Henry Duncan

Rev. Henry Duncan
Minister at
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
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.

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 Bank
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 :


No. of open

Value of
cash and stocks  £41,542,220             

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

Ruthwell Museum
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. !


Next : Dumfries to Kirkcudbright