Rev. Henry Duncan

Rev. Henry Duncan
Minister at Ruthwell
Moderator of the Church of Scotland 

The Rev. Henry Duncan (1774 - 1846) would have earned a place in history even without his efforts to save the Ruthwell Cross. He was also a leading geologist, antiquarian and an accomplished artist. He was the discoverer of the first fossil footprints in Britain at Corncockle Quarry near Lochmaben, and wrote a distinguished paper that was presented to the Royal Society in Edinburgh.

As minister of Ruthwell for over fifty years he took a great interest in his flock and came to know their needs and their problems. His concerns for the poverty of the day and the shame that was attributed to claiming the poor rate led him to set up the first ever savings bank in 1810. Modest though the people`s savings were he nevertheless paid interest and brought into being a movement that has grown worldwide. There had been savings banks before but Rev Duncan saw the needRuthwell Church for the enterprise to pay its way. Not only should interest be paid to the investors but a reserve fund was necessary to protect the customers against any loss. As a young man Henry Duncan had worked for three years in a Liverpool bank and this experience he put to good use in May 1810. In the four years following the funds increased to 151, 176, 241, and 922 and a worldwide institution had begun.

Interestingly the Rev. Duncan  not only sought to inculcate the idea of thrift in his parishioners but also the habit of putting something by for a rainy day. Moreover, his rules for the savings bank were strict.

" Every Depositor must lodge to the amount of four shillings at least within the year, under the penalty of one shilling. "

"Interest at the rate of five per cent is allowed to every depositor who continues a member of the bank for three years; but such as withdraw the whole of their deposits before that period receive only four per cent."

AGM Ruthwell BankAnd failure to attend the Annual Meeting meant  liability to a fine of sixpence.

From the beginning Rev Duncan saw the need for proper regulation and the first bank was operated under the Friendly Societies Act until national legislation was introduced in 1819. By 1840 there were savings banks throughout the land, some starting up as early as 1815. By 1844 there were 577 Savings Banks in the UK with deposits of over 30 millions. In 1861 the Post Office Savings Bank Act came into being and with it the Post Office Savings Bank which now falls within the National Savings organisation. The growth of Savings Banks is reflected in figures from 1861 and 1930 :

                                                1861                          1930

No. of open accounts         1,609,103                  2,345,379

Value of cash and stocks  41,542,220              172,518,485

Whatever the numbers may demonstrate, the fact remains that by his endeavours the Rev Duncan inculcated the concept of thrift not only in his parishioners but in a worldwide savings movement.

Ruthwell MuseumThere is a small museum in the village  which contains many of the original records and savings boxes, including the original three lock box of the Bank.

A bonus for me during this visit was to discover that the Rev Henry Duncan hadBruce Line married Agnes Craig in 1804 and that his mother in law was Barbara Orr, wife of the Rev John Craig . Barbara was the daughter of the Rev Alexander Orr of Hazelside and Agnes Dalrymple of Waterside, Keir, Dumfries. The line in fact goes all the way back to Robert the Bruce, so there was genealogical gold in my visit to the home of the savings bank. !


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