Collectables: the rise and fall of Farrow’s Bank

A rare metal savings bank given to Farrow’s bank customers.

A rare metal savings bank given to Farrow’s bank customers. - Credit: Archant

Mike Hicks tells the story of the East Anglian men behind a banking scandal.

There was once a very popular and catchy music hall song called The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo. Well, there was somebody from Old Catton, just outside Norwich, who really did break a bank. Or rather, not so much broke a bank as create a bank that went broke. His name was Thomas Farrow.

Farrow studied law and, when he was 20, went to London and became a private secretary dealing with confidential matters to Mr W H Smith, the leader of the House of Commons - a very useful connection.

He also took on the role as the Secretary of the Agricultural Banks Association. He first registered Farrow's Credit Bank under the Friendly Societies Act of 1904. Three years later, Farrow's Bank Ltd was born with Farrow as chairman and managing director. He would shortly be joined by another Norwich man, William Walter Crotch, an ex-local journalist.

The bank soon became very popular, thanks to its generous interest rates. Its branches spread all over the country, with an even more special branch in Knightsbridge, London, that was managed by women for women. He also targeted the religious section of the community, trying to obtain deposits from clerical circles, spending the then-huge sum of £9,000 a year in religious journals.

It is said that the two bankers lived quite modestly. Farrow complained that the 'big five' banks were deliberately hostile to his new kid on the block, even charging something like sixpence to one shilling to anybody who dared to tender a cheque from Farrow's.

Although the bank's balance sheet looked good - £22,000 in credit - the truth was the figures had been fiddled to hide a debt of £2.8 million. After a failed attempt to sell the ailing concern to a New York bank, the authorities became involved. At the Central Criminal Court in June 1921, Farrow, then a 50-year-old widower, and Crotch, 46, were both sentenced to four years in jail.

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The creditors of the bank ended up with five shillings and threepence in the pound - just over a quarter of their money. Farrow, who died in 1934, had one other claim to fame, as one of Britain's first motorists. He even invented a gadget that would ring a bell automatically if the speed limit were being exceeded.

In collecting circles, there doesn't appear to be that much floating around about Farrow's Bank. There is one collector living locally who had some cheques. Whether the bank issued its own banknotes, I have no idea; I have never seen any.

One very interesting artefact from Farrow's is a metal container in which you could place your money, which could then only be opened at the bank, hoping that you would pay the money straight into your account. The Farrow one, I would say is quite a rare example.

Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or