Miller died and his firm was reconstituted. It has been suggested that Tait was disappointed not to be taken into the partnership at that time, and that this may have contributed to his decision to seek employment elsewhere.
Career in the Royal Bank of Scotland
In 1875 the Royal Bank of Scotland resolved to employ an in-house legal expert for the first time; prior to this date, all legal work had been undertaken by external law agents. Adam Tait, still aged only about 27, was appointed to the post.
Initially, Tait was the sole law clerk, but before long a whole law department was established, largely organised by Tait himself.
In 1886 Tait moved outside his original legal specialism to become the bank’s Superintendent of Branches. The Royal Bank of Scotland had historically operated a relatively small branch network, but this had changed dramatically in the preceding 30 years, so that by the time Tait became Superintendent of Branches he was responsible for overseeing more than 130 branches.
In January 1892 Tait moved again, becoming Secretary of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In January 1907 Tait was appointed Cashier and General Manager of the bank. He went on to hold this post for a decade, in one of the most turbulent periods the bank had ever faced. His years at the helm saw the beginning of mechanisation in the bank; the appointment of the first female members of staff; and, from 1914, the immense challenges of carrying on business during wartime.
He retired at the end of April 1917, when he was nearly 70 years old. His letter of resignation to the board remarked that the challenges the bank faced would be better handled by ‘a younger and more alert man.’ He concluded the letter: ‘I close with the expression of my fervent hope that this grand old institution…will grow and prosper in the years to come as it has never done before…it is with no light heart that I pen this letter and that the struggle to discharge the duty of doing so has been a very severe and painful one for me.’
Adam Tait was president of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland, 1914-7.
He served as a Justice of the Peace for the County of the City of Edinburgh.
He was a member of the United Free Church of Scotland, and served as convener of its finance committee. After the United Free Church united with the Church of Scotland in 1929, Tait was one of the minority who remained separate, nicknamed the ‘continuers’.
He played golf, and was a member of Mortonhall Golf Club. He donated stock to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s staff golf club to fund competition prizes.
Family life and character
Adam Tait never married. He lived with his sister Margaret, who also never married, and who served as his housekeeper. In their old age they were cared for by their niece Helen Lillie (daughter of their sister Ellen), wife of Thomas Lillie.
A biographical sketch published in 1904 described him thus:
'Mr Tait is modest and shy in manner and unaggressive in disposition. He has a very pleasant expression; but if he regards you with one of his suspicious, microscopic looks, you had better beware.
'It only remains to add that Mr Tait, who is firmly and squarely built, rides, bikes and golfs well.'
Retirement and death
After his retirement, Tait divided his time between his town house close to the Braid Hills in Edinburgh and his country estate in the Scottish Borders, which he had bought in 1910.
He died in Edinburgh on 25 June 1938.
- Biographical sketch in Scottish Banks and Bankers (Edinburgh: The North British Publishing Co Ltd, 1904)
- Obituaries in Bankers’ Magazine, 1938; The Scotsman, 27 June 1938; and The Herald, 27 June 1938